Indo-Pak ties: A case of inflated egos, deflated brains

Published: June 14, 2012

One can trust the Indians and Pakistanis to take their battles into direct competition with their inflated egos. The end point is no surprise: Siachen, the world’s highest battleground. GRAPHIC: SUNARA NIZAMI/ERUM SHAIKH

One can always trust the Indians and Pakistanis to make their battles about their inflated egos. The end point is no surprise; Siachen, the world’s highest battleground testifies to the sheer stupidity and irrationality in vogue among the khakis and non-khakis on both sides of the border.

The story goes that the Siachen saga was hatched at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, where some Pakistani generals decided that they better lay claim to Siachen before India does. So, they ordered Arctic-weather gear from a shop in London, which also supplied the Indians as well. Whether this was bad luck, or simply a sheer demonstration of the deep insight and strategy that our generals’ exercise, is a question better left unanswered. And of course, the Indians came to know of this order, and soon rushed over to grasp hold of the hitherto unoccupied ‘valley of death’ – Siachen.

Since then it has been a sordid tale of more and more misery.

Each passing year witnesses wanton blood streaming through the serene snow. Only last month, an avalanche buried over 120 servicemen on the Pakistani side. Since that devastating tragedy, there has been a lot of talk going around about making Siachen a glacier of peace. High-level talks even took place between the defence secretaries of the two states.

Even though I am an optimist, my glass looks half-empty when I look at the Siachen issue through the lens of history, and more importantly, the deep-rooted animosity and bitterness between the two sides.

We have been hearing stories for years now about how the much needed breakthrough between Pakistan and India was just about to happen, and then it all faded away at the last possible second. This cat and mouse game was played between Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee at the Minar-e-Pakistan when it was being touted that both countries are finally on the same page. More recently, the story that Musharraf and Manmohan had almost sealed an agreement over Kashmir made quite a few eyes pop out.

The fact remains that nothing has changed, no stances have been modified, and the swords remain close to the hearts, just as they did 65 years ago.

Peace comes at a cost – a heavy cost mind you. Considering the violence we have gotten used to now, one could imagine that settling Kashmir and other thorny issues like Siachen will take a bit more than some coffee exchanges in five-star restaurants. That may sound like the cynic’s perspective, but do bear in mind that any talks that do finally make a difference are held on a higher level and not among middle-tier bureaucratic professionals who stick to inflexible notes and refuse to think outside the box.

So don’t expect any big breakthrough to come soon. Siachen is not going to change into a tourist spot any time soon, and is likely to remain a cemetery for soldiers in years to come. And why would the Indians, who clearly have an upper hand there right now, want to leave their dominant position? This view has been adamantly portrayed in the Indian press, and however kind-hearted and noble we may try to become and expect others to become, diplomacy is alas not an art of kindness.

The only way forward is a change in mindset – Siachen is but a mere cog in the whole game – putting a single jigsaw puzzle in place does not mean the tortured and cumbersome game is solved. In fact, it has just begun.

The list of disputes between India and Pakistan is long and extensive, and stretches right from fact to fiction. Unless a strategy is evolved on both sides that tries to address all the issues, and then comes up with a vision to stick to those parameters, no progress is going to be made.

We can continue going in circles round and round.

If deep in my heart, my intention is still to humiliate and test my neighbour, then a smile on the face and a handshake are but a mere smokescreen.

Read more by Dr Rai here or follow him on Twitter @MAliRai

Dr Mohammad Ali Rai

Dr Mohammad Ali Rai

A graduate student at Oxford who lives and breathes politics and healthcare issues. He tweets @MAliRai

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jalal

    Perfrect:
    “”"”"one could imagine that settling Kashmir and other thorny issues like Siachen will take a bit more than some coffee exchanges in five-star restaurants”"”"”Recommend

  • Tarar

    Sums it all up: We can continue going in circles round and round.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Is the shop in London still supplying mountain gear to both countries ? Recommend

  • Sameer Mehta

    wonderful article. My salute. Recommend

  • http://na deep

    Between Vajapayee/sharif and singh/musharraf, the author seems to have forgotten a very important event. Since the infamous American cartography expeditions, 1965 and beyond, Pakistani generals have demonstrated a penchant for adventurism.

    It is no wonder then that the Indian stand has hardened to such an extent.

    Siachen is not based on egos – it is based on mistrust. And it will take a new generation of pakistani generals that accepts the mistakes committed earlier to build that essential trust on which diplomacy can move forward beyond coffee in a five-star hotel.

