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A merger of interests

Today the bottom-line of India’s Pakistan policy must be to encourage the isolation of its violent jihadists, a process that Pakistani society and many of its leaders, civilian and military, seem to have initiated, writes Rajmohan Gandhi.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2010 22:57 IST

‘Of course, they will kill me,’ one of the subcontinent’s most-influential Muslim leaders told me the other day. “But first they will flog me.” He was speaking of what would await persons like him if violent extremists took over. But the need to survive is compelling many in Pakistan to fight the jihadists.

The stupid talk of an Indian hand behind suicide attacks is not the real story from Pakistan. That Pakistanis as a society are quietly redrawing their list of friends and enemies.

Violent extremists disgracing Pakistan and Islam are now seen as the nation’s enemy number one as well as danger number one. Certainly the United States is not liked, and there is resentment at the pressure on Pakistanis to do more. Pakistanis think that the US and India should understand what Dawn recently called “the limitations of a sub-optimal state fighting a hydra-headed enemy”.

But the violent extremists who blast women, children and the elderly into body pieces that land in mosques and bazaars have firmly displaced the US from its position as the entity Pakistanis most detest.

This national sentiment — plain to anyone observing the Pakistani scene — is shared across political, sectarian and provincial divides, across the civilian/military divide, and by rich and poor alike. No stance adopted by the US or India attracts the level of popular revulsion that Pakistan’s violent jihadists have invited on their heads.

Survival is the driving force behind this firm reappraisal. Pakistanis obliged to thank God at the end of every non-tragic day throw an expectant glance at India. No doubt, there are Pakistanis who hate India and who would bleed India if they could, as some of their compatriots have done. But these add up to a miniscule minority. The vast majority in Pakistan hopes that Indians will understand their situation, help if they can, and refrain from hurting if they cannot help.

As is true of all peoples, Pakistanis differ one from the other. In respect of other peoples or communities, Sri Lanka’s Tamils for instance, Indians have no difficulty in separating the bulk of the Tamil population from the Tamil Tigers who perpetrated cruel deeds.

Thanks to bitter history, we find it much harder to do this with Pakistanis. At least 19 out of 20 Pakistanis hate the violent jihadists, but this fact is lost on us. That Pakistanis killed by suicide bombers and jihadist ambushes add up to many more than Indians similarly killed makes no impression on us. “They asked for it” and “Let them realise what it’s like” are standard Indian reactions.

But the apparent lack of compassion is beside the point. Indifference to what is happening in Pakistan will hurt us in visible and tangible ways. In the unlikely yet not impossible event of an alliance between Pakistan’s violent jihadists and sections of its army, large number of Pakistanis of all classes will attempt an exodus into Indian-administered Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat.

Will the Indian army push them back? Will Pakistani women and children be shot by us as they flee from a fanatical regime? India’s conscience and world opinion will forbid that. Today our self-interest lies in preventing such an attempted exodus.

During World War II, Winston Churchill took the helm in Britain at a time when his people disliked Stalin and the Soviet Union as much as they disliked Hitler and the Nazis. Churchill not only told his people bluntly that an alliance with Stalin was critical to British survival, he reminded the British that Russians too were human beings. Almost overnight the British redrew their list of enemies and dangers. The result, we all know, was the start of the isolation of Nazi Germany.

Today the bottom-line of India’s Pakistan policy must be to encourage the isolation of its violent jihadists, a process that Pakistani society and many of its leaders, civilian and military, seem to have initiated. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must make it clear to the people of Pakistan that every Pakistani who stands up to the jihadists — no matter his or her profession, party, province, previous record or image in Indian eyes — can count on India’s goodwill.

More than once Singh has hinted at as much, but now he must, Churchill-like, summon the Indian people to support a new policy that reflects the merger between Indian interests and Pakistani survival.

And Pakistani leaders on their part must find imaginative ways of summoning their people for an ideological and moral fight against the life-denying, murder-loving message of the violent jihadists who have disrupted normal life in Pakistan, apart from bringing their country into disrepute.

Each day the ordinary Pakistani has to be ready for a horrible possibility. S/he are coping because they must. But surely they need clear reminders, from men and women they respect, of what is at stake, where Pakistan’s real interests lie, and what Islam really is. Those who point out the facts will invite hostility, as was underlined by the leader I quoted at the start. But readiness to face the music is perhaps one thing to borrow from the jihadists.

Rajmohan Gandhi teaches political science and history at the University of Illinois, US. His latest book, A Tale of Two Revolts: India 1857 & the American Civil War, studies two 19th century wars occurring in opposite parts of the world at almost the same time

The views expressed by the author are personal.