Sunday, July 26, 2009

About Pakistan: An Indian View

In India, the most distant country in the world is Pakistan. The country we always watch with the corners of our eyes, the one whose mention makes us cringe and the one we almost always wish should never have been. We share a long border, similar food and culture. Pakistanis use a language, Urdu, which originated in an Indian court, Lucknow, and our histories were identical up to 1947. Indians have a strange feeling about Pakistan - most of us believe that we should drive all our Muslim citizens out of India and into Pakistan, and also that we should conquer Pakistan and undo the partition. Also, the ultimate blasphemy in India is to state the obvious - India can not conquer Pakistan, as it is a strong country with plenty of nuclear weapons and missiles, which can wipe out most Indian cities if an invasion was ever attempted.

Because of Pakistan, India has a seize within. We remain a country in fear. We always see the world conspiring against us. We have created a permanent schism with China as it got closer to Pakistan after we refused to acknowledge their accession of Tibet. We were hurt when the great democrats of the United States treated Pakistan as a strategic priority and armed it, but regarded India as a Soviet lackey despite our firm commitment to non-alignment. We don't know what to think of the British, as it is they whose mischief is it all, and who always strategically supported Pakistan and created the expression we hate most, the hyphenated India-Pakistan.

But, then, India in 2009 is a different country than what we were in 1947. At least, so it should be. We should no longer live in our fear, in our cocoon. We should no longer be hurt. Our economic promise has been acknowledged. The special place in the world we longed for has been promised. The world is ready to treat us on our terms. But, before that, we must be at ease with ourselves. But, before we do that, we must address the issue of Pakistan.

Pakistan, indeed, was a creation which made no sense at that time or since. Whatever is the stated reason, it was a country created for the fear of democracy. The British administrators feared a strong India, buoyed by democracy, will become an ideal to follow for all of the colonies, and wanted to keep it poor and divided. This was their main motive in helping create Pakistan. The Indian rulers saw the exit of millions of Muslim voters as good riddance, which eliminated the need of contending with a powerful opposition at the parliament from day one. The Muslim leaders detested the dangerous idea of democracy anyway and could not stand the prospect of poor uneducated peasant Muslims challenging their landlords, who mostly made up the Muslim League, under the Nehruvian utopia of a democratic government. So, from day one, Pakistan was an impossible country, set up as a dyke on the way to progress, by the wretched colonialists, corrupt zaimnders and privileged babus.

But the promise of Pakistan was entirely different. For most of its citizens, it was freedom. It was about finding the lost glories of an Islamic country, at a time when, not unlike today, Islam seemed a religion slightly out of focus, one in decay as far as modern ideas are concerned. Pakistan was to become the land of hope and modernity in Islam, place of freedom from the British yoke and the Hindu dominance, of restoration of the Mughal grandeur and faith.

Pakistan's history always showed this divide - between what it was and what it was meant to be. The first schism in Pakistan when the bengalis, mostly farmers who loved to secede from India as this meant walking on their corrupt, absentee Hindu landlords and starting a new life of dignity, were horrified to find that the new Pakistani government wants them to speak in Urdu, a court language which they did not know or cared for. This schism continued, between the elite rulers of Western Pakistani origin and the farmers of East Pakistan, until it came to a breaking point when East Pakistan finally seceded after a bloody war and became Bangladesh. Not unexpectedly, this terminal crisis of Pakistan as it was came because of democracy, because the West Pakistani aristocrats refused to accept the verdict of a general election of 1970.

In Pakistan's history, democracy always remained a disruptive force. The cause is straightforward, it was a country built on the fear of democracy and remained as such. Pakistan remained a stolen dream, where a set of rich and powerful conspirators fooled a hardworking and honest populace into violence, war and ruin, and the history of Pakistan remained that way all these sixty odd years. George Washington warned Americans to avoid foreign entanglements; had he lived today, he would have added - see Pakistan - as this country ruined itself fighting other people's wars. And, this they had to, because by itself, the country represented nothing and the truth about Pakistan remained the most dangerous fact that its rulers needed to hide from its own people.

