Pakistan and Kautilya

I’m currently reading Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan on the Brink, a depressing political survey of the last few years of the country’s history. It’s grim how much of Pakistan government policy is determined by a very crude geopolitical version of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.

The Pakistan army’s main concern is India. A strong, independent Afghanistan would be a potential ally for India, allowing Pakistan to be attacked from two sides. So Afghanistan should be kept as a subservient hinterland, unthreatening and potentially even providing space (“strategic depth”) for the Pakistani army. And that weak government should be Pashtun, like the powers-that-be in Pakistan, even if it means preferring the Taliban over the Northern Alliance.

Everything is abstract, geographical, military, with a dash of ethnic favoritism. There’s absolutely no idea that people might be defined by more than tribe and location.

It all reminds me a bit of the Arthashastra, the book in which Kautilya (“India’s Machiavelli”) laid down the rules of statecraft around 300BC. Kautilya looks at international relations geographically; location is what matters:

The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror’s territory is termed the enemy.
The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror).

That pretty much sums up Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy. Kautily then spins off into one of those overly systematic arrangements so common in Sanskrit texts:

In front of the conqueror and close to his enemy, there happen to be situated kings such as the conqueror’s friend, next to him, the enemy’s friend, and next to the last, the conqueror’s friend’s friend, and next, the enemy’s friend’s friend.

In the rear of the conqueror, there happen to be situated a rearward enemy (párshnigráha), a rearward friend (ákranda), an ally of the rearward enemy (párshnigráhásárá), and an ally of the rearward friend (ákrandására)

By the time he’s finished we have “four primary Circles of States, twelve kings, sixty elements of sovereignty, and seventy-two elements of states”. Phew! But sometimes it seems there is more nuance and insight in Kautilya than among his epigones in the Pakistan Army.

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