Saturday, March 10, 2012

The myth of Indo-Pak unity!

Indians and Pakistanis should not focus on how the two countries were born together, but how they can avoid dying together


It was during a closed-door Indo-Pak track-two meeting last year in Bangkok that I heard three interesting and yet deeply contrasting views about the similarities between India and Pakistan, and its politics. There was a senior Indian participant in the meeting who kept pressing the argument that India and Pakistan, after all, are one people and hence they constitute one nation. Nostalgic or patronizing, am not sure, he made the all-too-familiar argument…’we have the same culture, same religions, have the same cuisine, same languages etc. etc.’ The argument was evocative, emotional and found a certain level of acceptance among the senior participants from both India and Pakistan.

However, a young Pakistani journalist spoke up in response to the Indian participant. He argued that India and Pakistan are not the same. Pakistan, which came into existence in 1947, has its own unique history, political life, cultural edifice, philosophy, way of life and destiny. I sensed in him a level of aggressive disassociation from India, also a certain level of contempt for India’s poverty and underdevelopment: he was far more than being a proud Pakistani. He further argued along the following lines: ‘I don’t know about any similarities between us; but what I do know is that India is a dominant power in the region with territorial, military and economic predominance and harbours obvious negative intentions towards Pakistan’.

Another, younger, Indian participant retorted sometime later. He started off by agreeing with his Pakistani counterpart that there are indeed no great similarities between India and Pakistan. The Indian participant pointed out that India and Pakistan are dissimilar because the two sides made starkly different choices with regard to their political trajectories and hence different future destinies await them. While Pakistan is a terrorist-infested, friendless, failed state facing an uncertain future, India is the toast of the international community as it is home to high levels of economic growth, democratic and secular values, high tolerance levels, and inclusive governance. Moreover, even Pakistan’s traditional allies such as the United States are moving away from Pakistan towards India. Additionally, he argued that but for terrorism, Pakistan does not really matter to India and that most Indians are indifferent towards Pakistan, indifference mixed with hubris.

I would say that all three arguments are wrong due to different reasons. First of all, sometimes when Indians argue that India and Pakistan are one nation, it comes across as patronizing and could potentially mean that Pakistan does not have an identity of its own which the self-respecting Pakistanis would find very difficult to digest. For many Pakistanis such an argument refutes the two-nation theory, the founding principle of the state of Pakistan. Moreover, given the history of animosity that exists between the two countries, when Indians talk about Indo-Pak unity and similarities, Pakistanis feel that it is noting short of pursuing the ‘akhand bharat’ agenda of the Indian right wing. In other words, Pakistanis feel being engulfed and swallowed by a bigger neighbour when Indians go on making the ‘similarities’ or even ‘unity’ argument.

While the Pakistani response to such an Indian argument, as described above, is to be expected, even that is founded on misperceptions and misgivings. There are indeed a lot of cultural similarities between the two countries and, more so, India has a historical tradition of cultural assimilation. It is in our blood to look for similarities between us and others and that is not just limited to Pakistanis. So the more similarities we find between us and other, the more we are likely to press the cultural similarity argument. When an Indian-origin third generation American citizen becomes famous in the United States we like to keep harping on his/her Indian roots. It does not mean that India is trying to culturally engulf them. That said, when talking about Pakistan at least some Indians do want to deny Pakistan a sense of difference and identity, and take it upon themselves to invalidate the two-nation theory. While that is perhaps why the young Pakistani wanted to aggressively disassociate himself from India and felt that India is indeed a threat, not just militarily but also culturally, I think his argument is a misconceived one. Such views are a result of the images we have in us about each other, given to us by our text books and popular culture. The Indian response that India and Pakistan are completely dissimilar because we are good and they are bad is also an argument that we should discard. One reason why we should not focus on our history with Pakistan is because it is due to that history that we are antagonistic towards each other even to this day.

As a ‘young Indian’, I feel that too much focus on the similarities between India and Pakistan is counterproductive. Indeed, there is no point in aggressively pushing the argument that we are similar and one to the extent that the other side feels insecure. We should focus on reaching agreements and sustaining them than on our similarities. Rather than emphasizing historical and civilizational linkages we should focus on how we can deal with each other in future and solve our historical problems. More importantly, Indians and Pakistanis should not focus on how the two countries were born together, but how they can avoid dying together.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, March 11, 2012. URL: )

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