    India has to bide its time and wait for that generation of generals to emerge -sadly going by what the late and forgotten Shahzad Saleem – one of the great heroes of Pakistan – reported about the state of the Pakistan army – India will have to wait a long long time. Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist

    India has the capacity to keep these issues burning. So, India should do that.

    Pakistan is the weaker one here. She will make a few scratches on India’s face and finally PERISH bleeding herself to death.Recommend

  • Rajendra Kalkhande

    I fully agree with Author. Mistrust between India and Pakistan is deep rooted. The very creation of Pakistan is based upon the mistrust between Muslim elites and Hindus. I see no hopes of it eroding for another 100 years at least. Only workable solution to Indo-Pak problems is sector by sector agreements backed by strong legal documents. Having lived together for 1000 years, we understand Pakistanis better than anyone on Earth and probably to deal with them better than anyone else on Earth. Recommend

  • TK

    Exactly:
    If deep in my heart, my intention is still to humiliate and test my neighbour, then a smile on the face and a handshake are but a mere smokescreen.Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist

    @Rajendra Karjade writes “Only workable solution to Indo-Pak problems is sector by sector agreements backed by strong legal documents.”

    There is another workable solution.

    India should stand its ground and intensify its aggressive posture. Pakistan will bleed itself dry and break apart. Breaking up of Pakistan is the only feasible solution left for everlasting peace in China, Afghanistan, India and even Iran.Recommend

  • http://tradersutra.com hariharmani

    Very few understand the deep ridge between Hindus and Muslims and by extension this enemity between India and Pakistan.It lies in religion,history and the emotional make up of the 2 protogagonistic make up of the 2 people.One is my way or death,other has no set of do or don’t,every thing is negotiable ,avoid fights and bloodshed at all costs,if forced to fight then fight with no purpose or goal,stop fight as soon one can,in other words appeasement,not that is anything wrong with it,it is just the mind make up,but that does not mean they hate less,in fact they hate more.The hate has no end game.There are historical reason for this hate,any one who leaves the fold,for whatever reason,is a turn coat,and for ever an object of hate and not ever welcomed back,there in lies the separation for ever,that is why any marriage is termination of bonds.Sooner we understand this fact of life,we can all move on,but the real problem is how?We tried partition,limitless wars,proxy as well hot ones,avoided as we do now for long times,tried to patch up,by pretending to love like Lata mourning the passing away of Mehendi saheb and the other of Jagjit Singh,words are cheap,does not cost any one money,the last time I checked.So what is new?We will plod along until another crisis like Mumbai than some hysterical loud barking and than no peace no war state,talk no talk,the uneasy way we have carried on since 8th century,it is not going to change if at all ,for ever,get used to it.Sheer theory of numbers, dictates it.However one or the other tries to change the equation.Stay put,for long haul.I have,you too should,in that lies our well being, & sanity, for good or bad.Very honest,no one is blamed or praised,hope T/E in its wisdom will let people read and understand,WHY?Good day .Recommend

  • http://Delhi SL DUA

    Dr Mohammad Ali Rai, you said it, nothing more is required to be said.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    The topic of Siachen in Pakistan seems to have transmogrified into a holy cow (pun intended) that can be milked endlessly. There are a couple of clear facts:
    1. India has the upper hand as it occupies Siachen today. The only choice before Pakistan is to have the situation ratified on a map or confirmed by actual physical presence of Indian troops.
    2. India has the upper hand as it is a larger country that can afford to spend millions of dollars in protecting this outpost of civilization – and no nation that can protect its territory (inhabited or not) will decide not to.
    3. India has the upper hand because its economic growth and responsible statecraft place it in stark contrast (in global opinion) with Pakistan, and this chasm grows wider and wider with time.

    In spite of the above, I hear that Pakistan is threatening to scuttle talks on Sir Creek because Siachen is not going its way – a literal demonstration of cut the nose to spite the face! And then the writer has the gall to equate the lack of progress to ego related failings on both sides. Pakistan needs disruptive thinking to survive, and comparing itself to India just won’t do any longer.Recommend

  • wha ?

    @hariharmani:

    who do u think reads your comments ? they make little senseRecommend

  • kaalchakra

    Again, Indians are trying to pin the blame on Pakistani army. A good person must accept that BOTH armies are to be blamed EQUALLY! When will Indians understand that?Recommend

  • Zalim Singh

    sour grapes, pakistanRecommend

  • Shyam

    It seems the author cannot distinguish between common sense and inflated ego Recommend

  • Cynical

    The smaller the entity, larger is it’s ego. Recommend

  • raakshas

    … sheer stupidity and irrationality on both sides of the border ?

    really ?
    based on Pakistan’s track record with misadventures across the border … how can the author claim that the Indian position is stupid or irrational ?

