Pakistan’s Elusive Quest for Parity

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi carefully omitted mentioning Pakistan during the U.S. President’s recent visit to India. But that did not stop Pakistani politicians and media from “warning” America against trying to “establish India’s dominance” in South Asia. Amid talk of Pakistan expanding security ties with China and Russia, its Foreign Office issued an official statement complaining that an India-U.S. partnership would alter South Asia’s “balance of power” and create a “regional imbalance.”

In reality, the Pakistani reaction reflects the Pakistani security establishment clinging to the notion of parity with India. For years, Pakistan has ignored changes in the global environment and accepted the heavy price of internal weakness to project itself as India’s equal. Islamabad also insists on resolution of the Kashmir dispute as the essential prerequisite for normal ties with its much larger neighbour.

Equality and parity

The parity doctrine as well as the emphasis on Kashmir are rooted in ideology and the two-nation theory that was the basis of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan. For a country to base its foreign policy for over 60 years on the same assumptions is unusual. As the world around us changes, so must a nation’s foreign policy. But Pakistan has yet to embrace pragmatism as the basis of its foreign and national security policies.

Pakistanis such as me realise that seeking security in relation to a much larger neighbour is not the same thing as insisting on parity with it. All nations are equal in international law but sovereign equality is not synonymous with parity.

In any case, Pakistan is India’s rival in real terms only as much as Belgium could rival France or Germany and Vietnam could hope to be on a par with China. India’s population is six times larger than Pakistan’s while its economy is 10 times the size of the Pakistani economy. Notwithstanding internal problems, India’s $2 trillion economy has managed consistent growth whereas Pakistan’s $245 billion economy has grown sporadically and is undermined by jihadi terrorism and domestic political chaos.

Country comparisons

India is expanding by most measures of national power while Pakistan has been able to keep pace with it only in manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Pakistanis are often not told of the widening gap between the two countries in most fields.

For example, 94 per cent of India’s children between five and 15 complete primary school compared with 54 per cent in Pakistan. Every year, 8,900 Indians get a PhD in the sciences compared with the 8,142 doctorates awarded by Pakistan’s universities since Independence. The total number of books published in any language on any subject in Pakistan in 2013, including religious titles and children’s books, stood at 2,581, against 90,000 in India.

The parity doctrine also requires Pakistanis to see India as an existential enemy. Textbooks still tell Pakistani children that Hindu India threatens Islamic Pakistan and seeks to terminate its existence. Hardly anyone outside of Pakistan believes that to be true.

Nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction usually freeze conflicts and pave the way for détente as they did between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. But little has changed in the Pakistani ideology after the induction of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent. There is little recognition that with nuclear weapons, Pakistan no longer has any reason to feel insecure about being overrun by a larger Indian conventional force.

Kashmir issue

The notion of an existential threat to Pakistan is now only psycho-political and ideological. Pakistan has already fought four wars with India and lost half its territory in the process — the erstwhile East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh in 1971.

As for Jammu and Kashmir, one need not deny Pakistan’s initial claims to recognise that it might not be an issue that can be resolved in the foreseeable future. Jihadi militancy, since 1989, has failed to wrest Kashmir for Pakistan from India as has war and military confrontation.

Islamabad should also evaluate realistically its hope of internationalising the Kashmir issue. The last effective UN resolution on Kashmir was passed by the Security Council in 1957, when the United Nations had 82 members. Last year, with 193 members, Pakistan’s Prime Minister was the only world leader who mentioned Jammu and Kashmir at the UN General Assembly.

In the U.S.‘s calculations

U.S. economic and military aid ($40 billion to date since 1950) encouraged the perpetuation of Pakistan’s doctrine of parity with India. Pakistanis thought that with the support of external allies, Pakistan could compensate for its inherent disadvantage in size against India. But now Washington sees India as America’s longer-term ally and partner.

The size of India’s market and potential for greater trade, investment and defence sales are important elements in recent U.S. calculations. But even immediately after Independence, India and not Pakistan was deemed to be America’s natural ally. A 1949 Pentagon report described India as “the natural political and economic center of South Asia” and the country with which the U.S. had greater congruence of interests.

India’s decision to stay non-aligned in the stand-off between the West and the Soviet bloc, benefited Pakistan in its formative years. India argued that it needed to benefit from both sides in the Cold War. Pakistan, a new state unsure of its future and searching for aid to bolster its economy and security, stepped in to become a part of U.S.-led military alliances.

Pakistan’s old school diplomats, politicians and military thinkers are now upset that they cannot count on the U.S. as the equaliser in their quest for equivalence with India. China is already a close ally of Pakistan and cannot tip the balance in Pakistan’s favour on its own. In any case, it is unlikely that China, with its growing Uyghur problem, will remain unaffected by the global perception of Pakistan as an epicentre of Islamist terrorism.

Voicing frustration with the major powers over their redefinition of their national interest will not help Pakistan advance its national interests. Just as it has belatedly started acknowledging its terrorist problem, my country would benefit more by giving up the quest for parity with India. We should seek security and prosperity in the context of our size for a territorial state, rather than an ideological one. The process could begin with efforts to address Pakistan’s institutional weaknesses, eliminate terrorism, improve infrastructure and modernise its economy.