The mere mention of the word “Pakistan” is enough to drive an average Indian bonkers with rage, or indignant with passion and anger at the very least. Yes, exceptions are there – with more than a few people being pacifist. And then you have the idealists, who still advocate an India-Pakistan Bhai-Bhai situation in the distant future. The mere word conjures images of war and terror, with the sad history between the two of us driving a wedge in each Indian heart.
Beyond this, of late, there has been an increasing tendency to want to “move on” by a large majority of Indians, self included. At least, among the educated classes, judging from the people I have regularly interacted with. The flavour of the moment is a comparison with China, driven by our status as one of the faster growing economies in the world, current problems notwithstanding.
We (well, at least I do) take pride in the statement that India should de-hyphenate itself; that we are in a different league; that we are China-obsessed; that we can forget Pakistan and move on. But is that really possible? Leave alone possible; is that even recommended? Is that desirable? Can we indeed forget all that has transpired – and by that, I dont mean the bloodshed alone.
We share a common history, and a remarkably similar culture in terms of language, food and clothing. Our internal contacts go back millennia; this has not been changed by partition. We – the two of us – are like brothers, born of the same mother: Greater India, or Bharat, or Aryavart. Call it what you will; that is a fact. And just claiming descent from Ghazni will not change this reality: 66 years ago, we were one.
Partition – which is remembered as a tragedy by all of us Indians, and as a liberation by all Pakistanis – cannot and will not take away the above. That has been written in stone – we are bound together by our shared history, never to be parted. We also share a common and long border. Pakistan cannot be wished away; and neither can we forget and move on. Again, I am not talking about bloodshed; that comes later.
Would you forget a brother who has become estranged? You may harbour enmity, or ill-will towards him, but you would not and could not forget him. And you certainly cannot ignore him. Same is the case here. This is further complicated by the difference in the success of our two nations – India is seemingly pulling away in most spheres, with a stable polity, a stable society, improving economy etc; while Pakistan is struggling to get a democracy going, and is in the trap of its Armed Forces.
It is in this overall backdrop that we have to view the terror; Pakistan has been fomenting problems in the name of Kashmir for 25 years now; before that it was Punjab. We have been at loggerheads for 66 years, with not an year going by without terror raising its ugly head. How is it possible to move on from this scenario? Even if we move on, the difficulty is that Pakistan remains where it always was: at ground zero! And so long as it is fixated on ground zero, we cannot abandon that ground!
The proof of the above: a few years ago, a few retired generals from both sides came together in San Francisco for a war game. The Indian side attacked the terror training camps on the Pakistani side. They were expecting the Pakistanis to escalate the entire border issue by attacking a different sector. The Pakistani response was telling: they attacked the Infosys campus in Bangalore. The reasoning: it was the symbol of Indian growth. To them, it did not matter that the pilots might not get back alive- if they got there in the first place! This was re-iterated by a director of the ISI.
Yes, there are a good many Pakistanis who want peace; that is a given. What is also a given is that they are utterly unable to influence the powers that be in Pakistan. And that is why, despite massive goodwill among overseas Indians and Pakistanis, among common citizens – a Bhai-Bhai situation is not tenable.
As long as there is an India, and a Pakistan – we will be ranged against each other. We may forget our enmity; we may forget the blood – but we will always be competing against each other. We cannot unite now; and we cannot fight. We are to continue as we are: neither can die while the other lives. The moment one tries to pull away, the other will pull it back. A nation on our western borders, not fully in control of non-state actors, and not fully committed to peace – is not an ideal partner for peace.
That is a hard reality – high time we got used to it. And neither is differentiating ourselves, or looking elsewhere an option… while tectonic forces are indeed pulling us apart, tearing us asunder – these forces will not change the ground realities above; none of which have anything to do with religion. At best, we can hope for a cessation of hostilities, and a return to democracy over the long term for Pakistan.
Rather than go ballistic over Pakistan, we would do well to support the fledgling peace process as best we can. The alternative does not bear contemplation – and not for that nuclear bluff. That would only strengthen the anti-India brigade in a society that is already facing a heavy anti-India rhetoric on an almost daily basis – leading to further trouble. For Pakistan is not going away; it is right there; right beside us – for all perpetuity. And that is one fact that is inalterable…