Pakistan has nothing to do with Indian democracy

And why it’s absurd to ignore the pachyderm in the tent

It is not hard to see why there is an enormous amount of pablum in the Western circles when it comes to figuring out what to do about the mess that is Pakistan. [See recent posts by Dhruva Jaishankar & Rohan Joshi fisking one such case]. One part is that mindsets are not keeping pace with geopolitical realities. The second part is that the reality itself is so terrible that it is far easier to avoid confronting it. This situation is possible and inexpensively maintained when you are a few thousand miles away from the reach of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles.

Take Christophe Jaffrelot’s review essay in Foreign Affairs on why India is a democracy and Pakistan is not. It is a commentary on Philip K Oldenburg’s “India, Pakistan and Democracy – Solving the puzzle of divergent paths”. Both book and review devote themselves to debunking the “reductionist and not particularly productive approach” of attributing these difference to religion. To author and reviewer, it is almost an article of faith—ironically—that Pakistan’s being on intensive care and India’s longstanding democracy and recent development have nothing to do with the former being beholden to Islam and the latter driven by its Hindu civilisational ethos. So they spend a lot of time, energy and ink splitting hairs and teasing out minor variables that might have instead contributed to these starkly different outcomes.

Even the two examples Mr Jaffrelot cites to argue religion is secondary in explaining political trajectories—Indonesian democracy and Sri Lanka’s ‘march to dictatorship’—are weak. He ignores the fact that Indonesian Islam is constructed on a still palpable (but fast declining) bedrock of Hindu-Buddhist civilisational values. As for Sri Lanka, he ignores the possibility that his presumptuousness might receive a slap at the hustings of the next election. But what about Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Libya and so on? To reject the notion that states that organise themselves around Islam have serious problems may be politically correct, but is certainly empirically wrong. [See Deepak Lal’s argument on the issue of “settled rule”]

It is not a coincidence that India is the only robust democracy in Asia. Both Mr Oldenburg and Mr Jaffrelot confuse Hinduism as a narrow denomination of faith, and Hinduism as a source of values that underpin Indian civilisation. You don’t need to be a Hindu nationalist to realise that the pluralism, tolerance, moderation and secularism that underpin Indian civilisation and are consistent across its many denominational faiths are the very same values that sustain its democracy. [See “Who says nationalism must be intolerant?“]

It is a good thing to examine the second- and lower-order variables that might affect political trajectories. But it is intellectually unsound to ignore the obvious. Worse, it leads to hideously grotesque policy recommendations. Mr Jaffrelot writes:

To overcome (Pakistan remaining in a limbo between dictatorship and democracy-Ed), the relationship between India and Pakistan — not just the comparison between them — must be addressed. [Foreign Affairs]

This argument, to put it mildly, is bunkum. It doesn’t explain, for instance, why the Pakistani government can’t collect taxes and electricity bills from its elite. It doesn’t explain, for instance, why Salmaan Taseer’s assassin is celebrated as a national hero. The mess that is Pakistan is the creation of the Pakistani people. Pakistan can’t be fixed by changing its ‘relationship’ with India any more than North Korea can be transformed by tweaking US-South Korea relations.

India, a growing economic power, resents being grouped with a quasi-failed state. Indian leaders were quite happy, for example, when U.S. President Barack Obama visited India but not Pakistan during his last Asian tour. But decoupling is not only bad for U.S.-Pakistani relations — Pakistan longs to be recognized as on par with India and could be easier to work with if it is, even if only symbolically — it is not really in India’s interest, either. China, India’s real rival, could take advantage of a Pakistan alienated from the West. [FA]

This is theoretically a good argument. It would have merited attention had it been made in 1950. However, given that the China-Pakistan alliance is more than five decades old and continues to be robust, it is unclear what more India has to fear from that front. On the contrary, a Pakistan alienated from the West—like North Korea—might actually be strategically less useful to China.