So, Pakistan will remain, as long as it exists as a state, a country perpetually in crisis, looking to send its people to other people's wars, so that they don't have time to seek the nation they were promised. India has so far played an ideal target - we tore ourselves in the middle out an imagined fear and became a mirror image of Pakistan ourselves. We positioned ourselves against the people of Pakistan, and our own Muslim citizens, and threw ourselves into a seize we laid on ourselves. We feared everything and let the fear-mongers, like the genocidal Narendra Modi, steal our country, our ideals, from ourselves too. The stealing of Pakistan is gradually leading to stealing of the whole South Asia.

Just as our British masters wished. But the success of the scheme has gone beyond their wildest imagination. South Asia, which could have become one of the world's richest, most powerful, regions, remain mired in poverty, violence and hopelessness. The problem with this scheme is that this was essentially hatched by a few out of touch colonialists, who saw the world in terms of zero-sum sphere of influence and wanted everyone else, other than themselves, miserable. Though the leadership thinking is still shaped by such ideas even today, the world has changed fundamentally and has become far more interconnected and interdependent than those days. It is a more challenging world - with weapons on more hands, poverty and deprivation in more homes, more reasons to kill and the fact that we are to run out of breathable air and all be submerged in water soon if we don't act together - but then it is still a world full of possibilities, one that allows us more opportunities and more excuses to be more sensible, more compassionate towards others and better, in the widest sense of the word, people. The colonial zero-sum vision was always grossly inadequate for these challenges and these opportunities, and in South Asia, more than in any other region in the world, such limitations have become plain to see.

But then, it is in no one's interest to continue things as it is, least of all India's. The failure to imagine should be the last reason for us to succumb to and shy away from the historic opportunity that we have to turn the clock and play our rightful role in the world. And, in this context, we must solve the issue of Pakistan with matching realism, escaping the trap set out by Pakistan's rulers and putting things in broader context. Peace with India will actually lead to an existential problem in Pakistan, as will any grassroots democratic reform away from the clutches of the army and the usual oligarchs. But, one would hope that whatever comes of it will be a more sustainable state than the current post-colonial aberration of a state. People of current Pakistan and people of South Asia indeed deserves better: we should indeed try to create a new Pakistan based on democracy and tolerance rather than pakistanizing the whole region based on violence and chauvinism.

9 comments:

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

I came across this beautiful post - a Pakistani looking at India - and it is only appropriate that I link to it from here.

http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_4.1/zubeida.htm

Pradosh said...

Are you crazy ?
Chasing muslims across the border to pakistan ? And then undoing partition ??? Speak for yourself, its a little pompous of you to assume that all Indians think like you

Pakistan is composed to ill-educated intrinsically-incapable-of-modernism masses - why would you want to import that headache into India ??? Not to mention countless insurgencies, bad name internationally ...

And even if you did, what would we get in lieu of that headache ? A little gas from Baluchistan aside, there is not a single paisa's worth of anything that we can take from that country !!

~ And please dont say cricketers and musicians !

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Hi Pradosh

Indeed, I speak for myself but I do know a number of Indians who will think alike. No pretence, I know there are others who will think differently, and that surely is the best thing about India - our freedom to think and say different things.

I am not sure I agree to your image of Pakistan: I have a number of Pakistani friends who are as intelligent, capable and committed to their country's prosperity and progress as any one of us. They are doing pathbreaking research and opening new frontiers, not just in Music and cricket, but in social studies and sciences, including nuclear research, rocket sciences and all other things that keep us awake at night.

You know, I did not really mean to suggest that we undo partition. I don't think we can, at least not in our lifetime. But, what pains me is the pointless hatred our two countries reserve for each other, and the enormous waste of time, energy and money we commit in fatricidal hatred each passing year.

Import headache? Don't we already have enough? I think the big drag on any plans for progress in India is the poverty and instability of our region, which can't be corrected unless we start looking at the big picture, learn to share our prosperity and stop quibbling with our neighbours. And, that needs to start with Pakistan.

So, I think it is time for us to get real about Pakistan, see beyond our stereotypes and see how we can reconcile and move forward, which wouldn't happen unless we take the long view and be prepared to share prosperity and opportunity, build trust and stop playing politics.

