Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two Nations, Two Choices

There's been a lot about Pakistan in the Indian media over the last 10 days: obituaries of Benazir Bhutto; predictions about the forthcoming election; attacks on General Musharraf; and conspiracy theories about the assassination.
I have no problems with much of the coverage, but I am disappointed by the unwillingness of most commentators to go further back in history After all, Pakistan was once a part of India. Both countries secured independence within a day of each other in 1947. And both made many important choices in the decades that followed: choices that explain why Pakistan and India have developed so differently.
And yet, there was a complete absence of historical perspective in much of the analysis.

Even a decade ago, I suspect that we would have covered Pakistan's tragic slide into anarchy very differently.
It's still fashionable for a certain kind of north Indian to say about Pakistan and Pakistanis, 'we are the same country divided by politicians. And we are the same people.' But as the years go by and new generations take over, this sentiment is fading. Punjabis may feel a kinship with Pakistan — many belong to families divided by Partition — but the rest of India seems much less empathetic.
I've been in Bombay and Bangalore since Benazir's assassination and it was interesting to note how little people cared about events in Pakistan and how quickly even that interest has begun to fade.

And if you follow the international press, you'll note that the old equivalence, where India and Pakistan were always talked about in the same breath, has now vanished. If Pakistan is compared to any country, it is to Afghanistan . India, on the other hand, tends increasingly to be compared to China. Few foreign journos even bother with the clichés they once used when they referred to Pakistan — such as, for instance: 'compared to its democratic neighbour India'. And rarely does the prospect of another India-Pakistan war (a traditional obsession with Western journalists) intrude into their analysis of events in that troubled country.

I remind you of all this to make two separate points.

One: we must not let the largely Delhi- and north Indian-dominated 'national' media blind us to the increasing irrelevance of Pakistan as a factor in determining India's future. Punjabi journos may be fascinated by Pakistan; the rest of us are merely curious.

But it is the second point that I regard as more significant . In the 1950s and in the 1960s, when India was ruled by a Nehruvian consensus, there were many critics — usually on the political right — who thought we had got it badly wrong. How did it benefit India , they asked, to follow some crackpot policy of non-alignment which involved a surreptitious tilt to the Soviet Bloc when we could so easily be friends with the US , the world's most powerful democracy?

There were only two major Asian countries that rejected the US prescription for development and foreign policy: India and China. And look where they are today.

Look at Pakistan, they said. Its rulers recognised that there was much to be gained from linking up with Washington and enjoying the benefits of American patronage. A steady stream of American aid dollars flowed into Pakistan . The armed forces had access to the latest weaponry. The streets of Karachi and Lahore were full of imported cars — not a Landmaster or an Ambassador in sight. Nor did Pakistanis have to put up with all this socialist nonsense. They valued free enterprise and were proud to say so.

The America-Pakistan equation frequently annoyed Indians. It sent us into paroxysms of rage when Richard Nixon and Harry Kissinger backed Pakistan 's whisky-sodden General Yahya Khan while his troops were committing genocide in Bangladesh . And anti-Americanism reached a peak when Nixon sent the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. (He wanted to warn us off invading West Pakistan).

During the Zia-ul-Haq era, when Pakistan 's economy seemed robust and billions of dollars were pumped into the state treasury while we struggled to make ends meet, many educated Indians sincerely wondered whether we were paying the price for Pandit Nehru's mistaken choices. Hadn't Mohammed Ali Jinnah's heirs got it right while we floundered? Wouldn't India have been better off on America 's side?

There was a corollary to all this. In the 1960s, the Jan Sangh and Swatantra parties, which wanted us to renounce Nehruvian non-alignment and rush into Washington's embrace , also made the point that there was no harm in declaring that Hinduism was India 's state religion. If Pakistan could flourish as a Muslim country, then why should India be shy of owning up to its Hindu heritage?

With the benefit of hindsight, we can today safely say that every single one of those propositions was flawed .

The case of Pakistan is especially instructive. Because it believed all the American dogma about free trade, it never built for itself the kind of industrial base that India constructed at such huge sacrifice in the name of self-reliance. Because it tied itself so closely to US foreign policy, its diplomats did whatever America wanted, even helping pimp the first assignation between Kissinger and the Chinese in 1971. There's no denying that Pakistan got many Sabre jets and Patton tanks (remember the 1965 War?) along with billions of dollars in aid. It also got away with genocide in 1971. And the US turned a blind eye while its scientists ran a nuclear black market.

Treat those benefits as rent paid by America . Because Washington turned Pakistan into its largest military base , an entire country at the service of Uncle Sam.

In the 1960s , it was used to keep a watch on Russia (the U2 spy planes took off from there); in the 1970s, it served as a back channel for China-US diplomacy; in the 1980s, it was used for the Afghan 'jehad'; and now, it is a launch pad for a crucial part of the 'War on Terror'.

The Americans had no interest in developing Pakistan's economy or in promoting the institutions of democracy . They preferred to deal with a succession of military dictators (Ayub Khan, Yahya, Zia and now Musharraf) because it was both easier and quicker. And they actively exploited Pakistan's lack of secularism — its very raison d'être was its status as an Islamic nation — to launch the world's first high-tech jehad , thereby unleashing the fundamentalist and terrorist forces that are tearing Pakistan apart today. Looking back, it is hard to see how any country could have got it more wrong than Pakistan did. Every single choice it made — foreign policy, economic, religious, political etc — seems, in retrospect, to have been a disastrous mistake. In contrast, Nehru created the modern Indian republic, one of 21st century's potential superpowers. The same Americans who once dismissed India as a Russian lackey now throng our airports looking for investment opportunities .