And if Pakistan falls apart, democracy in India might be affected as well. Already, routinized terrorist violence has taken its toll on Indian civil liberties. And communal harmony in India, which has always been tenuous, has become increasingly strained thanks to terrorist attacks and the BJP’s Hindu nationalist policies.[FA]

This is precisely the kind of conclusion you’ll arrive at if you ignore the obvious and focus on lower-order variables. Mr Jaffrelot fails to mention how democracy in India will be affected if–and that is a big if—Pakistan falls apart. Nothing bad happened to the United States and Western Europe after the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc collapsed. In fact, it can just easily be argued that Indian democracy will be stronger if the security threats from Pakistan diminish. Mr Jaffrelot’s comment on communal harmony might have been taken as merely gratuitous if he had not left out the adjective describing “terrorist attacks”. As for BJP’s ‘Hindu nationalist policies’, we might be able to assess their their impact on communal harmony once they occur, because right now, there is scarcely one policy that can be described as ‘Hindu nationalist’. What are ‘Hindu nationalist policies’ anyway?

If there is a reason why communal harmony is threatened, it is because of entitlements and identity politics that breeds competitive intolerance. We do have plenty of those policies.

The best way forward will be for both countries, with the support of the international community, to launch a new round of dialogue. Without such attention to Indian-Pakistani relations, India’s democracy will not prosper and Pakistan’s generals will never unclench their fists.[FA]

People who make such recommendations should be forced to put their money where their mouth is. Perhaps a charge of $1000 every time they repeat this formula will sufficiently deter analysts from offering the same, ineffective prescription. Double that if they prescribe it when “dialogue” is not only in progress but the stated policy of the Indian government. This might help reduce India’s fiscal deficit.

Neither Indian democracy nor India’s development is contingent on Pakistan, its generals and their fists. It is pointless talking to Pakistan. It would make more sense talking to the powers that pay to keep Pakistan in intensive care. Unlike Mr Oldenburg & Mr Jaffrelot, we do not have the luxury of pretending that what makes us feel good is actually what is real.

9 thoughts on “Pakistan has nothing to do with Indian democracy”

  1. Jaffrelot and Oldenburg hover between confused thinking and preconceived notions which together make for completely skewed recommendations. Probably this kind of reasoning still has to do with the belief among some western analysts that they know best what is good for the east. Along with this is the obsession to put India’s success story on the same page as Pakistan’s failed experiment, obfuscate issues thereafter and blame Indian desire to safeguard its national interests as the main reason for Pakistan’s plight. This is a discourse one hears frequently these days as AfPak goes under.
    I do not understand why Oldenburg should try to solve what he calls ‘the puzzle of divergent paths’ without understanding the basis of the issue. The basis is that India is secular and democratic (all right somewhat flawed but there is no perfect democracy not even in the UK or the US); it is because the ethos is the majority religion – Hinduism. A nation does derive its ethos from its majority religion even when secular; like Christianity is to the Western world which is having problems adjusting to the new religion, Islam. India is what it is because as you rightly say, one doesn’t have to be a Hindu nationalist to realise that pluralism, tolerance, moderation and secularism underpin Indian civilisation which sustain Indian democracy.
    Today, we are seeing the results of Islamic intolerance and obscurantism in Pakistan, a great deal of which has been nurtured by the Pakistani state. The whole world is seeing it but why don’t Messrs Jaffrelot and Oldenburg see it too. The two gentlemen would be well advised to read books like Khaled Ahmed’s ‘Sectarian Wars – Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia Violence and its Links to the Middle East’ to understand where Pakistan’s problems lie.
    Indian democracy or the Indian nation will not suffer along with Pakistan’s fate. Please do not try to scare us, M Jaffrelot !

  2. “..why don’t Messrs Jaffrelot and Oldenburg see it too..” because at their base, both esp J (like most of Secu-LIbers of Nehruvian Jamat) have deep-rooted animosity towards Hinduism (and anyone who proclaims, even if symbolically, to be pro-Hindu).

  3. It is indeed an article of faith in the old leftwing dogma that successes and failures of societies are best explained in economic terms. When a phenomenon defies such explanation, and when the real reasons challenge the core of passionately held (though not necessarily loudly voiced) beliefs, other reasons are invented.

