Pakistan’s India policy, and the tyranny of arithmetic
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Pakistan’s India policy, and the tyranny of arithmetic

First of all, before reading any further, you should go read this excellent op-ed in Dawn by Adnan Rehmat. For me, this is the key section:

The military early on crafted a national security doctrine that helped it manufacture a national security state (as opposed to a national welfare state). This is based on the supposed “clear and continuing” danger from India to unravel Pakistan. The doctrine extrapolates that this “perpetual threat” is a projection of India’s supposed “capacity” to hurt Pakistan rather than its intention to make peace.

The problem with this contention is that India may have the same stance on Pakistan, which means this is a formula for an unending arms race and not a remedy to war, which should be state’s priority. India’s ruling elites may have been averse to the idea of Pakistan and hostile to the new country in the early decades but it follows that after the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and their testing in 1998, the deterrent has demolished any existential threat to Pakistan from India. The Lahore summit between the popularly elected civilian governments of both countries (Sharif’s in Islamabad and Vajpayee’s in New Delhi) within a year of the nuclear tests was an affirmation of this new reality. So why no let-up in the paranoia even 15 years down the line?

The issue here is very simple: rapprochement with India is a strategic necessity for the Pakistani state. This is a very simple and very correct point that sometimes gets lost in the national security discourse in Pakistan. But really, it is the point from which all other analysis should depart.

In a post last week, I showed a chart of the CINC scores of China and the U.S. As some of you may recall, the CINC score is a composite index of state power drawn by the Correlates of War project, including a country’s defense spending, industrial production, and total and urban populations. It is basically a measure of a state’s material power. You may buy its methodology or you may not, but most people will concede that trends and trajectories do reveal themselves over time with data like this.

So I got curious and plotted India’s and Pakistan’s CINC scores since 1947. This is what it looks like:


CINC scores for India and Pakistan. Source data: Correlates of War project

And just for kicks, here’s a chart of the countries’ respective GDPs over time:


Source data: Angus Maddison databook

Now, call me crazy, but that’s not a race we can win. Hell, it’s not even a race we should race.

One thing to note is that this really shouldn’t be an establishment/bloody civvies issue. It shouldn’t be a rural-urban issue. It shouldn’t be a mullah-liberal issue. It should not be a Pakistaniat-ghaddar issue. It shouldn’t be an ANP-MQM or PML(N)-PPP issue, or even an Imran-Miandad issue.

At the end of the day, this is simply a matter of numbers. It’s the tyranny of arithmetic. Look at those graphs above. Those blue and red lines are not conveying anything about ideology or identity or injustice. It’s just numbers, nothing more, nothing less. All Pakistanis should be able to look at them and agree on what they say.

Now, if we start from the proposition that we cannot win an arms race with India, then a whole bunch of other things becomes clear. For example, India’s force positions and scary-sounding battle plans like Cold Start should not be taken as a sign that we should ramp things up from our end. They should be taken as a sign to withdraw from security competition altogether, especially since the state’s external security is guaranteed with its nuclear arsenal.

You will notice that I’m leaving the whole angle of domestic politics out of this. That is to say, even without considering factors such as the military’s outsized influence in our state apparatus and society, and how the dispute with India feeds the military beast, it’s still a strategically sound choice to withdraw from a race we are destined to lose. On a purely interstate level of analysis, no reasonable person can call for anything else, based on the facts and empirics of the case.

It’s interesting that the upper echelons of the military establishment are spoken of, by both local and some international observers, as being cunning and Sun Tzu-ian and being inherently aware of Pakistan’s strategic needs — realists par excellence. But a real realist would recognize that security competition with India is the precise opposite of what our national interest calls for. There really is no way to get past this.