Policy shifts not war

First published in The NEWS

The dastardly attacks in Mumbai have irritated the old wounds and replayed the familiar, jingoistic tunes across the Indo-Pak borders. The Pakistanis, clamouring for friendship with their larger and problematic neighbour, have condemned these attacks in no uncertain terms. Who could be a worse victim of terrorism than Pakistan in these extraordinary times? Yet, the Indian media and sections of its establishment are quick to involve ‘Pakistan’ as the key perpetrator of the terror regime. This has obviously angered some and allowed a few Cold-War practitioners to call for self-defence and fighting with India till the last. The truth is that much of Pakistan does not want war. Hopefully, the Indian citizens are also not looking at war as a solution, or so it seems.

It is almost a cliché to state that war is not a solution to the current imbroglio despite the hysterical calls by the Hindu right to ‘neutralise’ Pakistan. The saner elements in India have already pointed to the implicit and deep-seated issues of misgovernance, short-termism and the mess of Partition that were neither carefully deliberated nor rectified during all these decades. The non-state actors in both India and Pakistan have gained ascendancy due to the power distance of the Raj induced steel-frame structures of governance. If there are dozens of districts in India that operate beyond the writ of the formal state, there are areas in Pakistan that are not just outside the scope of the formal state but in a state of rebellion due to the war on terror.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, an ignored persona in Pakistan, termed the partition of India as a partition of Indian Muslims. Whether we like it or not, this tragedy has happened in actual terms, leaving scars and wounds that will take years to heal. As if the 1947 bloodshed was not enough, the 1971 war of liberation fought by the Bengalis against the Pakistani state further divided the mass of Muslims into three distinct categories under tottering, imagined nation states.

Kashmiris are up in arms once again in India – this time Pakistan cannot be blamed for the excesses of the Indian state noted by the international groups and the bold sections of Indian intelligentsia. The inimitable Arundhati Roy has already called for India’s ‘azadi’ from Kashmir. The rise of the Hindu dominance movements allegedly to correct the wrongs of one thousand years of misdoings by the Muslims; and the concurrent branding of Muslims as terrorists have further fuelled the alienation of Indian Muslims. This is not just a Pakistani position but a fact recognized by many Indian thinkers themselves.

In Pakistan, years of misguided policies using Jihad as a policy instrument have also brutalized the society with a dogmatic interpretation of the lofty Islamic notions of struggle, change and self-improvement. Thus we have bigoted and political jihad factories that appear to be drifting away from the central hold and assuming a life of their own.

So we have a self-fulfilling cycle of violence, hate and war-mongering. Acts of violence in India are blamed on Pakistan, and groups of Indian Muslims thereby adding to further profiling of a beleaguered community that is huge in numbers despite being a minority. Pakistan plays up this trend and attracts the criticism of the Indian extremists for sponsoring terror by misleading the minority youth. And, any insurgency in Pakistan is immediately traced to Indian intervention, real or fabricated. The wound festers and bleeds unabated.

Things have come to such a pass that we have jihadist state officials, especially a few retired ones who use war as a road to Pakistani (read Islamic) glory, TV presenters who predict that India will be ruled by Muslims once again and madressahs that preach stuff that can put most of us to shame. On the Indian side, the involvement of serving and retired army officers in communal, barbaric violence is also a matter of public record. In addition, you have serving chief ministers and leaders of political parties who preach hatred and talk of ‘fixing’ the Muslims within India and beyond through regional and global coalitions that would make Gandhi and Nehru turn in their graves.

Religion and communalism sell where economic opportunity is short supply and where the modes of governance reinforce exploitation and alienation. This is the crux of the problem that is faced by India and Pakistan and to some extent by Bangladesh as well where abuse of religious sentiment has gained currency much to the horror of the secular Bengalis. Therefore, the need of the hour is for India and Pakistan to acknowledge that they have to cooperate and address the menace of poverty, social and cultural exclusion and rethink their eagerness to espouse the neo-liberal mantra of growth at any cost and identifying consumerism with general prosperity. This requires fundamental policy shifts within these states. Calls for war and revenge are mere ruses to avoid taking the hard route to reform and social transformation. The entrenched civil and military bureaucracies would need to take a backseat in the policy-setting process.

Pakistan’s current and former presidents have presented India with some unprecedented proposals that include shift from the traditional positions of Kashmir, trade-facilitation and responsible agreements on the use of nuclear warheads, among others. The recent Mumbai attacks have occurred right after President Zardari articulated bold and fearless proposals on a long-lasting peace.

This is why the Indian establishment needs to review its current spell of belligerence aimed at the domestic, pre-election milieu and understand that this is what the miscreants are aiming for: a breach and reversal of what was optimistically named as an irreversible peace process. The Pakistani state needs to ensure that it provides full cooperation in future investigations to allay the fears of Indian public. This is how the cycle of violence, hostility and war-mongering will start to break. Any kind of war – surgical, targeted, small-scale or large scale – is not the answer. The sub-continental states have to reinvent themselves after six decades of independence and re-examine how the colonial legacies of social and economic exclusion, the great games and communalism have to be done away with.

If we as a region fail to act, history shall be brutally candid about our collective illusions, suicidal streaks and the shared contempt for history.

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