According to public caricature, the typical Indian liberal is the sort of person who believes passionately in secularism, opposes caste-based politics, supports economic liberalisation as long as it is accompanied by social welfare measures and is deeply committed to the notion that India and Pakistan are natural allies, brothers, even, who have been kept apart by the venality of politicians.
Well, I am not one of those people.
Oh, all right, I’ll amend that slightly. In most respects I probably am a caricature Indian liberal. But there’s one area where I part company with most of my ilk. Pakistan.
It is not that I have anything against Pakistan or its people. More that I am intensely intolerant of the jhappi-pappi-type of Punjabi peacenik who turns misty-eyed at the very mention of Lahore, claims that “we are the same people on both sides of the border”, insists that all Pakistanis really love India, and uses that hideous phrase: “A strong and stable Pakistan is in India’s best interests.”
Actually, I believe that ‘a strong and stable Pakistan’ is India’s worst nightmare. The times when we have had uninterrupted periods of peace were when Pakistan has been obsessed with its own problems (in the 1970s, after the Bangladesh war, for instance). Even now, the only reason why a reasonable General Musharraf came to meet Manmohan Singh in Havana, abandoning the hectoring rhetoric he employed in New York last year, is because he’s in deep trouble at home. The mullahs want to kill him. Balochistan could explode. Civil society is restive. And the whole world has finally begun to accept India’s line that Pakistan is the centre of global terrorism — especially after all those arrested over the attempted London plane bombings turned out to have Pakistani connections.
So let’s not buy all that candles-on-the-Wagah-border stuff about how Musharraf is a really nice chap and how it has now become our job to keep the poor dear in office because, otherwise, some horrible Islamist will take over. (Did any Pakistani regard it as his responsibility, I wonder, to keep Inder Gujral at Race Course Road, because, otherwise, the BJP would take over?)
Let’s be quite clear about Pakistan’s status vis-a-vis India. It is a small hostile neighbour constructed on the proposition that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in peace — a proposition that is demolished each day by the success of India’s secularism. We are not the same people; we are not brothers; and our interests do not coincide.
Why, then, do I support Manmohan Singh’s latest peace initiative? Why do I pray that Manmohan succeeds where so many before him have failed?
Shouldn’t I be railing against his agreement with Musharraf? Shouldn’t I be describing the formation of the Joint Mechanism on Terror between India and Pakistan as the 21st-century equivalent of appointing a committee to crack down on serial killers and making Jack The Ripper its Chairman?
Perhaps. But I don’t think you need to love Pakistan to support what Manmohan has achieved.
You just need to love India.
Let’s take the rationale for the peace process, step by step. In most conflicts, when people want peace it is because they are terrified of the consequences of war. The reason so many people in Europe and America welcomed the end of the Cold War was because it reduced the risk of perishing in a nuclear holocaust. The reason all of Europe celebrated the end of World War II was because it meant that their homes would no longer be pounded by enemy bombers and their sons could return home safe from the battlefield.
But, in India, we have no notion of being constantly at risk. For most of us, the fear of war does not exist. As long as the status quo endures, we can hang on to Kashmir. And even when war does break out, we treat it like an India-Pakistan Test series. Somebody else does the actual fighting, far away and we suffer no harmful consequences: there are no air raids on Greater Kailash or Lower Parel. Nor do that many people die. The only war most people really remember is Kargil where we took 500 casualties — more soldiers have died in mining and de-mining operations on the borders than were killed in Kargil.
Add to this the notion, bred over ‘victories’ in 1965 and 1971, even before Kargil, that big India would always win a war against small Pakistan and you have some sense of why Indians do not care too much about the peace process and its complexities.
The only way in which the India-Pakistan conflict affects our everyday lives is when trains are blown up in Bombay or Diwali shoppers are killed in Delhi markets.
And so, for most Indians, the peace process is about ending terror. Kashmir and the other reasons for the conflict are at the periphery of our consciousness. We may be determined not to cede an inch of Kashmir but we see no link between that dispute and the bombings in our neighbourhood.
