Walls are better than bridges
Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu’s outgoing Islamabad correspondent, files her last report from the country (well actually, city) she covered for the last four years. Indians and Pakistanis, she concludes:
“cannot be friends as long as we continue looking at each other through the narrow prism of our respective states. Pakistanis must locate the Indian within themselves, and Indians must discover their inner Pakistani. It would help understand each other better, and free us from state-manipulated attitudes. In our own interests, it is up to us, the people, to find ways to do this.” [The Hindu]
The sentiment is genuinely heartfelt. Unfortunately, it contradicts the findings she lists earlier in the same essay.
First, she makes the fundamental error that the power of “the people” works in similar ways and extents in the two countries. A popular idea cannot be politically ignored in democratic India. Now unless she feels that crowds of Indian-loving Pakistanis (note: not India-loving Pakistanis) will storm the GHQ and change long-standing state policy, the argument that the Pakistani “people” matter (if and when they change their minds about India) is naive.
(As an aside, It is unfortunate that Ms Subramanian too succumbs to the tendency to do India-Pakistan “equal-equal” in order to appear objective. When both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh went against popular opinion to reach out to Pakistan, how can she justify her charge that the Indian political class cannot be entrusted to find the middle ground?)
Next, despite personal goodwill and individual friendships, will Pakistanis as a “people” ever abandon their hostility towards India? Ms Subramanian writes:
I would have heated debates with Pakistanis who consider themselves modern, enlightened, liberal and secular but would suddenly go all Islamic and religious when it came to an issue such as Kashmir, seeming no different from their ultra-conservative compatriots who protest against the clamping down on Islamic militancy in Pakistan as harassment of “brother Muslims.” They could tout jihad in Kashmir as legitimate even while condemning the Taliban who threaten their own modern, liberal lifestyle, despite the knowledge that the distinction between the two kinds of jihad, or the two categories of militants, is at best an illusion. [The Hindu]
To believe that it is possible for either the Indian state or the Indian people (acting as individuals or civil society) to perform psychotherapy on a national scale requires either conceit or naïveté. There is nothing in Pakistan’s social, economic and demographic indicators to suggest that endogenous change on a sufficient scale and pace is even possible. Colin Powell got it right in 2005 when he complained, self-servingly, that Indians were more concerned about the jihadis who infiltrated last week rather than Pakistan in 2020 “a nation of 250 million with a per capita income much lower than yours, literacy rate half of yours, a drying river-water system, dead industry, fundamentalism and nuclear weapons.”
Why do sensible, intelligent and well-informed people—like Ms Subramanian—routinely end up offering wishfulness as policy? Part of the reason is that there is an underlying presumption that “peace” is intrinsically a good thing and necessary for India’s development. If that presumption is challenged—there is another way for Ms Subramanian to sign off: Pakistan’s problems are its own, if it is lucky it will somehow solve them. The task before India and the Indian people is to make sure those problems don’t spill over any more than they already do. The solution might be to focus on building strong walls and well-guarded fences—not little bridges. Yes, Khuda Hafiz Pakistan.
Update: Nirupama Subramanian simply rocks in this interview with an ignorant-but-opinionated Pakistani television host. (linkthanks Nerus)