By Swapan Dasgupta
The Noughties has witnessed the most sustained strains in Indo-Pakistan relations in living memory. The decade which began with the infamous Kandahar hijack, has been marked by the attack on the Indian Parliament, the resulting military mobilization, the rancour of the Agra summit, unrelenting terror strikes in both Jammu and Kashmir and other major Indian cities and, finally, the audacious massacre of innocents in Mumbai. The hope, expressed in a joint statement between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and president Pervez Musharraf’s regime in April 2005 that the peace process was “irreversible” has turned out to be wildly unreal. The scale of public indignation over Pakistani terrorism forced Singh to renege on his Jesus Christ acts in Havana and Sharm el-Sheikh.
As of today, the peace process is on hold. As if to symbolize the freeze, even Pakistani cricketers who enjoy a special relationship with Indians, quite detached from political hiccups, have been excluded from the IPL tournament.
An incidental — some would say fortuitous — outcome of this prolonged sparring is civil society’s growing exasperation with Pakistan. There was a time when an older generation, with memories of happier times in Lahore and Karachi, went out of its way to endorse the doctrine of ‘asymmetry’, the belief that an elder brother must show exceptional generosity to younger siblings. Today, as Pakistan itself is devastated by a macabre ritual of suicide bombings and jihadi criminality, there is a belief that Islamabad has to first redeem itself before it is allowed to re-enter the civilized world.
From an earnest desire to befriend Pakistan, today’s Indians are content to embrace individual Pakistanis who are ‘like us’. This may explain why two decade of people-to-people contacts (generously aided by European do-gooders and the conflict resolution industry) have made not the slightest dent in political thinking, although they have generated umpteen individual friendships. Pakistanis may be right to be infuriated by contemporary India’s apparent condescension towards it — a far cry from the days Ayub Khan boasted that one Pakistani was equal to 10 Hindus. But this has less to do with the re-assertion of Brahmanical arrogance than with the economic success India has scripted for itself.
Where the hyphenation previously involved India and Pakistan, today’s comparison is between India and China. Pakistan doesn’t even enter the radar screen, except as a hooded mugger lurking in a dark alleyway.
Ironically, India’s emergence as an economic powerhouse has also contributed immeasurably to both state and public support for the fanatics in Muridke, Bahawalpur and Quetta. For the liberal, creamy layer of Pakistani society — the types who write those wonderful novels and those who attend international conferences — India’s success is enviable. They enjoy the relative openness of our society, the versatility of the Indian experience and the mushrooming of opportunities. Compared to the richness of the Indian kaleidoscope, Pakistan is singularly monochromatic and, if the satirical writings of Moni Mohsin are anything to go by, utterly vacuous.
Thirty years ago, the well-heeled Pakistani pitied India. Today, the boot is on the other foot. Compared to India, Pakistan is no fun.
The tragedy is that more the liberal Pakistani discovers virtues in the New India, the more the ‘Urdu-medium type’ is incensed by the allurement of a Satanic way of life. The bazaars in Pakistan may resonate with an undercurrent of Bollywood — the battering ram of India’s soft power — but this is like a forbidden fruit: an object of both lust and loathing.
The mushrooming of the electronic media in Pakistan has helped replenish the traditional stereotype of a slimy, cunning India. In an article last November, Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid suggested that “The explosion in TV channels... has brought to the fore large numbers of largely untrained, semi-educated and unworldly TV talk show hosts and journalists who deem it necessary to win viewership...by being more outrageous and sensational than the next channel.” According to him, the signature tune of the new media is conspiracy: “You will be bombarded with talk show hosts who are mostly obsessed with demonizing the elected government, trying to convince viewers of global conspiracies against Pakistan led by India and the US or insisting that the recent campaign of suicide bomb blasts around the country is being orchestrated by foreigners rather than local militants.”
Arguably, India has its own share of shrillness but this is offset by a smugness born out of a rash of global testimonials. The inner turbulence of Pakistan arises from a conscious sense of failure — hence, the growing attractions of a medievalist utopia — and the desperation to prove that it still matters. There is precious little India can do about this disorientation, except be on guard, reach out to ‘Pakistanis like us’ and await Pakistan’s eventual self-realization or, as likely, self-destruction.