Any Indian Prime Minister negotiating with Pakistan must walk a tightrope: he must ask them to end terror and yet offer nothing substantial on Kashmir.
Because Prime Ministers have access to information that you and I do not have, they are not as sanguine about the prospect of war. Neither AB Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh believed that the next war will be as limited as Kargil. Neither believed that Kashmiris would unhesitatingly repel Pakistani invaders as they did in 1965. And they both knew that nuclear weapons had, at a stroke, destroyed India’s conventional superiority over Pakistan. We may well have more bombs than them. But how much will that matter if there’s a mushroom cloud over Bombay?
Pakistan knows all this. That’s why it began, in 1989, to use terrorism as a calibrated weapon of diplomacy. Without terror, we would not seek any meaningful talks. And so, the ISI trained and armed militants, first in Kashmir and then in other parts of India. As the Afghan conflict ended, they sent the rent-a-jehadis to India.
But there are clear indications now that Islamabad has gone too far. The terrorists are not restricting themselves to India. Some have turned on Musharraf himself. Others have spread terror in Europe — most Muslim militants in the UK have strong ties with Pakistan.
This presents an opportunity for India. The British Security Services and the American intelligence agencies are now actively demanding Pakistan’s cooperation in cracking down on terror cells. When Manmohan Singh asked Musharraf why — if he was sincere about peace — he would not offer us such cooperation, his response was that while there was a mechanism in place for the US and the UK, there was no such structure for India-Pakistan.
The Joint Mechanism against Terrorism emerged out of this conversation. India’s view is: if Musharraf is serious and we can provide hard evidence, then he will have to offer some cooperation or be seen as a sponsor of terror by his new pals in London and Washington.
It is possible that this mechanism will fail — in which case we will be no worse off than before. It is unlikely that it will fully succeed — don’t hang around Delhi airport waiting for Maulana Masood Azhar to turn up as a special gift from the General. But what we will probably get is some measure of cooperation on the rogue groups — the ones that no longer take orders from the ISI and those that the West is after. Moreover, as Manmohan Singh also points out, even those groups that do not accept the ISI rupee are, nevertheless, headquartered in Pakistan. If we can make Musharraf pursue them, then we will still have gained. I doubt, for instance, that Pakistan will send Dawood Ibrahim back. But if we can force a situation where Islamabad has to pack him off to a third country because he has become too hot to handle, then that is to our advantage.
That’s why I am not willing to join the critics of the new terror mechanism. And that’s why I think all Indians should hope and pray that it meets with some success. It’s either that or more bombs in trains.
But of course, even if all goes well, this can be no more than a first step. The time has come for us to begin thinking the unthinkable about Kashmir. No Indian Prime Minister has the mandate to redraw the border. But equally, do we want Kashmir to continue to be a festering sore well into the 21st century? Should an emerging super-power continue to be so obsessed with a small neighbour only because of a mid-20th century territorial dispute?
To think imaginatively about Kashmir is not to do what Musharraf wants or even to follow the hardliners in the Hurriyat. There are many proposals from elected leaders — whether it is Farooq Abdullah or Mufti Mohammed Sayeed — to grant enough autonomy to Kashmir to assuage popular sentiment. As long as the territorial integrity of India is protected and democracy prevails, which sensible Indian could refuse to consider these proposals?
And yet we do. We treat our intransigence on Kashmir as some kind of virility test; as proof of Indian machismo. And so, the festering sore turns gangrenous.
Fortunately, we’ve had two Prime Ministers who have dared to take risks. AB Vajpayee defied his party to reach out to Pakistan. And now, Manmohan Singh is showing courage and statesmanship.
But Manmohan will fail — as Vajpayee did — unless there is enough progress on terrorism and unless ordinary Indians realise that we need to make peace with Pakistan and get on with our lives.
It’s okay for little Pakistan to be India-phobic. But surely we have bigger plans for India’s future?