The session on The Pakistan Paradox attempted to go beyond the stereotypical picture of Pakistan as a country of mindless radicals controlled by a gun-toting military. An interesting question by the former foreign secretary Shyam Saran debated the existence of a deeper affinity spanning across the subcontinent. “Is there a message we are missing?” he asked.
“There is so much that is completely forgotten about Pakistan because of the terror question,” said Pakistani journalist Reema Abbasi, author of Historic Temples of Pakistan. “In Pakistan, you have a public narrative that is completely different from the state narrative. The international community has given a louder voice to the state narrative as compared to the public narrative,” she said.
Citing the reaction to incidents like the Peshwar school massacre and Wednesday’s attack on the Bacha Khan University in the Khyber Pakhtunwa region, Abbasi said there has been some change in Pakistan, and that civil society and the media is now so empowered that nothing now goes unnoticed.
So what is the Pakistan Paradox? Writer Christophe Jaffrelot, who has written a book with the same title, explained that different contradictions make up these paradoxes of the idea of Pakistan: the existing contradiction of the centralised military and the state, that of Islamic versus the Islamist perceptions, and the support for the democratic state versus the autocratic one.
Jaffrelot too believes things have changed, especially after the Peshawar incident. “The NAP or National Action Plan (launched to deal with terrorism) has targeted new groups. But whenever a group goes out of hand, another one is promoted as the good Islamist,” he said. Clearly, the paradox exists.
But what does this mean for India? Saran had a provocative question: “If tomorrow India is no longer perceived as a threat, will it lead to the disintegration of Pakistan. Is that so fundamental for the survival of Pakistan?”
Jaffrelot explained that this might have been the case during the 1971 war but no longer holds true. Historian Venkat Dhulipala, author of Creating a New Medina, believes Pakistan does not define itself simply in opposition to India. “Pakistan sees itself as the new Medina, as the new global leader of the Muslim or the Islamic world, which will pick the baton dropped by the Ottomans after the World War I,” he said.
Jaffrelot and Abbasi disagreed. “We are not trying to be a new Medina in any way,” Abbasi said. “The idea was thrust upon us by people like Zia ul Haq”.
So how should India deal with Pakistan? “To begin with one has to be realistic and be aware of the history that brought the two nations into existence,” says Dhulipala.
Saran opposed the idea of a grand reconciliation between the two nations that some leaders have been advocating citing the different narratives that each adheres to on the Partition, the Kashmir issue, and the three wars. “The Indian view is very different from Pakistan and it will take a long time to bring the two narratives in alignment,” he said.
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