Pax Indica: We are not South Asian

The term ‘South Asia’ is an attempt to appropriate the Indian subcontinent’s geography while denying its composite civilisational history

At a seminar a couple of weeks ago, one of the organisers argued that the “South Asian identity” has made inroads across the world. He supported this argument with an example. Many universities in the United States, he said, now have bhangra and garba troupes, often consisting of people of entirely non-South Asian backgrounds.

I nearly fell off my chair.

There is nothing ‘South Asian’ about bhangra and garba, just as there is nothing ‘South Asian’ yoga, ayurveda or tandoori chicken (when was the last time you went to a North South Asian restaurant?). Actually, there’s nothing South Asian about qawwals, ghazals or the Multani raga (when was the last time you went to a South Asian classical concert?). In fact—and you might think, I’m stretching it—there’s nothing South Asian about Nepal, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. If you measure Asia north to south, roughly along the 120°E longitude from the Siberia’s Arctic coast to Indonesia’s southern islands, you’ll find the subcontinent more or less in the middle. Geographically, if there is a South Asia, then the self-confessed ‘South Asians’ are neither in it nor from it. Read the rest at Yahoo! India »

The non-existent department

India must increase its intellectual investment in studying Pakistan

For a country that faces an acute, chronic threat, India does not have any–forget the best–think tank or school engaged in a multi-disciplinary study of Pakistan. When most analysts offer policy recommendations, it is either based on experience or polemics, and not on deep analysis. So it is good to see Jerry Rao draw attention to this lacuna:

In trying to understand why Pakistani leaders behave the way they do, we need to be cognisant of these and other patterns. Let us consider a range of questions:

Given his Baluchi-Sindhi-Shia connections, can a Zardari or for that matter a Bhutto appear conciliatory towards America or India and get away with it? Will he not be accused of having soft traitorous and heretical instincts?

Can the Pakistani officer corps, increasingly populated by upwardly mobile but traditional social groups (not by Aitchison college alumni as was the case in years past) take an overtly anti-Islamist or pro-Western stance?

Why is Pakistan not able to come up with a Sadat or a Mubarak who seem to be able to manage the contradictions within Egypt?

Despite having China as their close ally, why has Deng’s growth strategy not appealed to the Pakistani elite? They could easily increase their trade with China and create domestic prosperity instead of simply buying arms (nuclear and conventional) from their friends in the PRC. Why is this not happening?

Saudi Arabia has strong Islamic credentials. They are able to lock up extremists. Why can Pakistan not take a cue from them and do the same?

Over the next few months and years, we all need to collectively invest in understanding the Pakistani society better and in opening up dialogues with disparate elements within that society. Merely complaining that Pakistan is beginning to resemble a rogue state will not do. We need to understand persistent domestic compulsions within Pakistan and see if we can open up multiple dialogues not only with the elements in the Pakistani society who are ostensibly in power but with others whose motivations may be more complex and mysterious. In doing so, we may be able to resolve the conundrum of Pakistan and move it away from its “migraine” status. If we fail, the consequences for all of us are grim. For the unhappy Pakistani people the consequences will be catastrophic. [IE]

Chair and peace

Sequels in real life

What a remarkable coincidence. First, Charlie Wilson writes an vitamins-is-good-for-kids type of op-ed in the Washington Post that suggests he’s back in the lobbying business, this time handling Georgia’s brief. Previously, he had formally signed-up as a lobbyist for Pakistan a month after 9/11, but then quit in 2005 due to health reasons.

And then, Sepoy shocks us by publishing an open letter written by some American academics to their bosses at the University of Texas at Austin, protesting against the institution of the “Charlie Wilson Chair in Pakistan Studies.” The Charlie Wilson couch or hot tub would have been the appropriate piece of furniture to endow. Whatever they call it, Sepoy is eminently qualified to occupy it.