  4. Mr. Jafferlot’s predicament has been that he has been brought up on a diet of Virulent Anti-Hindu rhetoric which potrays it as a religion with tribal tendencies[Read Red Indian scalping].

    Ofcourse writing by so-called Hindu experts like Wendy Doninger dont help . The derogatory writings dont jell with the contradiction of Huge Indian success in the most happening place in the world i.e The Silicon Valley.

    This results in making up theories which fits in with an obvious mindset, however, different it might me.

    The Other part of the problem is the close relationship developed between American professionals and Pakistanis during the afghan Mujahideen resistance. The same professionals are in senior positions of influence both in the establishment an outside. It is a bit of Stockholm syndrome at work.

    India has a long way to go in working with these biases. Interestingly the civilian leadership seems to be much better in tine with Indian views. This is mainly due to Indian economic strength which cannot be ignored for now.

    Crux: Improve economics ,everything will fall in place.

  5. Another obfuscation in Jafferlot’s article -: 40 percent plurality of Indians spoke Hindi. If you compare pre-bangaldesh pakistan,the corresponding figure for Urdu could well be more than 40%.

    He must think, Indians are stupid.[To the Moderator: Please Moderate this if offensive]

  6. “It doesn’t explain, for instance, why Salmaan Taseer’s assassin is celebrated as a national hero”.

    In the Golden Temple, even today Indira Gandhi’s assassins are celebrated as heroes.

    Although I believe that Hinduism has played an important role in India’s pluralism and democracy, I do particularly like Oldenberg’s argument about the role of the bureaucratic apparatus that India inherited. Pakistan, as you have pointed out many times in your blog, suffers from an India-centric approach that has allowed its military to take over important matters of the state. However, it still does have political parties and they do have strong popular bases. So I am reluctant to conclude that Islam is incompatible with democracy. They might not be a democracy like America and U.K., but very few countries in the world are.

  7. If Pakistan were a democracy
    1. Land reforms would redistribute zamindar holdings to the landless laborers.
    2. Role of army would be diminished
    3. Role of religion would be diminished
    4. Sindhis, being the largest indigenous ethnicity contained wholly within Pakistan, would dominate the political discourse(their politicians wouldn’t be assassinated routinely, Karachi would still be the capital).

    But Pakistan was created precisely to avoid those mishaps. Indeed, if the upper class muslims who “ideated” Pakistan desired the above, then there would be no need to create Pakistan.

    Bottomline: The zamindar, army and the mullah need each other to maintain their dominance in present day Pakistan, even if at times they may appear to be enacting a Mexican standoff. A functioning democratic system will immediately demolish the lop-sided structure of Pakistani society. Heck, it might even demolish Pakistan, because the lie of Jinnahgiri would be exposed.

  8. acorn,
    Unbelievable awesome truth telling.
    A breath of fresh air,seems reading “Praise of Empires” have put behind your crazy idea of exporting Indian Islam.Let sleeping dogs lie.LoL
    Best thing about Indian Left&Congress’s BS appeasement&whitewash narrative is that..Muslims of India have started to believe(at least a good productive minority of them and rest ambivalent) that,they are indeed peaceful people.LoL.Whatever works.

  9. While Jaffrelot’s conclusions are, like you said, bunkum, I definitely do not buy into your argument that the sustenance of Indian democracy is primarily a result of the ethos of the Hindu civilization. Breeding a democratic, functional state in India had a lot to do with the existence of a somewhat functional state created by the British; a bureaucracy that was able (Atul Kohli – State Directed Development). Furthermore, creating a state was easier when most elites with vested interests could be convinced or coerced into the idea of the Indian state (Ramachandra Guha – India after Gandhi).

    Democratic values are not innate and can be taught and learned by populations if there is a state that functions in some ways. It is obviously easier if parts of the population are amenable to the idea of equality, liberty etc. Nevertheless, to claim that the sustenance is the result of hinduism in India and Pakistan fails because of the lack of those values is bunkum.

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