Pradosh said...

Sorry if I came too strongly in my first comment - my apologies.

Moreover, I agree with your point that there are educated, intelligent Pakistanis who are same, if not better, than their Indian brethen. But I would say that this sane percentage is miniscule compared to their country at large.

And your point about living like good neighbours and helping them out sounds good on paper - but only if the neighbour is not lobbing grenades over the wall everyday. We are, as you mention, an impoverished nation ourselves, without having to share our limited resources with hostile neighbours. Infact, I am curious to know exactly what this cooperation of yours translates to on the real ground - should we open our IT engineering colleges to them, for example - and perhaps grant a quota to them in IITs and IIMs ? Replace the US as their biggest aid donor ?

I am sorry but I just dont see the point of all that given our current status.

And as far as my comment about the incapable-of-modernism masses, it was a nod towards the religion mostly. Since its so entrenched in the social aspects of their life - and given its stubborn refusal to move an inch from its 14-15th century avatar, things are not too bright for them, to put it mildly. Other religions might have also remained static, but none of them dictate our social lives. Education is probably the panacea for this, but it will take a generation or two of wellbeing before any change can come.

PS - perhaps they have been better at us at building rockets and nuclear bombs - but then, they havent been able to build a single nuclear power plant without external (Chinese) help - so I am not convinced about their superiority in that aspect

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Indeed, I see your point. I feel the same frustration you feel about having to pay for an overblown defence budget, when we could use the money for building schools, hospitals and roads. I was enraged by the assault on Mumbai and for the loss of innocent lives, everywhere. You will see that I agree on the point that Pakistan is a broken state, which needs fixing.


I think our key disagreement comes in two areas. First, I do not think there is a military fix for Pakistan. Pakistan has a strong army, nuclear capabilities and Chinese friends to pre-empt that possibility. Besides, one can not pursue such a solution without destroying India and pushing us back many many years. So, I think we should start by acknowledging that this option is off the table, even if the neighbour is lobbying grenades at us. I would see this as the only practical, and yet morally defensible, approach to take in this regard.

Second, we disagree on the point of religion. I think Pakistan's key problem was that it was built on a false premise. It was built to become a 'muslim homeland', but such a thing is oxymoron, a blast from past which do not have any relevance in modern day world. Given the interconnectedness of today's world, the compulsions of economics and politics, this idea isn't plausible. Pakistan became possible by an odd coalition of West Pakistani landlords who wanted to keep their estates out of 'socialist' elements in Congress, and the East Pakistani farmers who wanted to escape the Hindu landlords and Babus. The whole movement was led by a secular, egoist barrister, who wanted to spoil Congress' party and extract some revenge of his own humiliation about two decades earlier. So, I felt Modern Pakistan has no reason to exist, unless it can reinvent itself and find a purpose.

Besides, I feel no disengagement with Islam, which, I think, like many other religions, is all about achieving one's inner peace and live life morally and in harmony with others. I have many muslim friends, who are just as intelligent, vain, corrupt and committed as my Hindu or Christian ones. I do not see the problem of Pakistan as a religious one; I rather see this as a political problem.

So, my thoughts on how India can help fix Pakistan are these:

(a) By not becoming like Pakistan itself. Pakistan's existential troubles stem from the fact that India is not a Hindu state, but one that allows freedom and dignity to all its citizens, regardless of their religion. This is our big win, our only claim to superiority, and a model we can project across the border as the only way to build a stable state in a diverse neighbourhood. We must stay true to these principles, and not give in to the temptations of being a reverse image of Pakistan.

(b) You got it right, by building educational, cultural and business links with Pakistan. There are enough sane, smart and reasonable people across the border. We are a powerful enough nation not to live in fear, but to engage with graciousness and openness befitting a large nation. We have to build the bridges and allow the secular, freedom-loving people in Pakistan to know that we are not unreasonably hostile and bent on destroying them.

(c) By starting to look for non-Military solutions to our disputes. For example, by granting an autonomous free state status to Kashmir, with the Indian state looking after its defence and foreign policy, but leaving almost everything else to Kashmiris.

