July 21st, 2011
International affairs all too often seems a weighty subject, full of complexity and nuance, laden with portents of tension and conflict.
No wonder it lends itself to overly solemn treatment, full of abstract analyses and recondite allusions: the relations between countries, it is usually assumed, cannot be understood through the recitation of trivial anecdotes.
True enough. And yet sometimes a minor incident, a tempest in a teacup, can illuminate broader foreign policy challenges.
Something of this nature happened this week, when Aatish Taseer, the estranged son (by an Indian mother) of the recently-assassinated governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer, wrote a searing column in the Wall Street Journal, with the provocative title “Why My Father Hated India”, on the pathologies of hatred that in his view animated Pakistan’s attitude to our country.
“To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge — its hysteria — it is necessary to understand the rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan,” Aatish Taseer averred. “
This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan’s animus toward India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.”
He went on to make his point in language that was both sharp and, at least to this reader, heartfelt and accurate. I do not know Aatish Taseer, nor had I met his colourful father, but I have admired the young man’s writing, particularly his poignant ruminations on Salman Taseer’s murder by his Islamist bodyguard earlier this year. So I was surprised to see the outraged reactions his article provoked from Pakistani liberal journalists.
A number of them whose ideas I have appreciated and whom I “follow” on Twitter — the likes of Marvi Sirmed and Mosharraf Zaidi, widely-respected progressive thinkers both — reacted with rage and derision. One of them, the estimable Ejaz Haider, who has penned some courageous pieces in the Pakistani press criticising his own country, went so far as to author an entire column to disparage and deconstruct Aatish Taseer’s.
Young Taseer had, in his piece, put the onus on the Pakistani Army for that country’s problems, and particularly for diverting the vast amounts of American aid it has received (he underestimated it at “$11 billion since 9/11”) to arming itself against India. He added, powerfully, words I would have gladly put my own name to: “In Afghanistan, it has sought neither security nor stability but rather a backyard, which — once the Americans leave — might provide Pakistan with ‘strategic depth’ against India.
In order to realise these objectives, the Pakistani Army has led the US in a dance, in which it had to be seen to be fighting the war on terror, but never so much as to actually win it, for its extension meant the continuing flow of American money. All this time the Army kept alive a double game, in which some terror was fought and some — such as Laskhar-e-Tayyaba’s 2008 attack on Mumbai — actively supported.
“The Army’s duplicity was exposed decisively this May,” he went on, “with the killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. It was only the last and most incriminating charge against an institution whose activities over the years have included the creation of the Taliban, the financing of international terrorism and the running of a lucrative trade in nuclear secrets.
This Army, whose might has always been justified by the imaginary threat from India, has been more harmful to Pakistan than to anybody else. It has consumed annually a quarter of the country’s wealth, undermined one civilian government after another and enriched itself through a range of economic interests, from bakeries and shopping malls to huge property holdings.”
It is hard to imagine anyone in India, however sympathetic they might be to Pakistan, dissenting from this view of the malign role of the Pakistani military. In our naïveté, we also tend to assume that Pakistani liberals would agree with us, seeing the salvation of their land lying in greater democracy and development, free of the stranglehold of the world’s most lavishly-funded military (in terms of percentage of national resources and GDP consumed by any Army on the planet). Alas, judging by their reactions to Taseer’s article, this seems not to be the case.
In his rebuttal, Ejaz Haider goes into great detail about the strength and deployment patterns of the Indian Army, as if to justify the Pakistani military’s behaviour.
But there is no recognition whatsoever that India’s defence preparedness is prompted entirely by the fact that Pakistan has launched four incursions into our territory, in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999; that India is a status quo power that manifestly seeks nothing more than to be allowed to grow and develop in peace, free from the attentions of the Pakistani military and the militants and terrorists it sponsors; and bluntly, that there is not and cannot be an “Indian threat” to Pakistan, simply because there is absolutely nothing Pakistan possesses that India wants.
If proof had to be adduced for this no doubt unflattering assessment, it lies in India’s decision at Tashkent in 1966 to give “back” to Pakistan every square inch of territory captured by our brave soldiers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including the strategic Haji Pir Pass, all of which is land we claim to be ours.
If we do not even insist on retaining what we see as our own territory, held by Pakistan since 1948 but captured fair and square in battle, why on earth would we want anything else from Pakistan?
No, the “Indian threat” is merely a useful device cynically exploited by the Pakistani military to justify their power (and their grossly disproportionate share of Pakistan’s national assets). But Pakistani liberals are particularly prone to the desire to prove themselves true nationalists; it is the best way to ensure that their otherwise heretical opinions are not completely discredited by the men in uniform who hold the reins of power in the state.
As this otherwise minor editorial spat demonstrates, Indians need to put aside their illusions that there are liberal partners for us on the other side of the border who echo our diagnosis of their plight and share our desire to defenestrate their military. Nor should we be surprised: a Pakistani liberal is, after all, a Pakistani before he is a liberal.
Name of Source: Deccan Chronicle