Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Indian Blind Spot towards Pakistan

I realised today that I have been guilty of the same blind spot towards Pakistan as so many other Indians.
For all their sophistication, Indian elites continue to understand Pakistan primarily with reference to the events of 1947. Anything else is incidental, not essential. The established Indian paradigms for explaining Pakistan, its actions and its institutions, its state and society, have not undergone any significant shift since the Partition. The tropes remain the same: religion and elite manipulation explain everything. It is as if the pre-Partition politics of the Muslim League continues to be the politics of Pakistan—with slight non-essential variations. More than 60 years on, the factors may be different but little else has changed.

That quote by Pakistani journalist Khurram Hussain sums it up accurately. He goes on to say
This view is deeply flawed. It reflects a serious confusion about the founding event of contemporary Pakistani society. The Partition has a mesmerising quality that blinds the mind, a kind of notional heft that far outweighs its real significance to modern South Asian politics. The concerns of the state of Pakistan, the anxieties of its society, and the analytic frames of its intellectual and media elites have as their primary reference not 1947 but the traumatic vivisection of the country in 1971 (emphasis mine). Indians have naturally focused on their own vivisection, their own dismemberment; but for Pakistan, they have focused on the wrong date. This mix-up has important consequences.

I would encourage as many people as possible to read this article, especially Indians. It is an eye-opener, because Indians typically do not realise how traumatic the 1971 war must have been to Pakistan. India's own defeat at the hands of China in 1962 is seared into the collective consciousness of more than one generation of Indians and is responsible for a deep and abiding distrust of China throughout the country. And this is even without an event as traumatic as the vivisection of the country. Indeed, contemporary commentary on the Indo-China border war now pins the blame on Indian foreign minister Krishna Menon's aggressive "Forward Policy" which had the effect of provoking China without actually having the military might to back up that aggressiveness. To the credit of the Chinese, they withdrew to their pre-conflict positions after making their point.

If Indians can be permanently scarred by such a relatively minor humiliation, one can imagine how much deeper the psychological wounds must be for Pakistanis, who lost half their territory (in terms of population). Indians have been naively oblivious to the impact of the 1971 war on their neighbours, and hence the entire approach to Pakistan has been one of righteous indignation - a country under attack from a "state sponsor of terror". But this is a great example of the saying, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter." Pakistan sees itself as the wronged party. India is an existential threat to that country because it has dismembered it once before. Never mind that India isn't interested in doing it a second time. What matters is that Pakistanis believe it can happen again.

Looking at how difficult it is for Indians to trust China after 1962, one can readily understand that Pakistanis would be extremely unwilling to trust India after 1971.

And so I have a curious idea for a solution to the eternal India-Pakistan conflict. I don't believe the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute will necessarily solve the fundamental issue, because Pakistan needs something stronger to assuage its hurt. Pakistan will have to wrest Kashmir from India in a war that it wins. That is the only way 1971 can be avenged.

My idea is that the Indian government should apologise (yes, apologise) to Pakistan for breaking up the country in 1971. It has nothing to do with right and wrong and everything to do with emotion and moving forward. If the two countries are to move past the distrust, then Pakistanis must be made to feel India's genuine lack of interest in further harming their country. It would be better still if the leaders of India and Pakistan stood on a stage at the Wagah border and alternately apologised to each other's people for a list of perceived wrongs. That would clear the air and make other problems easier to solve, such as Kashmir.

The prize is a South Asian Federation that will be bigger and potentially greater than China.

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