    If we dont trust Pakistan (and its army) then there are very good reasons for this … Recommend

  • G. Din

    @BlackJack:
    “And then the writer has the gall to equate the lack of progress to ego related failings on both sides. “
    No Pakistani dare stand up to his compatriots and say:”You are wrong. You are unbending. India/ America is saying the right thing and we ought to agree and move forward.” If he/she said anything of the sort, he/she would be promptly lynched. So, it is a survival mechanism for all of them to forcibly balance the beam by dragging in India/America and apportion the blame equally. You also get to flatter yourself by seeming to rise above it all and claim a direct line to God. Quite an old ploy!
    All such writings end up in the garbage can, anyway. They don’t contribute anything by way of enlightenment and/or resolution of matters at hand.
    Did you read the article in this very issue on how SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) could now be milked by Pakistan since America is getting to be so difficult. The author did not even know the correct name of the organization. And, he has been a Pakistani civil servant all his life. In any case, I wonder which universities do these Pakistanis get their doctorates from? For some reason, the author did not even feel the shallowness of what he was suggesting and how his suggestion was demeaning for any self-respecting person/nation. So much for ghairat!Recommend

  • Ejaaz

    @hariharmani

    the change now is a few hundred nuclear bums on either side. Keep going the way we have been and they are likely going to get used. The real kicker is that I know that on my side there are committed ones who never tire of telling us that they love death more than they love life. I am not sure how long we are going to be able to keep the bums and them apart. Our generals appear to be morphing into them. So best of luck at keep going like we have been. Recommend

  • David Smith

    Perhaps a well-intentioned article, but does not go deep enough. You have mentioned Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee, but not Kargil. It is not a question of egos, as you think, but one of trust. In any case, India has provided a solution (authentication of the ground position); why should India give up on the negotiating table that Pakistan could not get on the battlefield.
    General Kayani might be the most important person in Pakistan so that whenever he opens his mouth, its taken as an obiter dicta in that country. That’s not the case in India which will do what is in her national interest as she sees it. No it’s not a question of egos or deflated brains (whatever that means!), at least not as far as India is concerned.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    @Ejaaz:
    I think it was Irfan Hussain who said that Pakistan has mastered the art of blackmailing the world by pointing a gun at its own head; well – if we are heading for such a denouement, then so be it. The world is probably getting tired of finding temporary solutions to problems that nations create for themselves – whether Greece, Ireland or Pakistan. The bomb is just one (albeit terrifying) aspect of this uncertainty, but one that can only harden their positions against you as you continue down this road to ruin. (I realize where you are coming from and my comment is not intended to ridicule yours in any way).Recommend

  • http://tradersutra.com hariharmani

    @wha ?: It is not meant for dim wits .Only people of substance and consequence can even scratch the surface.There are too many light weight as it is,do you get the drift?,I’m way to much out of the league.Thanks any way.At least you care,however little.Why do you think we have confined to dump and 3rd world status,with no hope of ever coming out of the hole?How is that for your short quarry?Recommend

  • http://tradersutra.com hariharmani

    @Ejaaz: Dear friend,I have often wondered where we two people are heading.This no war,no peace,love hate relationship,sometime friend some time bitter foe,it is irrational and makes no sense whatsoever.I will be least bit surprised if there is an exchange,sometime in future ,one of your General did say,it won’t be terribly bad,may give us a fair chance to start all over again,as it is we have made mess since 1947.In a weird way,on a bad day I do seem to be in agreement. I have no faith in our politicians or the system fixing our married problems,they are insurmountable .With out humor ,I have to find rope on sale.Good day.Recommend

  • emory

    @kaalchakra:

    In the current stalemate a good person does not indulge in military adventurism(read kargil) When has the Indian army indulged in military adventurism? All these illusions of grandeur like vanquishing the infidel has always come from paki army in all the wars fought. So if anything is to be learnt from history it is simply this” Pak establishment (read army) cannot be trusted” it is not an indian view it is the world view. India does not want an inch of paki land else it would not have returned all the land conquered during the last war. The many reasons why India wont vacate siachen has been dicussed threadbare. Its up to pak army to move away from Siachen and reduce the troops and save lives(if lives are really considered precious by the pak army). Even a halfwit will not give away the high ground when he is on it. Why would India do so?Recommend

