Sunday, October 08, 2006

What if Kashmir had joined Pakistan?

I would like to state emphatically that whatever movement has taken place so far in the direction of finding a solution to Kashmir is due considerably to the Kargil conflict.

This is what General Musharraf says in his memoir. The memoir itself received a rather unflattering review. For example, the Economist had this to say about the General’s claim on Kargil — war at Kargil was an important catalyst in the peace process that followed: if that is true, it is because Pakistan, not India, was forced to the table by the drubbing it took there. (The entire review is here).

Whether Kargil War helped Pakistan may be debatable, that it helped Musharraf’s rise to power is beyond debate — no Kargil, no need for Nawaz Sharif to fire Musharraf and no need for the army to overthrow Sharif’s government. And there would have been no Kargil War if Kashmir was a part of Pakistan. Does it follow then that if Kashmir had joined Pakistan, the Islamic Republic would have remained a democracy? What if Kashmir had joined Pakistan? We outline below some reasonable possibilities.

Think about Pakistan, and you might get terrified. Few countries have so much potential to cause trouble, regionally and worldwide. One-third of its 165m people live in poverty, and only half of them are literate. The country's politics yo-yo between weak civilian governments and unrepresentative military ones … Islamabad and the better bits of Karachi and Lahore are orderly and, for the moment, booming. Most of the rest is a mess. …In the never-tamed tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the army is waging war against Islamic fanatics.

Thus begins the Economist’s 2006 survey of Pakistan. If Kashmir had joined Pakistan, the magazine probably would have said exactly the same things.

No Indo-Pak war in Kashmir

We should note that Kashmir could have joined Pakistan after the first Indo-Pak war. This could have happened if Pakistan withdrew from the part of the state it occupied during the war, and if India allowed a plebiscite, and if in that plebiscite Kashmiris voted for Pakistan. But all these were never very likely.

What are the other ways Kashmir could have joined Pakistan? Maharaja Hari Singh could have simply decided to sign an Instrument of Accession with Pakistan. But this was not all that likely given Sheikh Abdullah’s opposition to joining Pakistan. Perhaps the most likely way Kashmir could have gone to Pakistan is if the tribal invaders had reached Srinagar before the Maharaja formally signed the Instrument of Accession with India. This would have happened if the invaders had not stopped around Baramulla to loot and pillage. If this had happened, it is quite likely that both the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah would have accepted the reality of Pakistani rule, and India would have found it very difficult to militarily interfere.

We are going to settle with Kashmir joining Pakistan without a war with India.

Weak confederation in Pakistan

Many Pakistani leaders, from Jinnah downwards to major civil servants, politicians and journalists, supported a strong army because they thought that India was set on undoing partition. India probably did not want to forcibly incorporate over 70 million people, but the War in Kashmir fuelled the anti-Indian paranoia in Pakistan. The result was militarization from very early on. Bengalis were less distrustful of India, and started questioning the cost of the fight over Kashmir by the mid-1950s. The army, in turn, was distrustful of the Bengali politicians’ intentions. Rather than risking elections that could have produced Bengali-dominated governments, General Ayub Khan decided to take power in 1958.

To be sure, Bengalis and West Pakistanis had other reasons to disagree. A confederation with weak centre was probably a workable solution. That’s what Bengalis voted for in 1954. The election results were overturned and martial law was imposed. In 1954, the army was too powerful. When the same was tried after the 1970 elections, civil war ensued.

But suppose the army was not that powerful in 1954? This could have been the case had there been no war with India over Kashmir. If the army was much weaker, West Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats probably would have accepted a weak confederation by the mid‑1950s.

Sino-Pak war and the aftermath

If Kashmir had joined Pakistan, Aksai Chin would not be in India. That is, the Chinese would be building their highway to Tibet over Pakistani territory. Pundit Nehru would not have to face nationalist rhetoric about throwing the Chinese invaders out, that unfortunate task would have fallen to some Pakistani politician. Yes, if Kashmir had joined Pakistan, there would have been a Sino-Pak rather than Sino‑Indian War in 1962 — and Noor Jehan rather than Lata Mungeshkar would have sung Aaye mere watan ki logon.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that Pakistanis would have fared any better than Indians against China. But how would the Pakistani leadership have coped with the defeat?

Nehru survived the defeat against China, and Nasser survived the Six Days War. But Pakistan had no Nehru. Its politicians in the 1950s and early 1960s were a squabbling bunch, and its senior army officers would have been discredited by the defeat. Pakistan Army did, however, have a bunch of mid-ranking officers such as Tikka Khan, Yaqub Khan and Zia-ul-Huq. These Young Turks (Paks?) could have launched a coup against the discredited regime. If there were to be such a coup, it would have needed civilian support. This could have been provided by Fatima Jinnah and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

In fact, it is almost certain that a consummate politician and a charismatic demagogue like Zulfi Bhutto would have risen to prominence no matter what Desh’s geopolitical configurations had been. In the aftermath of a loss to China, it is conceivable that mid‑level officers in the army would have overthrown the government, installing Miss Jinnah as a figurehead, and allowing Zulfi Bhutto to emerge as the regime’s de facto head.

