The English language borrowed one its most frightening words from German. The word is schadenfreude, and it means “joy in the suffering of someone else”, and the feeling is increasingly common amongst India’s ultra-nationalists.
You might ask why it’s frightening. Here’s why: people – and countries – in deep trouble tend to lash out indiscriminately, endangering everyone in the neighbourhood. So, for example, when the Pakistanis find themselves in a hole, it’s not seemly for India’s leaders to gloat, or to threaten.
And the Pakistanis are in a very deep hole. Their government is broke, and finds it difficult to borrow money from anyone except the Chinese, who do only for the CPEC project. The country’s civilian government, which follows its army’s orders rather than vice versa, is under threat from the fragmented opposition that has begun to show signs of unity. The leaders of two of its most important political parties are in custody and seriously ill, and the death of either of them would bring on wave of unrest that is likely at least to end Imran Khan’s naive, amateurish, and emotional reign. Then there’s the shadow of terrorism, most of it homegrown.
But that’s not all. The headlines here, dominated by Maharashtra and its government, spoke largely of the controversy surrounding the extension of General Bajwa’s term by three years, and very little of the tensions underlying this seemingly innocuous order.
Well, it’s not innocuous by any means. In the first place, the order itself, a one-paragraph document signed by none other than Imran Khan himself, is seriously out of order. Pakistan’s army chief reports to his President, not the Prime Minister, and the order is, well, amateurish, reinforcing the appropriateness of Imran Khan’s nickname from his Oxford days, Im the Dim.
Second, it meant that over a dozen lieutenant generals – 17, according to an informed observer – in the Pakistani army were denied a shot at running the army and the country. Third, it got the Supreme Court of Pakistan involved, which matters because Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa has a substantial spine.
Back in 2007, he was suspended from the Lahore High Court for refusing to take a fresh oath of office under General Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order, and restored to office the next year after a lawyers’ movement to restore “deposed judges” to their respective offices.
Justice Khosa’s order of November 28 gives Imran Khan’s government six months to develop credible legislative and procedural means to take care of the extension of their army chief’s tenure, which is essential breathing space.
This breathing space is essential because there’s another cloud on the Pakistani horizon. The special court that tried ex-President Musharraf was due to announce its verdict about the same time, but the Supreme Court held it back. The Pakistani army will not, under any circumstances, countenance one of its most aggressive former leaders being locked up for treason. It would much rather have him die without controversy in exile, as other leaders have done.
The army is also seething because, for the first time in Pakistani history, soldiers haven’t got their annual raise. With inflation draining their funds, and more action due in future because of Operation Radd-ul-fasaad, meaning, roughly, “elimination of discord”, which aims to finish the residual threat of terrorism in the country. Never mind that the operation’s predecessor, Zarb-e-Azb, also aimed at wiping out terrorism, failed dismally. Never mind that the army has never learnt that dividing terrorists into good and bad doesn’t work. The soldiers shoulder most of the risk, and nary a pay rise in sight.
Finally, the Pakistani response to India’s Kashmir move sparked off a series of separatist threats. The Balochis, the Pashtuns, the Sindhis, the Mohajirs, and some Kashmiris in PoK all want to be rid of the Pakistanis. Indian hawks have predicted or threatened that India will take back PoK in the next few years, that Pakistan will break up into anything from three to six different pieces, and so on. Perhaps the most entertaining of these predictions come from astrologers.
Pakistani astrologers predict the break-up of India in the next decade, and Indian astrologers predict the break-up of Pakistan in the next few years.
If you ask me, none of this talk of the break-up of Pakistan makes sense. The Chinese aren’t going to let their huge investment in developing a warm-water port in Gwadar go down the tubes. Besides, a Pakistan in pieces, with nuclear arms scattered over three or four different countries, home to at least a dozen powerful terrorist organisations, is everybody’s nightmare. We’ve got the examples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria to learn from, and none of those has nuclear arms.
Pakistani complaints of oppression of Muslims in Kashmir are purely for home consumption, and don’t make sense. India’s human rights record in Kashmir is well short of stellar, but contains nothing like what the Chinese are doing to Uighurs, or, for that matter, nothing like the kind of thing the Pakistanis do routinely to Balochis and Pashtuns and Ahmadiyas...
So what does make sense?
In a word, water. Whoever controls the bits of Kashmir that India now controls also controls the Indus river system. The Indus Waters Treaty gives Pakistan the right to waters from the “western” rivers, and India the right to waters from the “eastern” rivers. These rivers feed Indian and Pakistani Punjab. If Kashmir ever secedes, Indian Punjab’s waters – or Punjab itself – will be lost.
So we do whatever we must to keep Kashmir. That’s a given. But threatening the Pakistanis openly, publicly, with cutting off their water will only harden their resolve to take Kashmir. Don’t rub their noses in it. Forget schadenfreude. Try a little kindness instead....