On public criticism of foreign policy

In India, politicians are forced to mould policies that reflect popular will

The majority may not always be right, but in India, politicians are compelled to act according to the whims and fancies of public opinion. That’s quite a roundabout way to describe democracy, but it answers some of the questions raised by Ayaz Amir. He contends that Pakistan is somehow more mature because all the government’s holy-cows (religious sensitivities unfortunately offended) of the government are slaughtered by its newspaper columnists. Ignoring home truths and taking Amir at face value, is’nt it reasonable to suppose that Indian commentators dont find the need to criticise foreign policy because it is evolved based on a national consensus that reflects popular will? Even outliers and lofty-softies like Kuldip Nayar may differ on the means, but not over ends. (There is of course that self-promoting Rebel of All Things who scores self-goals to stay in the news).

Pakistan has come a long way on its march to maturity, the absurdities and self-inflicted injuries of military rule notwithstanding. As opposed to the straitjacketed conformism of earlier years, discourse in Pakistan is quite unfettered, often touching areas that would have been dangerous to enter or cross not long ago. In this new situation no holy cows remain, not even the army or the ISI, and no sacrosanct subjects, not even the country’s Kashmir policy.

By contrast, discussion in India about fundamental issues of foreign policy is relatively hidebound and restricted, seldom arriving at positions not sanctioned by the establishment.

It is not rare these days to come across Pakistani writers who say ‘forget Kashmir’. There are others of course whose views are radically different. But at least some kind of a debate is on. Is something similar visible in India? How many Indian writers are there who would be talking of human rights violations in Kashmir? Or who would question the wisdom of India’s Kashmir policy? After all, a policy resulting in so much killing and destruction can’t be all right? But how many voices in India which go beyond the mantra of “cross-border terrorism”? The element of self-criticism in Pakistan is much greater and more noticeable than in India.[Dawn]

Besides, to suggest that the Indian government’s policies are not challenged or criticised in the media does not imply that they are not challenged at all — in fact, they are challenged everywhere; in parliament, in courts, on the streets, in drawing rooms and yes, in the media too. Ayaz Amir perhaps has not heard of The Hindu (or its related fortnightly Frontline), which like the United States’ Christian Science Monitor, is quite misleadingly named. Without needing to indulge in Maoist ‘self-criticism’, these publications do an excellent job of presenting alternative points of view.

And if many voices in India are not going beyond ‘the mantra of cross-border terrorism’ it is because they do not have the luxury of doing so — being at the receiving end.

4 thoughts on “On public criticism of foreign policy”

  1. Pingback: Desi Pundit...
  2. Ayaz Amir like most of his fellow pakistani journalists fail to see that Musharraf’s “allowing” of press freedom is more a symbol of his contempt for them and any real discourse about the polity of his country. Musharraf like most shrewd Pakistani generals in the post-Zia era cares only about two constituencies – the military and mullahs. Amir is part of a chattering class that amounts to nothing by way of a brake or mechanism for accountability. Mr. Amir needs to ask himself as to when was the last time a journalist became a minister (and one of import)? Comparisons are odious but one of Pakistan and India at any level is particularly so.

  3. I agree with you Vijay Dandapani.

    Poor ayaz amir, his pathetic attempts to desperately spin fart in order to make pakistan somehow, somewhere look better than India is pitiful.

    (yeah, I know i’m being a bit colourful on the adjectives, but you get the point.)

    And Nitin:

    I wonder what happens to people in India who take up anti-India positions. Remember thos ghastly interviews with Simranjit Singh mann in the early 90s or the interviews with NE rebels declaring themselves non-indian etc? Do these stories die or merely fade away?
    Personally, I think its basic market disciipline that forces the press to keep a basic consensus opn what’ll sell and what won’t. Unpopular stands may be courageous (and typically stupid in the political not the economic, arena) but they just won’t sell…

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