  • emory

    @kaalchakra:
    In the current stalemate a good person does not indulge in military adventurism(read kargil) When has the Indian army indulged in military adventurism? All these illusions of grandeur like vanquishing the infidel has always come from paki army in all the wars fought. So if anything is to be learnt from history it is simply this” Pak establishment (read army) cannot be trusted” it is not an indian view it is the world view. India does not want an inch of paki land else it would not have returned all the land conquered during the last war. The many reasons elucidated about why India wont vacate siachen has been dicussed thoroughly. Its up to pak army too move away from Siachen and reduce the troops and save lives(if lives are really considered precious by the pak army). Even a halfwit will not give away the high ground when he is on it. Why would India do so?Recommend

  • tony Singh

    it is definitely a case of mistrust and also inflated egos of Pak generals, How else one can explain these Generals bragging to heads of states who cared to visit them that they could nuke India in 8 seconds and told them to convey this to Indians! So what do u expect from Indians?Recommend

  • Sameer Mehta

    It is like after fighting with all available options and not getting it, Pakistan wants India to give it peacefully what it could not get by fighting! What kind of a thinking is this? Recommend

  • abhi

    @sameer mehta
    This is called as brilliance. what you cannot win in war you win at negotiations. Thats the brilliance of pakistani generals. You are too naive to understand this.Recommend

  • G. Din

    @abhi:
    @Sameer Mehta:
    “What kind of a thinking is this?”
    Same as: “Heads I win, tails you lose!”.Recommend

  • Vikram

    @kaalchakra:

    You will find your answer in the following video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP9JCusfje0Recommend

  • Vikram

    @BlackJack:
    Pakistan has upper hand because it is a hub of Islamic terrorism. America has not recovered from 9/11 yet.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    @Vikram:
    Dude – my comment is on Siachen. Recommend

  • ranjit

    @hariharmani

    I think you are being too pessimistic. There are 150 million muslims living in India today. Where is the huge rift with hindus? People are living together peacefully and constructively. A booming economy is helping everyone become prosperous. An actor like Amir Khan, who is a muslim, voluntarily starts a TV show that is aimed for the social improvement of all India and he voluntarily names it “Satyamev Jayate”. If this is not integration, what more do you want?

    What happened in 1947 was a giant misunderstanding compounded by pathetic leadership of both sides. Britain had left India completely impoverished with brutal exploitation reducing us to the status of beggars. No one wants to stay together in poverty, because everyone worries about their future. Muslims were worried what would happen after the british left and asked for their own country. Hindus were not willing to sit down and negotiate a solution that would assure muslims their future. Compare that to South Africa where whites and blacks negotiated a constitutional settlement which guaranteed power sharing. Where was the leadership between Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah? Couldnt they have sat down and come up with a genuine power sharing agreement? Instead they held stupid hunger strikes and direct action day and other such nonsense. That is why partition happened. The Congress did make some arrangements with Ambedkar to protect the right of SC/STs, but they did not such arrangement with muslims. The closest proposal was Cabinet Mission Plan, which was a bogus deal that Congress anyway rejected.

    Having said all that, the way to the future is to work out a good working relationship. Manmohan Singh is doing just that. Already one can sense a sea change in the dynamics between the two sides. It is very possible that in a few years, the two countries will live like US and Canada or like the EU nations. There is no real reason to have a major conflict. I dont think India covets anything in Pakistan and I doubt Pakistan covets anything in India. Even Kashmir is now a forgotten chapter as people are moving on in life.Recommend

  • G. Din

    @ranjit: to hariharmoni
    “Where was the leadership between Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah? Couldnt they have sat down and come up with a genuine power sharing agreement? “
    No, they couldn’t have! For all his faults that I have criticized him for, Nehru was first and foremost a Democrat to his core. In the emerging India, the society was visualized as being egalitarian:”one person – one vote”. There were to be no entitlements as indeed Muslim League was seeking in the most asinine belief that they deserved a better deal because they had royal lineage as “descendants” of Mughals and so were somehow special. (Bewilderingly, I have also heard the argument that British had a bounden duty to transfer power to Muslims before leaving since they had taken power from them.)
    As far as Jinnah goes, he was an opportunist par excellence. From being called the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity” he regressed to the most rabid opponent of the same. He had absolutely no constituency of his own, not even in the Muslim League. He was perhaps the least charismatic leader of his time. Has Pakistan lived up to his vision? No! He later proved to be intellectually dishonest, too. No useful purpose would have been served if those three had arrived at some sort of agreement. Besides India had been witness to how Muslims had ruled the states they had won in elections. That was a precursor of things to come. Exact prototype of Pakistan, 60 years on.Recommend

  • ranjit

    @G.Din

    You are assuming that it was inevitable that India would become a beacon of democracy and an economic powerhouse. How was one supposed to know that for sure in 1947? So many african countries started that way and turned into dictatorships. Yugoslavia broke up into pieces. So who could predct with certainty in 1947 that India would turn out to be an exception and a successful country? Hence if you were a muslim in 1947, was it that unreasonable to seek a constitutional guarantee for power sharing? Or should they have blindly thrown in their hat into a huge subcontinent nation which was dirt poor with a history of hindu-muslim animosity?