See, while I see past is important, in the affairs of the nations, it is always the Present which takes precedence. All I am suggesting is that we become pragmatic and protect our fragile progress and allow a stable, secure and prosperous life for all. I am an Indian and very proud to be one; but my sense of India does not exist in exclusion of other nations, but at peace with a wider world.

Hope you will understand.

Pradosh said...

Ah, so we are actually narrowing down our differences my friend ! I too have no interest in a military solution to Pakistan. Given their nuclear weapons and China, I completely agree with you that war is not an option. I had raised the point only because in your original post, you had mentioned that Indians think they should overrun Pakistan - I couldnt be more opposed to the idea !! And I think I have outlined my reasons why ..

And I totally agree with you on your question of reason for Pakistan's existence. But we havent quite refuted their raison d'etre by proving to be a model secular country. Our muslim brethen are regularly discriminated against - and consciously or subconciously, most of us are guilty of having done it sometime. And I havent even touched on the riots etc. We are an imperfect country but hopefully we will be able to pull all our citizens along towards prosperity

About settling outstanding issues with Pakistan, by all means, go for it. Make Kashmir independent with guarantees from both sides that they wont annex it again and let it exist free - perfect. We stand to lose much more by continuing the way we're right now. Those guys anyway dont want us there - let them go. Settle all other border issues - Kutch etc - definitely

Where I still differ with you is about the Islam religion. All religions help you find inner peace,perhaps talk to God and generally preach peace - and I respect it for it. But the version of Islam that is prevalent in this world is the one which meddles too much into the daily lives of its followers - and religious leaders of the community have too much clout in non-religious matters. The complete disregard for any advancements in western society and the status of women in the society are points which rankle me. In this century, we are still forcing women to walk around in black tents - and what is worse, we are making no moves to improve their lot. Attempts in Europe to help muslim women out are met with hostile threats about insulting muslim religion. The muslim clergy as a whole is repeatedly sending out warnings against western education for all muslims. How will they improve ???

My other disagreement with you comes from increasing education, cultural links etc. Again on paper, they sound great. But as you said, as a nation, India is big enough not to be afraid of Pakistan. But you must already know that after the failure of Islam, the only binding factor in Pakistan is anti-India sentiment. Numerous surveys have found that a huge majority of the population (80+) is ready to join the army and fight if there is a war with India. In this scenario, I am not afraid that the Pakistani nation will do something funny. I am afraid what damage one misguided zealot (or ten) may do by strapping bombs to himself when we allow them free movement in the country. And the damage from that one individual to our near & dear ones (and possibly right at our home) is not worth it.

Publicly announce we mean Pakistan no harm - they can coexist peacefully with us! Live and let live I say. Settle the Kashmir issue - solve the Indus waters issue. But open doors to a lot of them, no I cant live with that ...

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Great to see that we agree on more things than not.

Well, I must report that a number of people I have spoken to in India seems to believe that India has overwhelming strength and it can bomb Pakistan out of existence. Which is a mistaken notion and any discussion, in my view, should start from that point. Since we are in agreement on this one, rest of the discussion seems much easier.

Having known people who practise the Islamic faith, I shall still say that the stereotype you see is not correct. Islam is far from monolithic: there are many variations inside it. Besides, all men and women practising Islam are not fundamentalist zealots; as all Hindus are not superstitious, resigned to fate or casteist. Yes, there are issues about how institutional Islam treats women, but such issues are there with every religion. Catholics are yet to come in terms with modern science as far as genetic research or birth control are concerned, but that does not rule us out from contacts with all Catholics, nor does it make all Catholic nations backward. Protestants have practised Anti-semitism and unleashed some of the most horrific mass murders in the last century, but that does not disqualify all protestants from education or progress.

Besides, as we walk out of home, we meet a number of disagreeable people, many of whom would murder or rob us if there is an opportunity. We can't stay indoors because it is so; we would rather build our defences by participating in a civil society and creating rewards for good behaviour. I think the same principle should apply when we look across the border.

