Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happily ever after?

If we stop to think about it, the story of India and Pakistan seems like it came from the mind of a Bollywood  scriptwriter. It’s the classic tale of twins separated at birth and yet eternally intertwined by Fate. All the usual scripting devices can be found in this story. One brother, after having to go through various trials and tribulations finally gets on the road to success and the other brother just sinks deeper and deeper into a moral and financial abyss. 
In this case of course, India would be the first brother and Pakistan the second. At the time of independence not many pundits had given either country much chance at long-term survival let alone any hope of peaceful democratic governance. And while Pakistan has had to suffer repeated cycles of military rule interrupted by gasps of inefficient democracy, India has somehow managed to hold on to the path set out in 1947, aberrations like the Emergency notwithstanding. This is not to suggest that democracy in India is a model of perfection. Far from it, we have shown in our own way that we can manage to mangle and corrupt even such a noble idea as governance by the people, of the people and for the people. But somehow we’ve still shown the good sense to stick with the plan. Somehow, as a country we have managed to shake off the post-colonial mindset, break free of our own bureaucratic shackles and begin to assert ourselves with a confidence not seen before. All the while Pakistan has lurched from one disastrous government to the next. The latest experiment in democracy in Pakistan was held with a lot of hope and goodwill and not just in Pakistan but over here in India as well. But the reins of power in that country are just too firmly held by the ISI/Military nexus for the civilian government to make any meaningful departure from the past. This has also brought Pakistan to the edge of economic meltdown and it is only kept afloat by handouts from the USA and other western institutions. 
All of this brings us back to our Bollywood analogy. Around this time in our typical Hindi movie, the richer successful brother will reach out to help his prodigal sibling. After having seen the error in his ways and following a tearful and melodramatic reunion, they will join forces to beat up the bad guys and live happily ever after. So is this possible in real life with India and Pakistan? 
I bring this up in reference to an editorial  in The Hindu by Sarfraz Manzoor (Mumbai shows partition was a tragic mistake..Dec16 2008). He makes a passionate case for unity and says that what is different is so much less than what is shared. This is completely true and its very difficult to disagree with him. However this view is largely held by the intellectual elite in Pakistan, by the kind of people who show up for cross border cultural exchanges. Not the common man on the street and definitely not the conservative mullahs in Pakistan’s tribal northwest. The truth is that most Pakistanis have been brought up on a steady diet of hate for India. It is part of the upbringing of the average Pakistani and is even part of the curriculum. The history lessons taught in schools are distorted and do not present the kind of picture that may cause a schoolboy to pause and ponder the similarities.
The point in all this is, that Pakistan simply is not mentally ready for peace with India. Media reports suggesting that Pakistanis called in to their local news networks saying Mumbai was a much deserved comeuppance for India bear this out. However, India should still play that role of the more successful brother who reaches out. Because it is simply not in out national interest to see Pakistan go up in its own internal conflagrations. A stable democratic Pakistan with a reined in army and disbanded ISI is what India should work for. Only then can we look forward to a happily ever after.

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