Friday, December 26, 2008

Day 5: War Game

The rhetoric of war - from India and from Pakistan - continues to dominate the news. It is almost a hotchpotch, with both Prime Ministers saying that there would be no war, and others warning each other. There is news of troop movements, population movements from some of the border villages and increasing activity from the Americans to keep peace. The tone inside India continues to be angry, and slowly the anger is shifting from our own politicians to Pakistan, and the Muslim community. Things, in summary, do not look very promising.

Somehow, it seems that both sides are playing a war game. As a political obligation, as if it must be done. There is a certain acceptance that war will not happen - both the Prime Ministers said that - and therefore, it is okay to gesticulate and show strength. But it indeed is a very dangerous game. In modern history, as many wars started by accident as by intent. All it needs is a madman somewhere, and they are not in short supply.

I have never been to Pakistan, but had Pakistani friends and teachers. What I understood of Pakistan is (a) it is country in search of a nationhood; (b) the abiding purpose of nationhood in Pakistan is the anti-thesis of what India stands for.

An Islamic nation-state does not sound too plausible, as Islam is not a national identity. As modern India sought to create a national identity, in terms of philosophies and symbols, Pakistan tried to create a nationhood on the basis of Islam. It hasn't worked so far, and it is unlikely to work in the future. So, the country will have to deal with its internal chasm at the same time as it tries to project itself in the modern world. A task, so far, all of Pakistan's leaders have failed to accomplish.

The initial feudal opportunism that created Pakistan manifested itself in the successive military regimes that ruled the country. Interestingly, contrary to its image, Pakistan has not been a Islamic revivalist country, rather one in which religious parties have got only modest success. It is the feudal rulers which invented the religion as a tool of keeping people focused away from governance issues; religion as people's opium, in true sense.

So, the idea of Pakistan stands directly against the idea of India: an imagined Islamic nation-state as against a aspirationally secular one; a political structure aimed at perpetuation of feudal rule against an ambition to create a modern state through universal suffrage.

I think this is the essential conflict one has to resolve. There are two ways it can end, either India becoming more like Pakistan, a state for Hindus ruled by a fascist clique; or, Pakistan can eventually become more like India, a tolerant, democratic state. The first one is a possibility and war will facilitate that. The second one is aspirational and will require generations, but something worth dying for.

We should realize that, for all its faults and feudal underpinnings, the current government in Pakistan is a democratic one. We must continue to have faith in the basic decency of Pakistani people, who are as peace-loving and as much keen to living a normal family life as we are. Maintaining this democratic government, while the power and prestige of the Pakistani army is spent on fighting its own civil war, will advance us down the road of creating a stabler Pakistan, and a peaceful region.

War, on the contrary, will push us down the other path. It will stop Pakistan's own civil war and unite the combatants. It will allow Pakistani Military to gesticulate and regain some of its lost prestige. It will allow us to undermine our own institutions, and allow xenophobes like Narendra Modi to gain political mileage. It will push us down the same path as Pakistan - one of oligarchic rule, division and lack of imagination.

If we remember Mumbai, we should remember two things. One, the captured terrorist, Kasav, left home because he asked for a shirt as a festive gift and did not get it from his parents. Keeping Pakistan poor, hungry and shirtless does not help. India must, as a pre-eminent economy in the region, help Pakistan rebuild its economy. This will undermine Pakistani military and its terror recruiters; it will help those decent Pakistanis who want to build a modern peaceful country.

Two, we must go to war - but this one is inside India. Why did we tolerate the mafia in Mumbai for decades? We should send our army to Mumbai, not Rajasthan. Our snipers should look out for Dawood, and take him out wherever he is in the world. We should demolish every Mafia business, put in jail every tainted politician and police officer, and follow zero tolerance on corruption and crime in every Indian city. It is our war, and we must finish this one quickly.

I am in the minority in India at this time. But the hope is, in our great country and democracy, even my opinion counts.

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