I hope you will see my point. You can't close doors on one-third of the humanity just because they are muslim. Besides, when you start excluding people on the basis of faith, you also exclude Indian muslims, and in turn, make India a lot more like Pakistan.

Pradosh said...

Ah but this time you didnt get my point properly.

I didnt mean for once that all muslims are zealots - or that they should be debarred from advancement just because they are muslims. On the contrary, I want them to progress in leaps and bounds - I am just concerned that I dont see any signs of it happening anytime soon.

When I talk about me fearing a suicide bomber or 26/11 style commando raid - I am talking about the narrow minded LeT, JeM type who will always be against peace, esp peace in India. Opening up our borders to civilian links will just facilitate entry of these terrorists under the guise of civilians - and we are far from having the ability of detecting who is good and who is bad. The latest Headley case is a great example of the efficacy of our intelligence :)

About the issue of Islam, let me clarify my point. All major religions of the world probably have one or more black marks on their history. Christians probably have the most - Inquisition, the Spanish Conquistadors, Antisemitism etc. Islam has been accused of spreading mainly by sword. But that is history and that is not what I talking about

Despite all religions of the world not being comfortable with modern science, it is Islam where the religious clergy has been able to hold back a huge part of their flock from adopting these benefits. In other faiths, religion is not the all pervasive presence in everyday life. People do not have to live their life according to a book written 10 centuries ago. A very simple example is birth control. Extremely important for our planet - but muslim clergy forbid any attempts at birth control (so does the Roman Catholic Church). But you would agree that more muslims have ignored birth control than Christians
(These statements are true for the majority poor, uneducated class - the minority educated elite is ofcourse an exception)

You can say all these will vanish when more modern education reaches them - but that is the cinch. The same religious clergy forbids modern education. While a few nations like Turkey and maybe Iran have managed to establish modern education, a majority of muslim countries are far behind in this field.

The world will always be full of disagreeable people - but society's endeavour has always been to police it better so that nothing bad actually happens. With our current policing system the way it is, we are just not ready to add a few terrorists into that mix. Till we get there, I think we should keep our neighbours out.

And when you lose someone close to you because of them, you are singularly more skeptical of their intentions ...

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

I understand what you are saying and share the apprehensions that you have about putting loved ones at risk. I remember having to call my brother and confirming that he is okay, because he worked in Fort and took a train from CST every evening on his way home. I also understand your reservations about the transformational possibility of the people in Pakistan, because of the clergy's influence on them.


I would still urge you to be optimistic. I can talk about my friend in Bangladesh who is risking his life and social prominence by planning to set up Madrassahs in Sylhet, the usual religious ones, but one which will teach English, Science and Maths as a part of the curricula. Or I can talk about my friend in Stretham, who lost her father to religious violences and now wants to set up a charity in Karachi taking care of orphaned children using the money she earned as an investment banker in London. I do not see them as any different from any one of us, eager to change, committed to their roots and engaged with the rest of the world in equal terms.

I also care deeply about Indian muslims. For me, their forefathers made a brave choice by choosing to stay in India, instead of going to Pakistan. I don't think we respected that courage very much, and instead made them feel like intruders in their own country. I think our security strategy must start with not just looking at external threats and how to stop people coming from abroad, but how to ensure that our own people are integrated in the circle of prosperity, opportunity and common interest.

I would actually doubt that we can keep away the terrorists by keeping our borders closed. I do not think there are very many terrorists, and doubt that entire Pakistan would want to come to India to commit suicide attacks if we choose to adopt a more open approach. I rather think the opposite: a more open approach will reduce the influence of extremists on the common Pakistani citizen, who, much like us, want to live in peace, with family and own a house and car and his EMIs on time.

I think we are at a stage where, to quote FDR, what we have to fear is the fear itself. I think we are at the brink, we can allow Pakistan to slide into chaos and drag India down with it; or we can open an opportunity, of overcoming our past and stepping forward, as a nation together, to show that we are true to our principle of tolerance and democracy.

I know this is not going to happen. What I write is idealism, not practical politics. But, as I study history, I know that such naive idealism helped solve lots of intractable problems, whereas practical politicking created a lot of them.

Popular Posts

How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

Creative Commons License

AddThis