By Mani Shankar Aiyar
The mindset in Pakistan is changing. But India’s hawks still don’t get it
My friend, the cine artiste and poet, Farooque Sheikh, has summed it up better than I ever could. He describes the TRP war being whipped up by our hysterical TV anchors as “dangerously boring and boringly dangerous”.
It is precisely because one had anticipated outrages of the kind that occurred on Sunday, January 6 (and have a much longer ancestry than TV anchors and their guest cohorts are willing to acknowledge — such, for example, as revealed by Praveen Swami in The Hindu) that I have for so long been advocating “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” as the only way for India and Pakistan to resolve their issues and normalise their relations. We need most to talk when we are on the edge of war; least when the going is, in any case, good.
The opposition to dialogue has little to do with individual incidents, however horrific. There is a large body of public opinion in India, chock-a-block with retired generals, superannuated ambassadors, and — the most dangerous of the breed — demobbed short service officers turned diplomats, who have never believed in or always had little commitment to a viable relationship with Pakistan. These incidents give them, and their Pakistan counterparts, the opportunity to regurgitate their favourite prejudices. So, it is not present anger that drives their outrage, but incidents of this kind that give passing validity to their shrill tub-thumping. Theirs is the mindset of “old, unhappy, far-off things/And battles long ago”.
There is a huge mindset change occurring in Pakistan, indeed, has been evolving with increasing acceleration over the last three decades that I have stayed in and visited Pakistan. Tragically, this changing Pakistani mindset is escaping far too large a section of public opinion in our country. This is inevitable when 95-99 per cent of Indians have never met a Pakistani but have strong views about Pakistan. What is unforgivable is the honing of prejudice in the minds of those who do know Pakistan but refuse to comprehend the fundamental changes taking place in Pakistani thinking merely because that would require them to transmogrify their deeply ingrained preconceptions.
First, whereas the horrors of 1947 were the direct outcome of three decades of stoking the highest levels of communal animosity in our 5,000-year-old history of unity in diversity, what prevails today is not communal animosity but national hostility. Saints are required to deal with communal animosity; diplomacy is about reconciling the issues that feed national hostility. Such diplomacy is feasible 65 years after Partition principally because, 65 years on, almost no Pakistani has actually met or known a Hindu and communal animosity cannot feed on the unknown, the exertions of the mullahs in their pulpits (or anchors on our channels) notwithstanding. On the other side, secular India is home to the world’s second or third largest Muslim community, to the point where we cannot conceive of India without Islam and, more to the point, where Islam cannot be conceived of without India.
Second, these 65 years have shown Indians that they live in a stable democracy. These same 65 years have shown Pakistanis that military dictatorship cannot be justified on any “doctrine of necessity”, any appeal to theology or any crying wolf over an external enemy. The Pakistanis know that their armed forces are capable of conquering only one country — their own. Moreover, the Pakistan establishment, and in particular its armed forces and intelligence agencies, have become the biggest victim of the very same forces of terror they thought they could unleash on others. Also, they are the worst victims of being the frontline state in someone else’s war. The very Americans they have embraced are returning the embrace with the ruthless killing of Pakistani citizens virtually every day in drone attacks. So weakened has the armed forces’ hold on the nation’s polity become that, for the first time ever, a civilian government is edging towards completing a full five-year term in office; the army chief still does not know if he is going to get an extension; the ISI chief the army chief wanted to retain has been replaced; not even the stand-off between the judiciary and the executive has enabled the army to intervene. What the armed forces are doing is licking their wounds over the brazen violation of state sovereignty in Obama’s kidnap and murder operation in Abbottabad. What they have had to endure is un-repulsed terror attacks on ISI headquarters in Lahore; on the army GHQ in Rawalpindi; on the Mehran Naval Base on the outskirts of Karachi. What the Pakistan army has had to endure is many thousands more of their soldiers being massacred by their own home-grown terrorists than in all the Indo-Pak wars and near-wars put together.
The Pakistanis are not stupid. They know the sins of their past are visiting them. They know that a nation-state created in the name of Islam and dedicated to the Nizam-e-Mustafa has resulted in 80 times more Shias being killed in an instant in Quetta than in all the incidents that led up to the ghastly incident in the Mandhar sector. They know that while an Indian Muslim can go to his Jum’aa prayers in the confidence that his wife’s biryani will be waiting for him when he returns home, no Pakistani Muslim can be certain that he will return alive from the mosque, nor when his wife goes shopping that she will for sure return from the bazaar in the burqa she wore but wrapped head-to-toe in a funeral chaddar.
It is this widespread recognition of the imperative for peace with India that is driving the change in the Pakistani mindset. But because we are inured in our secular democracy from all these terrible traumas, our mindset is changing very slowly, if at all. That is why we are so ready to listen to utterly irresponsible anchors screaming, “The Nation wants to know” as if they were the nation. Morality, fidelity to the values of our freedom struggle and even narrow national interest demand that we seek not instant gratification in bringing back 10 beheaded skulls for every one taken from us but the recognition that peace with Pakistan is an overwhelming national interest; that it cannot come without resolving the outstanding issues of Partition; that such issues can only be resolved through dialogue; that dialogue, to be fruitful, cannot be a game of snakes-and-ladders where we rise far for a while on the ladders and then allow ourselves to be swallowed by the snakes to plunge to the bottom, from where we have to start all over again, as has repeatedly happened.
I congratulate the Government of India on the sobriety and maturity with which it has handled the latest crisis. I salute the local army commander in the affected sector who rushed to the spot to calm tempers and urge restraint. I emphasise that the foreign minister of Pakistan has repeatedly committed herself to “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” — and urge Salman Khurshid to do the same. And, above all, I request the prime minister to not wait for the atmosphere to improve to visit Pakistan but to recognise that his announcing his readiness to go to Pakistan will, in itself, improve the atmosphere as nothing else can. And I suggest the time to do so would be when he congratulates the incoming Pakistan prime minister after the first elections held in Pakistan in 65 years without an armed interregnum.
The writer is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha
Courtesy : www.indianexpress.com