It is very likely that the weak confederation between the two wings of Pakistan would not have survived the War with China and the military coup afterwards. The left in East Pakistan, very strong in the late 1950s, would probably have supported China, and Bengali politicians of all stripes would have rejected the military takeover. The new regime in turn would have been in no position to impose itself in the East, and Bangladesh would have been created rather peacefully.

The Bhutto era

In the real world, Zulfi Bhutto came to power after the army lost the Bangladesh War. His politics of ‘Islamic socialism’ and promises of roti, kapda aur makaan consisted of very typical 1970s style populism. He nationalized heavy industries and financial institutions. He enacted tariff barriers. He promised (but didn’t deliver) radical land reform. Finally, he railed against imperialism and Indian aggression. What would Bhutto do in this alternative world?

Of course, without the Kashmir issue, railing against India wouldn’t have been smart demagoguery. But so long as China occupied Aksai Chin, anti-Chinese rhetoric would have pleased crowds. So Bhutto would rail against the godless Chinese invaders. In this he would have been backed by the Americans in the early 1960s. But by the early 1970s, with the Sino-US rapprochement (with possible Indian help), Bhutto would have needed a new sponsor. Surely the Soviets would have been happy to oblige.

So Bhutto would have presided over a Soviet-backed Islamic socialist regime in the 1970s. Pakistan would have been like other Soviet-backed dictatorships such as Nasser’s Egypt or Assad’s Syria. Socialism, in any form, leads to waste, corruption and inefficiency. The Bhutto regime in the real world left Pakistan relatively worse off. In the alternate world, Islamic socialism probably would have been even more costly.

The Afghan war and after

In our world, Bhutto was overthrown by the army after he rigged an election he probably would have won anyway. How would Bhutto era have ended in the alternate world?

In the real world, while palace conspiracies played their part, Bhutto was constitutionally bound to hold elections. In the alternate world, Bhutto would not need to face elections at all. He simply would have held referenda that returned 95% plus ‘yes’ votes for him. And with no tradition of popular politics, it’s hard to see where the opposition to his rule could have come from.

Does this mean that Bhutto would have definitely survived into the 1980s and beyond?

Not necessarily. Popular opposition to the regime may have been difficult to organize, but that does not mean the regime would have been very popular — socialist regimes are seldom popular, at least among the city dwellers. There probably would have been underground opposition. These probably would have formed around Jamaat-e-Islami, much like the way opposition to Nasserites in Egypt has been spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Further, Bhutto may have turned to the Soviet Union, but not everyone in the ruling junta would have preferred the Soviets. There definitely would have been elements in the army ready to welcome American support. And American support would have come a‑plenty after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. It is entirely plausible that by the beginning of the 1980s, with the Soviet 40th Army on the other side of the Khyber Pass, General Zia-ul-Huq would have overthrown the Bhutto regime. Of course, Zia would have been hailed as a defender of the free world by President Reagan.

From here on, events probably would have unfolded much like the way they have in our world. Zia would have implemented Shariah law. He would have been followed by weak civilian governments propped up and deposed by the army. The Afghan war would have led to the rise of Taleban and Al Qaeda. The only crucial difference is, without the need to have an arms race against India, there probably have been no Islamic bombs. But would a non-nuclear Pakistan been able to survive the American wrath after 9/11?

Consequences for India

There would also have been consequences for India. Nehru would not have died a broken man in 1964. Lal Bahadur Shastri, his successor, died with less than two years in the office — the 1965 India-Pakistan War and the Tashkent negotiations were too much for him. If Kashmir went to Pakistan, there would have been no Operations Gibralter and Grand Slam and no epic battle at Khem Karan. Shastri was chosen by Congress Party’s regional bosses who were against Morarji Desai’s leadership ambition. The same bosses chose Indira Gandhi after Shastri’s premature death.

Had Nehru or Shastri lived longer, Desai could very well have become the Prime Minister in the late 1960s. Desai was pro‑market in economic matters, and anti-Soviet in foreign policy. What would a Desai‑led government have meant for India? This is worthy of a separate post.

India would not have to host ten million refugees from Bangladesh in 1971. Pakistan would not have felt the need to avenge the surrender in Dhaka. Khalistan insurgency would not have been supported by Zia regime. India would still have its share of communal problem — Ayodhya issue had nothing to do with Pakistan. But India probably would have been spared the worst of Jihadi violence.

If Kashmir had joined Pakistan, then Pakistan could still have remained an unstable basket case, but it is hard to see how India could have been worse off.