Time has arrived to cut a new path for the Indic nations. India and Pakistan should consider a defense pact, safeguarding each other's territorial integrity and political independence. This historic reversal of past enmity will lead the two nations toward a bold new future, one free of mutual attrition and bullying by foreign powers.
"It's not going to work," has been the first response of the people with whom I have shared the idea. Set against this unexamined pessimism, the idea of a defense pact is derived from a simple intuition that enemies can become friends by sharing mutual interests.
Sharing more than six thousand years of history, India and Pakistan will breach no taboo if they unite for defense purposes. One caution, however, is appropriate. It is neither probable, nor is it pragmatic, to stitch together the historic pieces of ancient India into a single nation-state, as some Hindu fundamentalists demand. Nor can India be re-created in the form of a single Hindu or Muslim empire, as it has been done in the past. Any such nationalistic or imperial unification of the subcontinent is a fool's dream. But a defense pact to pool armed resources, primarily to deter foreign aggression, alien domination, and international short-changing is a need that India and Pakistan cannot, and must not, deny.
Denying such a need would be easy if the defense pact is seen through the Kashmir dispute the root cause of problems between India and Pakistan. One might argue that no meaningful relationship, let alone a defense pact, is possible unless the Kashmir dispute is first resolved. This way of thinking is an error.
By all means, the people of Kashmir deserve the right of self-determination. However, they would not lose such a right to freedom if the subcontinent is made safe from external threats. In fact, the defense pact might convince both India and Pakistan that a peaceful and free Kashmir within the boundaries of mutual defense is an excellent idea and a very good deal for all parties. Thus, the defense pact could change the psychology of separation as well as forced assimilation.
Most importantly, the defense pact will reduce unnecessary expenditure on weapons and armies, as the two nations begin to complement each other's military assets and capabilities. The savings from the defense pact can be devoted to raising the standard of living in the subcontinent.
The economic and social dividends of the defense pact will restore the dignity of the subcontinent in world affairs. A subcontinent united by means of a defense pact will become a formidable force in international organizations, including the United Nations. A militarily united subcontinent may also demand a permanent seat in the Security Council. Even if global benefits do not materialize, regional benefits will most certainly accrue. For example, the developing tension between China and the United States, and a possible future war between the two, will be less harmful to the subcontinent if India and Pakistan are militarily united against any threats, incentives, and pressures to take sides in the Sino-American rivalry.
The idea of a defense pact may disappoint those who will lose leverage over a militarily unified subcontinent. But it should surprise no one.
Already, India and Pakistan have put in place the beginnings of a defense pact through a special agreement signed in 1991. According to this agreement, each year, on New Year's Day, India and Pakistan exchange lists of nuclear facilities. They have been doing this for last 25 years, without cheating, reluctance, or bad faith.
The 1991 special agreement has been designed to prohibit the rivals from attacking each other's power plants and nuclear installations. Interestingly, the facilities listed constitute a secret that nobody else in the world is supposed to know. This mutual trust can be the basis for a more expansive defense relationship between the two countries.
Of course, the defense pact is no panacea for the problems that India and Pakistan face. Nor is it going to automatically remove internal and external threats to the subcontinent. But it might provide some hope to the people of the subcontinent that India and Pakistan will not remain divided and ruled from abroad, like in the bad old days of colonialism. The people of the subcontinent must opt for a smarter future than the one submitted to foreign control. (originally published in June, 2004).