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The need to review our India policy

The Indian foreign secretary’s visit to Islamabad last week generated much interest but the outcome was the usual bureaucratic statements amounting to nothing. The stalemate, however, was broken and the US — a keen supporter of the ‘dialogue’ — welcomed the meeting between the top diplomats of India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also met with the foreign secretary from New Delhi. The talks, as we know, were about further talks. It is a pity that since August 2014, diplomatic channels of communication were stalled. The Indian prime minister’s decision to call off the earlier round in 2014 was unwise and even some Indian commentators had criticised it. Perhaps, domestic dictates, especially of the elections in Indian-occupied Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), necessitated a hardline by Narendra Modi. Now that the elections are over and the BJP has forged a coalition government with a soft-separatist party, the domestic calculus may have changed. Despite the Hindu nationalist credentials of Mr Modi, striving for normalisation is a course that he is likely to adopt. Even more so, as India’s economic transformation appears to be his priority, and without a stable region, that goal is hard to realise.

The recent talks, according to the respective statements, reiterated a familiar mantra: Mumbai, Samjhauta Express, trading of allegations of involvement of domestic militancy faced by both countries. The worrying increase in violence along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary were also discussed. Once again, the soft confidence-building measures, such as people-to-people contact, religious tourism and sports were brought up as the panacea to a bitter, twisted legacy of this bilateral relationship.


The legend’s shadow

Forays into analysis give resonance to Dilip Kumar’s recollections that are occasionally derailed by Saira Banu’s looming shadow, I wrote in this review of the legendary actor’s autobiography, The Substance and the Shadow.


The three legends of Indian cinema: Amitabh Bachan, Shahrukh Khan and Dilip Kumar

‘Yousuf Khan is scared of Dilip Kumar. Only Allah knows who Dilip Kumar is and what all he can do.’

Dilip Kumar will always be the touchstone by which Indian actors will be judged. His recently published book – The Substance and the Shadow – An Autobiography – gives much insight into his life and career. Known as the tragic hero of Indian cinema, Dilip ruled the hearts of millions. His expression and screen persona inspired dozens of actors in the subcontinent. Pakistan too has a claim on him.

Yousuf, the real name of Dilip Kumar was born in 1922 in Peshawar. There has to be something unique about the city – now in tatters and under the grip of extremist ideologies – which produced so many legends including Raj Kapoor. Even Shahrukh Khan’s family has a Peshawar connection. In the mid 1930s the family migrated to Bombay and settled at Deolali where Yousuf studied in Barnes School and Khalsa College. Like other boys of his age, Yousuf played soccer and read the works of European authors and Urdu writers. We are told that his father wanted Yousuf to one day earn the title of Order of the British Empire. But he surpassed that expectation and proved his mettle in the film world and earned countless laurels. […]

Travelogue (Part II) – Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan

Things had changed. Bombay has metamorphosed into Mumbai (shining India is also more parochial); Sahar airport had been renamed (as Chatrapathi Shivaji International Airport) after the great Maratha leader Shivaji, who happens to be a villain in our textbooks for having defied the Mughals.

September 14th, 2010|India, Indo Pak peace, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, Travel|18 Comments

Jammed in Delhi

The more we fight, the more similar we look. After the 2008 tragic incidents in Mumbai, the Indian and Pakistani media displayed their raw power and the ability to shape public opinion. In India, the media stirred up jingoism even in the most pacifist human, while in Pakistan the India-centric paranoia and its paradoxical counterweight - our nuclear prowess - were drummed up by idiot box gurus.

August 12th, 2010|Arts & Culture, Published in The Friday Times|6 Comments

Redefining national interest

There is simply no alternative to information flow and dismantling the iron curtain. Let the disputes remain, but allow media access across the borders. Let the legislators take the lead and ask the Foreign Office mandarins to take a backseat. Trade and political compacts shall take care of the peace process. History teaches us that the pursuit of rational self interest is the key to progress. Annihilation is the fate of irrational states.

No alternative to peace with India

It is clear that regional stability is a foremost priority for India given its focus on achieving a 10 per cent growth rate. Pakistan should benefit from this dynamic by expanding trade with India. Mutual trade will be a win-win situation and give a much-needed boost to our economy.

Fatal obsession

It is a matter of public record that the founder of Pakistan had stated that Indo-Pakistan relationship will resemble that of the USA and Canada. Even before the Partition, Jinnah in a 1946 press conference stated, “the two states (Pakistan and India)… will be friends and will go to each other’s rescue in case of danger and will be able to say ‘hands off’ to other nations. We shall then have a Munroe doctrine more solid than America…” This vision along with other pronouncements by Jinnah is buried in the debris of Pakistan’s national security paranoia. The spectre of India and its ‘hegemonic designs’ to use an oft-quoted phrase remain central to Pakistan’s security paradigm.

The unwavering view on India is what explains the context for the discussion paper entitled, The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents -authored by Matt Waldman from the prestigious platform of the London School of Economics. Pakistan’s real power-centre, its security and intelligence apparatus are a self-sustaining reality. Other than the financing, of which plenty comes from the Western Capitals, there is a solid national opinion behind the xenophobic worldview carefully cultivated by a decades’ long well coordinated state policy. The centre of this argument is the ‘Indian threat’ and any conception of Pakistan’s security is linked to the evil designs of the powerful ‘enemy’ across the border.

Waldman’s report is neither authoritative nor presents a credible set of data to back up its central argument. But who does not know of the Taliban’s patronage by the security establishment. Confessional labels such as ‘patriotic’ and strategic assets are all too well known. Ask a random passerby on a Pakistani street and one will be amazed at the level of understanding by the common citizen. If you happen to travel a bit northwards and step out of the boundaries of the Punjab, even more riveting insights and stories will be related. Waldman is not telling us anything that we don’t know nor is he giving us a new perspective of how we frame our security interests and strategic priorities.

The report also alludes that Pakistan’s policy is coloured by its India-centric worldview. However, what is critically missing from the discourse at home is to tackle the India-problem, if one were to coin this phrase for simplifying a complex reality. Is this India-obsession sustainable, healthy and in our longer-term strategic interest?

Admittedly, India has not been that wise either. From its flawed strategy on Kashmir to the 1971 intervention it has provided enough ammunition, both literally and metaphorically, to the Pakistani establishment. If we were to ignore the transgressions such as Kargil, Musharraf’s unprecedented offers of revisiting the troubled history on Kashmir related UN resolutions fell on deaf ears. The usual refrain has reflected the typical South Asian emotionalism loosely packaged as ‘trust deficit’. If there is a military government it cannot be trusted, if civvies are in power, they are not the real masters. The end result is status quo thereby feeding into the military-industrial complex that cuts across national boundaries. […]