    So I don’t think the Pakistan demand was unreasonable, given the conditions in those days. If muslims could see the future, I don’t think they would have asked for it. Hence it was a colossal mistake for the Congress leadership not to understand the situation and negotiate a power sharing arrangement.

    In any event, we need to look towards the future and have good relations.Recommend

  • Jai

    @ranjit:
    What makes you think India is a beacon of Democracy? There is no nation on Earth that is worth that title. What matters is the commitment of the people toward that ideal. Whatever trials we may have faced those who joined India joined for their commitment to that ideal. They didnot have any foresight either. It’s about one’s own personal values whether you choose to live in peace with others of another faith or you choose to enforce a theocracy. Easy for you to say those things in hindsight but we as Indians have lived and fought for those ideals. Recommend

  • SKChadha

    The entire PHK, GB and engulfing mountains were part of J&K ceded to India. In such circumstances, if Pakistan is unable to hold its positions, India should occupy them. It is unfortunate that most reasonable offer in such circumstances of delineating present positions for vacating the glacier, if not acceptable, nothing will move. The present position of Pakistan represents nothing but future sinister designs like Kargil. This means, even after agreement and whatever are Pakistan’s move, India have no option but to maintain its forces in area, at least for decades. Recommend

  • Ajay

    @Ejaaz: Spot on! We in India know that quite a few on Pakistani side (Generals and Mullahs) are itching to use it (the bum). And yes the rest are morphing also into that same shape/character because of hopelessness situation driven from lack of nation building and now being driven by world politics that is not to the liking of Generals. India will have to pay the ultimate price! Other option is to succumb to never ending blackmail from Pakistan. No amount of giving to Pakistan is going to change their mindset of achieving Caliphate at any cost even if there is another holocaust.Recommend

  • Ajay

    @ranjit: You are looking at things from one angle only. I do not agree that Muslims did not have any way to know how things will turn out. But there is something called hope, common sense and proof of character. Gandhi, nehru and other leaders behaved in an exemplary manner always very fair minded, sacrificing themselves for both Hindus and Muslims by repeatedly going on hunger strikes, and Hindu philosophy was known to all- open to change, based on non-conversion of anyone, flexible. If Jinnah had his way, India would have been doomed as those Muslims who are not broad minded would have taken their dream of Caliphate and Islamism to extreme ends. Can’t you see how Indian cleric Bokhari meddles in politics- he uses his influence to demand policies from chief ministers. Recently he asked Mulyam Singh Yadav to support Pranab for President by negotiating a deal with Sonia in return for 4% reservation for Muslims in India. He doesn’t care a whit whether Pranab is a good person or not, able leader or not.Recommend

  • Ajay

    @SKChadha:

    I fully agree.

    Gen Kayani suggested talks out of no-choice not for sake of peace. He has been in power for 4 years and he never asked for peace negotiations before. Now his situation is so dire that a)they can’t set up another base without taking precautions since it will hve to be mountain base and another such incident cannot be ruled out b)No Pakistani soldier will like to be stationed there c)Cost is being incurred heavily in ongoing recovery of bodies d)Day to day operation cost is prohibitive for Pakistan especially at this time e)their transit route is currently blocked by this Avalanche.

    The issue is not Siachen but west of Saltoro ridge. Any neutral person can see that Pakistan has no choice but to be able to vacate that area if somehow they can make sure that Indians do not descend into Gilgit. The only way to achieve this is through a formal agreement. Why should India give this break to Pakistan when Pakistan has not been kind to it in any shape or form?
    It is anyway risky for Indians to vacate their Siachen base. It isn’t just Pakistan, India has to factor in China also who could occupy this base. PAkistan has recently leased GB to China for 50 years.

    So the best course for India is to let the current situation run its course until Pakistan cannot afford it any more and comes requesting to India for an agreement. The best course for Pakistan is not to make too many demands and seize the opportunity of current goodwill in extracting an agreement from Indians before they change their mind.

    I can’t believe that Pakistan thinks that India will give its positions to Pakistan or simply vacate. Which country has ever vacated occupied land willingly? at this time Pakistan needs an agreement more than the Indians. Pakistanis are being silly in trying to do a hard bargain with Indians as the current Actual Ground Position will never change.Recommend