When their President comes to India , he talks to our Prime Minister on equal terms and discusses foreign policy. When he goes to Pakistan on the other hand, he merely instructs their President on which terrorists to hand over to US authorities. Of course, Nehru made mistakes. But can anybody really deny that the principal reason why India and Pakistan , once part of the same country, have followed such divergent paths is because of the choices both countries made in the years following independence?

At first, India's priorities may have seemed (from a middle-class perspective) wrong-headed and muddled. Pakistan 's may have seemed glamorous and instantly gratifying. But, in the long run, we ended up as the superpower. And Pakistan as the failed state.
The divergent paths we have taken and the different destinations we have reached explain why, outside of the north, Pakistan seems no more than a curiosity to most Indians. There is a historical legacy, but our presents are very different, and our futures have nothing in common.

I respect Punjabi sentimentality about Lahore with its filmi notion of brothers separated by circumstances. But, Punjabi sentimentality and Bollywood aside , how can one not feel sorry for the people of Pakistan, betrayed by a succession of incompetent leaders, seduced by a superpower concerned only with its own interests, and bewildered by the tricks that fate has played on their beleaguered country?

History is full of ifs and buts. So who knows how things would have turned out? But just suppose there had been no Partition . Would these same people have lived a very different life? Would they have been part of the Indian success story?

That's a question for the ghost of Mohammed Ali Jinnah to answer.

-Vir Sanghvi

Worth the read -- Second article and its response

Very weighty analysis, and regretably true. I think we Pakis will emerge from our present predicament wiser and stronger, even if economically far behind India. In every American there is an air of incorrigible innocence, which seems to conceal a diabolical cunning, said A. E. Housman. I am afriad we fell for the American air of incorrigible innocence in the early days, and are only just beginning to discover its diabolical cunning. The lessons we have learnt first hand no leadership school anywhere could have taught us. I hope we dont wind up paying too steep a price for these tutorials, though it appears we may already have. The 7th Fleet merely added salt to open wounds.

The problem has been that most Pakis have a very high threshold for pain and general inconvenience. They are seized with the 'messiah syndrome' and waiting patiently for someone to come and fix their wagon. Well, for all one knows, someone may actually turn up and fix the Paki wagon, though it appears improbable. Hence the journey, if there is one, must be completed on foot. That is just fine, because under the present adverse circumstances regarding fossil fuel emissions, pedestrians and cyclists are to be encouraged in every respect. It makes for healthier bodies as well! My apologies if I appear to trifle with serious issues. But what else can one do when faced with 'irrefutable' evidence that we are up the creek and the paddle's gone missing? Or is this all a big charade? A grand conspiracy to drive the complacency out of the rank and file, and break it out of its slumber? Scare the bejezzuz out of the populace and force it 'out of the box' and into a state of mental agility?

Paki military dictators have treated the Paki populace as an extension of the regulars in uniform. This could never have been possible in a country the size of India. 160 million people lend themselves to marshalling more easily than 1 billion. The Paki civil society has never been more alive in its history than at the present moment, and the fundos are an integral part of this civil society whether we like it or not. The fundos are pushing their agenda and the much larger moderate body is pushing its agenda. Social justice and equity are the common objectives of both agendas, though the routes taken do differ, specially when talking of the lunatic fringe. Prevailing circumstances have forced the moderates to take to the streets in large numbers, and if the silver lining is to be seen, then the lawyers, media and political parties have given the lie in no uncertain terms to the stereotype that Paki streets are crawling with fundos.

While Uncle Sam may have our head honcho in uniform by the short and curlies, the same cannot be said about the Paki civil society. The dilution of the writ of the state, witnessed specially in the meagre number of tax payers and the huge informal economy cited by some at 11 times the size of the formal economy, is testimony that the Paki populace is nobody's fool, and understands the very tightrope that our formal leadership has to tread in its dealings with its 'unholy masters'. An old management axiom says that one cannot manage what one cannot measure, and Uncle Sam has no idea about the extent of the Paki curry!

India and Pakistan post 1947 have developed along two radically different models. The only way India could have functioned given its vast and differing population was through a system of strong institutions and self-reliance. Pakistan, with its much smaller population, had the luxury of adopting an inter-dependent model which, for all practical purposes, made us the 53rd American state The fact that we were far removed in geographical terms helped us both have the cake and eat it too, up to a point. America prided itself as a melting pot of cultures, and so did Pakistan, a common religion being no bar for different cultures. America, with its gospel of conspicuous consumption, was fascinating to a people whose belief structure mandated a Spartan life style. Hence we gorged on the American offerings, as and when they were made available, with little or no attention paid to developing our own industrial base. Whether gorging is permitted in our belief structure is another matter. So while today India aspires to be like China, we Pakis merely aspire to be ourselves, and in that regard we are trying to establish who we really are with a vigour unheard of and unseen in the past.

Would the territories comprising present day Pakistan and Bangladesh have been better off had Partition not taken place in 1947 at enormous sacrifice of human lives? Would we have been part of Shining India? Or would we have been part of the the huge Indian underbelly living below the poverty line, estimated by some at over 600 million? I really cant say. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel there would have been far less soul searching on both sides. We would also not have attained the levels of societal maturity had there not existed two antagonists in the Subcontinent. India has been likened to a Boeing 747 with a full load constrained by its construct to seek a predictable, straight and level flight. Pakistan, on the other hand, is often compared with the F-16 Fighting Falcon, 'condemned' by its construct to pull 'Gs' in the seeking of satisfaction. The question that goes abegging is, do we have our 'G' suits on?