William Dalrymple who has made India almost his home is known for his “splendid” books like the Last Mughal. His brilliant writings show his eye for details and for lucidity in his writings. He is popular and invited to almost all literary events. He lends his weighty presence at the Jaipur Literary Festival where he is much in demand. Indian ‘Intellectuals’ adore him and want to be in his presence as long as possible, hoping some of his brilliance could pass on to them. But, suddenly out of the blue he conjured up his dangerous triangle theory in an essay he wrote for the Brooking Institute in Washington, which really played it up. In this essay, he talks about India’s role and Pakistan’s anxiety about it in the post US withdrawal Afghanistan. The Essay paints India in a rather poor light. This has come as a shock, considering that a historian of his brilliance puts forward arguments of doubtful validity.
Even the biggest admirers of his are shaken by the essay tellingly titled, A deadly Triangle—Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It talks of the role of India post-US withdrawal, which he predicts would trigger trouble in the region. India has been painted as the deadliest in the triangle. This conclusion is based on as Former Ambassador and writer Rajiv Dogra commenting on the Essay said, “It is odd that despite some statements of doubtful validity, it should have been given the prominence it received from the Brookings Institute.
“An establishment of such repute is usually circumspect; it takes extra care to avoid projecting controversial theories and assertions that rest on lean grounds. But there it is, and Dalrymple starts roaring in his essay, with article’s title a proof of his intent, ‘A deadly triangle—Afghanistan, Pakistan and India’.” His views possibly find resonance with the Institute which could have similar opinion as his. The Brookings Institute is said to be close to the Administration.
Nitin Pai, director of The Takshashila Institution writing in Pragati has been candidly critical of the essay and at places quite sarcastic. In the write-up titled William Dalrymple’s triangulation error, he says “ Brookings published a slickly produced essay on Afghanistan by British author William Dalrymple on its website. The sophisticated aesthetic of the online publication makes you sit up in your chair. Mr Dalrymple’s arguments do more than that—they make you fall off it.
The gist of Mr Dalrymple’s endeavour in geopolitical literature is that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India form deadly triangle and that “hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan”. Therefore, he concludes, “(the) continuation of clashes between India and Pakistan in—and over—Afghanistan after the US withdrawal is dangerous for all countries in the region and for the world.” The metaphorical blind men were supposed to be from Hindustan. In this case, it is Mr Dalrymple who mistakes one part of the elephant for the whole.”
Pai argues that Mr Dalrymple’s profound misreading of the situation could have been ignored as just another piece of writing in the now voluminous literature on Afghanistan and Pakistan, had it not been for the context. He has hinted that narratives like Dalrymple’s help Barack Obama to cover his troops less than dignified exit. Secondly he argues that the narrative emerging from Mr Dalrymple…..misses the fundamental point: the conflict in Afghanistan is caused, fuelled and perpetuated mostly by Pakistan’s insecurities and sometimes by its ambitions. Both Islamabad and Rawalpindi see a strong, independent Afghanistan as an existential threat to Pakistan. If the United States and the international community wish to stabilise Afghanistan they would do well to acknowledge, understand and address Pakistan’s deep insecurities arising from the Durand Line.
Why a historian of his fame does not know these things. After all Dalrymple lives in India and should normally know the facts. Worse he takes obliquely the line of the ageing Dr Kissinger who never sought facts, because of his bias for Pakistan. This was known ever since it acted as a mediator between Washington and Beijing. It also helped the US in the Arab world. In an interview to Financial Times in 2011, Dr Kissinger said “An India-Pakistan war becomes more probable… Therefore some kind of international process in which these issues are discussed might generate enough restraints so that Pakistan does not feel itself encircled by India and doesn’t see a strategic reserve in the Taliban… “A most horrendous scene Dr Kissinger paints which clearly brings out his bias.
Dr Kissinger apparently wants international pressure on India to concede concessions to Pakistan vis-a-vis Kashmir. This line has also been advanced by Dalrymple. He may be hinting at it by cooking up the ‘deadly triangle’ theory. Dr Raj Kadian, an Indian settled in USA who takes active part in all discussions held in the D C area on subjects of interest to the sub-continent has commented on the works of William Dalrymple and others. “There appears to be an effort at Brookings that does not bode well for India’s interests. I thought there was mischief in his preconceptions, and am proved right.”
He cites what Michael E. O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow Foreign Policy at Brookings commenting on Dalrymple’s Essay, said ‘… the subject matter at hand is so delicate, relations in the region so fragile and frayed, that I think it important to be sure that such an essay not be allowed inadvertently to pour fuel on the fire. ….The fact that India and Pakistan have had very tense relations since “birth” is true and well known. But that fact does not condemn them to continue in the same vein forever.
“We must be careful not to extrapolate history into the future in a deterministic ways….India’s role in Afghanistan to date has been limited, and intentionally so, because Washington and Delhi and Kabul and other key capitals have recognized the potential for any larger Indian role to have undesirable effects. Let’s give credit where credit is due.”
Amb Dogra has pointed out that Dalyrmple’s made conclusions based on some recent events, which could be verified. The verification does not give much credit to him. Rather it makes us ask, “Why Mr Dalyrmple, India is a villain.” For instance he says, “The hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan.” God, is that really so? Isn’t it a fact that the current war in Afghanistan followed 9/11?
Then Dalrymple goes on to echo Kissinger, “The continuation of clashes between India and Pakistan in—and over—Afghanistan after the US withdrawal is dangerous for all countries in the region and for the world.” For such a conclusion Dalrymple chooses to ignore the repeated rejection by India of American requests for its military support in Afghanistan…. India was consistent in sticking to a developmental role. Asks Amb Dogra, Can India fight a war “in” Afghanistan if it does not have soldiers there and if it refuses to supply the Afghan government with the arms that it had recently requested for? But Dalrymple is unstoppable. He maintains, “For the Pakistani military, the existential threat posed by India has taken precedence over all other geopolitical and economic goals.” After that he takes a somersault. “In fact, however, the threat to Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is clearly no longer from India at all and arguably never has been.”
Why suddenly such nice words after all the effort to paint India as a problem in the region? The good historian possibly felt a pang for India, which literally is his home. But a sentence would not undo the damage the essay has caused. “ The theory that India is a villain in Afghanistan gains ground, as does the implied impression that India must be asked to show accommodation on Kashmir to appease Pakistan and thereby facilitate casualty free withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan.”
Lt. Gen P.K. Singh, Director USI, raises a pertinent point. “So the question that begs the answer is why has Mr Dalrymple written this article? Could it be that he wishes to deflect public perception from the real issues involved in the Af-Pak Region or does he lack an understanding of this part of the world? Is it too much to ask for a dispassionate assessment of the ground realities?
“In the guise of provoking an intellectual debate William Dalrymple is pushing an old line that if somehow the India-Pakistan equation is set right, the Afghan problem would disappear—what a brilliant understanding of the history behind the Afghan imbroglio! Meet any Afghan and he will tell you what the real problem is—it is the existence of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan which the ISAF has failed to eliminate in its 12 year long campaign. Possibly Mr Dalrymple has not met any Afghan or Indian who could throw light on this and other issues.”
Well, Mr Dalyrmple has met many Indians, a cross-section of them. But then as many literary and intellectually superior Indians would have us believe that opinions of white-skinned Sahebs are always right. We must not question or argue their views. Samajhe!
This is why one supposes that no strong rebuttal was given either by the Indian Embassy in Washington or the Foreign Office in Delhi. After all Mr Dalrymple is British and has written what suits Washington and Islamabad. Both Holy Cows for the Manmohan Singh-government.
By Vijay Dutt