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Blowing in the whirlwind

india Updated: Apr 02, 2009 15:44 IST
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Every year, in November, the American magazine Newsweek departs from its focus on current events to publish a special number which examines national and regional trends that cannot be slotted within the weekly cycle of news. Writing in the last such issue, the editor of a Delhi newspaper (not this one) wrote that ‘Indian foreign policy is no longer focused exclusively on Pakistan’s external actions — and how to thwart them. Delhi today is more concerned with what happens inside Pakistan and how to help Indians and Pakistanis both feel more secure, stable and prosperous. While the Indian government shares Washington’s concerns about terrorism, it also shares an interest in Pakistan’s well-being. Six decades of animosity are coming to an end’.

Prophecy is best left to astrologers. For, a few days after this article was published, terrorists based in Pakistan attacked Mumbai. In the weeks and months since that brutal attack, Indian foreign policy has been largely focused on Pakistan. Far from ‘coming to an end’, the animosity has intensified. Abuse and accusation have become the preferred mode of conversation between diplomats and politicians of both countries.

Post Mumbai, and post the terror attacks on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, there has been some amount of gloating by Indians in the press and in cyberspace. The latest outrage in Pakistan’s most beautiful (and cultured) city will doubtless provoke more gloating still. Businessmen, politicians, editors will all remind us that India is NOT Pakistan, that we are a stable multi-religious democracy rather than a failing state plagued by fundamentalists.

It has been said that Pakistan’s main problems are Allah, the Army, and America. Of these three impediments India is not entirely free of at least two. Instead of Allah we have Ram, that other mythical figure around whom politicians seek to divide people and climb on their backs to power. Through the 1980s and the 1990s, the misuse of the name of this great God caused great damage to India and Indians. The danger is not yet past — consider the alacrity with which the Bharatiya Janata Party has jumped to the defence of its Ram-loving (and Muslim-hating) candidate from Pilibhit.

If India, unlike Pakistan, has succeeded in keeping the Army away from politics, this is in part because of good luck. Had Jinnah and Liaquat lived as long as Nehru, perhaps they too might have succeeded in establishing the supremacy of elected officials over men in uniform. It may also be that the Indian Army has decided that it would be too messy a business to assume power which, in this large, diverse, and far-flung country, would require not one coup, but twenty-eight, one for each of the states of the Republic.

As for America, we are only now learning to distinguish its attractions from its seductions. A section of the Indian elite are keen for us to replace Pakistan as Washington’s pliant follower in South Asia. They see material advantages —markets for Indian goods, for example. And they see strategic advantage — a bulwark against the other rising Asian nation, China. In my view, however, we would be as foolish to uncritically follow the American government now as it was to mindlessly oppose them in the past. The US is known to be a fair-weather friend — flattering and wooing us today, they could just as easily dump us tomorrow.

We share with Pakistan an increasingly corrupt civil service, a brutal police and political parties that are in effect family firms. And then we have problems that are all our own — as for example a left-wing insurgency that is active and influential across one-tenth of the country’s land mass. The State of Pakistan should thus promote not self-satisfaction, but a critical look within. For there, but for the grace of the Indian Constitution, go we.

We would be unwise to gloat over our neighbour’s predicament. On their part, Pakistan and Pakistanis might consider giving up on their standard scapegoat for the state of Indo-Pak relations, namely, Kashmir. For it’s Pakistan’s obsession with delivering the Valley from Indian rule that is responsible, in good measure, for their own predicament. The Islamicisation of Pakistani society that General Zia-ul-Haq began has proceeded apace since his death, aided by the proliferation of insurgent groups promising the public that they will successfully redeem the letter K in the name of the nation.

When I was in Lahore this past January, I met several Pakistanis who could see no inconsistency between their opposition to terrorism and their support to the jihadis in Kashmir. If the attack on Mumbai did not give them pause, then surely the two recent attacks in their own city will. Liberal, cosmopolitan Pakistanis have been complicit in the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in their country, not directly, but indirectly, by permitting the alibi of Kashmir to cover up the camps and madrasas that have sprung up across Punjab, indoctrinating the young to wreak acts of terror.

The prophet quoted at the beginning of this article was mistaken — six decades of animosity between India and Pakistan are not coming to an end. Withal, we must try and make sure that the animosities do not deepen further. A start can be made, on our side, by not gloating over their plight; and, on theirs, by recognising the direct and inseparable link between the jihad in Kashmir and the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan.

Ramachandra Guha is a historian and the author of India After Gandhi