A REALITY CHECK
A 2-Pager by Ajit Chaudhuri – October 2016
What is statesmanship? Different dictionaries have different definitions, but none quite bring out the multiple flavours and nuances of this term. Comparing statesmanship with other constructs of leadership gives one a better perspective, (such as an article on the difference between Israeli Presidents Peres and Netanyahu). Some wit, differentiating between statesmen and politicians, suggested that the former were like vegetables, ‘you don’t like them but they’re good for you’, and the latter ice cream, ‘yummy, I’ll worry about the stomach ache later’.
I was not around during my country’s formative years as an independent nation – my generation spent its late teens and twenties in the 1980s, a time bereft of anything resembling statesmanship. It was later, after extensive travel in the neighbourhood, that I came to the conclusion that I may not have seen it, but we definitely had it – many things that we take for granted (the ability to elect and change leaders, an army that is under civilian control, a secular and functional constitution, an independent judiciary, the existence of institutions such as an election commission and a comptroller and auditor general, et al) simply do not exist in other places – and we have much to be thankful to our (currently much maligned) early leaders for.
I am reminded of the term ‘statesmanship’ in the current climate of mass jingoism, chest beating, and clamour for war, where morons and provincial upstarts are masquerading as policy makers, and where an intellectually challenged leadership (across the political spectrum, may I add) are displaying their absence of vision in the manner of the flashers that hung around outside girls’ colleges in the 1980s.
Here is a reality check for you, my friends!
One: ‘You can fight history, but you can’t fight geography’ – Pakistan will always be your neighbour, and you will always share a long border. What sort of a relationship do you want, in the long term, and how do you propose to go about building it? Don’t forget that countries are unlike homes, where the neighbourhood bully can Haryana-style threaten and harass someone it doesn’t like into vacating and moving away.
Two: Nobody wins a nuclear war!
Three: You may not win a conventional war! Pakistan may be a mess, but its army is not – like us, it is a professional army that knows how to fight. Unlike us, its hardware, spares and ammunition come from a single and reliable source (we obtain these from 6-7 countries, most of them notoriously unreliable). It is by no means a given that a conventional war will result in a quick and painless victory.
Four: You will not have international support! There may be widespread exasperation with Pakistan, but it would be foolish to assume unequivocal support for us if hostilities escalate. And, don’t forget, they (unlike us) have an all-weather friend with veto powers in the UN’s Security Council.
Five: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you! Ninety percent of Pakistan’s fresh water comes from India, but threatening to abrogate treaties and divert rivers at the first sign of tension is remarkably short sighted (even by the current abysmal standards) given that three major Indian rivers originate in China.
Six: Goodbye, permanent membership of the Security Council! Our own narrative of ‘a jaw for a tooth’, etc. in the recent escalation of tension is at odds with others’ view that this is a silly fight (to quote The Economist, ‘the tenor of recent exchanges between the two countries is suggestive of playground conflict’) but for the facts that we are lobbing live mortar rounds at each other, thousands of villagers along the LoC have been evacuated, and both countries are nuclear armed. We need to maintain a modicum of maturity to be taken seriously at the world’s stage.
Seven: Pakistan is an army with a country (and not the other way around)! The rational security calculus that emphasizes the primacy of national interest and a calibration of the costs and benefits of conflict, which would demonstrate the necessity of compromise with India (more so after having lost three wars to us), does not apply here. To them, ‘not winning, even repeatedly, is not the same as losing. Simply giving up and accepting status quo and India’s supremacy is, by definition, defeat’. And victory is ‘the ability to continue fighting, regardless of the consequences for the nation’s development, welfare, or international opinion’.
Eight: You are losing Kashmir! The valley has been rocked by protests and curfews for the past four months, which seems fine with everybody except the average Joe on Kashmiri streets, the poor Johnnies at the receiving end of the protests, and me. I am deeply uncomfortable with what is happening there which, according to Kashmiri friends and colleagues, is the worst they have lived through. So what, our policy makers would say, screw them and screw you! So this – as per seven above, the Pakistani state will not give up its relationship with non-state terror groups as long as they, i.e. the terror groups, have operational utility. And they will have utility as long as we have a bad relationship with Kashmir. So if you don’t want these buggers crossing the border and doing their stuff, sort out Kashmir. Nothing binds Pakistan’s deeply fractured polity and society more than protests in Kashmir. Not even Islam!
To conclude, my dear chest-beating leaders, distinguish between going to war without a strategy and fighting elections in Uttar Pradesh. Don’t let the imperatives of the latter take you down the former path. The cacophony of dumbass supporters may not be synonymous with national interest. Show a little bloody statesmanship!
 Ben-Meir, Alon, “Statesmanship vs. Demagoguery’, The Huffington Post issue of 29th September 2016, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alon-benmeir/statesmanship-versus-dema_b_12251224.html.
 With due modesty, I have visited and travelled in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
 Prakash, Arun, “Look Before You Escalate”, Indian Express issue of 26th September 2016.
 Mehta, PB, “The Die is Cast’, Indian Express issue of 1st October 2016.
 “Reversing Roles”, The Economist issue of 8th October 2016.
 Fair, Christine, “Fighting to the End: The Pakistani Army’s Way of War”, Journal of Strategic Security, No. 4, Vol. 7, 2014, Oxford University Press, NY.
 Varshney, A, “Inside Outside”, Indian Express issue of 27th September 2016.