It is difficult to understand what the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, General Bipin Rawat, means when he says that Pakistan must become secular if it want to come closer to India. His comment was in response to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s observation that if Germany and France can stay together, why not India and Pakistan?
General Rawat has asked, “How can we stay together when they say they are an Islamic state and there is no role for anybody else? If they are willing to become secular, then there seems to be an opportunity.” However, his assertions on Pakistan’s “internal condition” and advice on the nature of its polity can appear intrusive, gratuitous and unwarranted.
It is not for India, let alone its army chief, to tell Pakistan how to run its affairs even if India does not approve of its form of governance with its dominant military presence or the religious-oriented character of its society. All that is in the domain of the Pakistani people and it is up to them to retain or reject them.
True, India can offer sage counsel based on the experience of its own successful multicultural democracy. But to make Pakistan’s transformation into a secular state a precondition for “staying” together with India — if it means maintaining good neighbourly relations — is uncalled for as well as impractical since there is little likelihood of Pakistan accepting the peremptory advice.
What is more, India has had no difficulties in living with other Islamic countries in its neighbourhood such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia as well as other Islamic countries of West Asia. India’s problems with Pakistan have arisen not because of the religious basis of its constitutional order, but because of its use of terror as an instrument of statecraft directed mainly against India.
Being at the receiving end of this jihadi offensive which palpably draws its inspiration from militant Islamic groups nurtured by the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Indian security forces may well have come to believe that Pakistan’s Islamic persona is the main obstacle to maintaining peace and that only a change from Islamism to secularism can enable India and Pakistan to “stay together”. But the hope is unrealistic.
In any event, politics and diplomacy are areas which should be out of bounds for the uniformed men if only because they may not be fully aware of the social and historical background and the effect of their remarks on mutual ties as well as the international repercussions. Silence, therefore, has to be the golden option for them.
Subjects like relations with other states and their internal administrative structures should be left to the politicians and diplomats who are better qualified to deal with them, not least because their tenures in government offices and embassies play a crucial role in enabling them to develop professional competence relating to ties with other countries.
Similarly, the army has its own domain which is beyond the ken of the politicians. Both have to be careful, therefore, to avoid trespassing into each other’s territory. Such circumspection is all the more necessary when sensitive issues such as the population in the border areas are concerned.
The recent reference by a paramilitary outfit to the rise in the number of Muslims in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, and their radicalisation evident from the recourse to Arab customs is one example of an encroachment by the security forces into an area which should be the concern only of the civilian authorities. It is the latter which should talk about such behavioural changes, if any, and not the uniformed personnel although they have every right to privately convey their findings to the civilian administration.
Similarly, General Rawat’s comment about how the Muslim immigration into Assam was changing the state’s demographic composition and even enabling the All India Democratic Front of Badruddin Ajmal to grow faster than the BJP was strange, to say the least.
General Rawat may be right in suspecting the ISI’s hand in the clandestine cross-border movement of the Muslim emigrants. But it is the prerogative of the Union home minister, the external affairs minister and the chief minister of Assam to voice their concern as a prelude to taking up the matter with the Bangladesh and Pakistani authorities. The army can only privately tell the government of any information which it may be able to gather.
The army’s need to hold its tongue is imperative in the context of the India-Pakistan relations because of the sensitive nature of the ties. Any false step can sour the ties to an extent from where it can take years to recover. Even politicians and diplomats have to be cautious for the same reason although their training predisposes them to do so.
The Pakistan army is suspected to be one agency which likes to throw spanners in the works of India-Pakistan relations because any improvement will deprive it of its pre-eminent role in Pakistan. It is a worthwhile lesson in the need for restraint for all stakeholders. (IPA)
[Banner image: Courtesy Hindustan Times]