(The picture is from the 26/11 attacks and not the terror strikes in Pathankot.)
I join my nation in expressing grief at the loss of our brave security personnel who laid down their lives defending the country. It was indeed quite a rare spectacle to see Modi-bhakts (not referring to Modi-supporters in general) and the ‘aman ki asha’ peace-mongers on the same page, when Modi made his surprise visit to Pakistan. But the spectacle was not surprising, for they are both sets of people who are blind to what doesn’t suit them and have bigoted views towards those disagreeing with them. Some may accuse me of misusing a tragedy to promote jingoism, but it is not jingoism I seek to propagate, but just a rational explanation. If you disagree, you have every moral right to enter into a debate, but to descend to ad hominem allegations amounts to derailing the debate, shows intrinsic intellectual weakness and is counterproductive to the cause of dialectics, showing you in bad light and is against the spirit of liberalism and rationalism. To call someone who hasn’t made negative generalizations about any collectivity of humans, based on religion or nationality, a bigot because you are so self-absorbed in your intellectually elitist worldview of liberalism and impartiality, shows how illiberal your liberalism is that can’t take your ideological opponents on face value or have effective factual and logical rebuttals. Equally, I may state at the outset that those who seek to delude themselves by way of conspiracy theories should read this article.
Let me state very clearly that I am not an anti-Pakistan hate-monger. I have written about the very many liberal Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan, how the religious minorities there, though certainly under perennial threat, are not in as bad a shape as many of us imagine and I have even written articles for one of their leading media houses, including one condemning an attack on innocent Pakistani student Ali Hassan Raza in India. I have had friendly interactions with Pakistanis in my travels abroad, and both my parents have visited that country, recounting pleasant experiences. Pakistanis have also visited my school and college for competitions and exchange programmes, and I have had nice exchanges with them.
Having said that, I may point out that there is a left-liberal section of Indians who tend to equate India and Pakistan in terms of pinning the blame when it comes to belligerence between the two countries (equating the victim and the perpetrator, for India can’t be blamed for defending its borders, and the dialogue penned by Javed Akhtar in the movie ‘Lakshya’ – “SHUT UP… JUST SHUT UP! Tumko aman aur shanti chahiye….humko bhi aman aur shanti chahiye… to kya karein? Hath par hath rakhkar khade ho jayen… thali pe paros dein apna mulk? hawale kar de unke”, implying that while peace is indeed desirable, it is necessary to defend the sovereignty of one’s country if it is attacked, is relevant in this context), as also when it comes to religious majoritarianism in both the countries. These “peace-mongers” (as distinct from those engaging in meaningful peace activism), entertaining a superiority complex of being liberal and looking down upon the supposedly illiberal Indian masses (those supposedly illiberal folks, by the way, are also full of fans of Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam, Fahad Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, to know well enough that all Pakistanis are not terrorists, and while it goes without saying that these Pakistani artists are appreciated for their artistic talent rather than just being Pakistani, as should be the case, it goes to show how Indians are willing to appreciate Pakistani artists to the extent of adoring them, without their being Pakistani coming in the way), seem to believe that merely chanting slogans of peace from their rooftops and Indo-Pak cultural programmes can, by themselves, resolve the Kashmir issue! They, unlike intellectually honest Pakistani liberals (for whom I have the highest regard), even tend to shy away from frankly discussing the terror factory in Pakistan, trying to dodge it by way of whataboutism. The whataboutism takes the form of speaking of Hindu communalism in India, which, in spite of all its anti-Pakistan rhetoric, has not translated itself into a factory of well-trained terrorists crossing the border to kill innocent civilians there (though it has translated itself into horrendous riots against innocent Muslims and Christians in India, which must be condemned in the strongest terms, but is an internal Indian matter, and though India needs to do more to ensure communal harmony, Pakistan is certainly no better on this front). Alternatively or as a supplement, the whataboutism of India’s peace-mongers takes the form of pointing to how Pakistanis are also victims of terrorism, their slogan being “terrorism has no nationality” as though we need to tell aliens from outer space to solve the problem, and as though Pakistanis dying in terror attacks reduces the accountability of the Pakistani state to nip the terror factory in its bud, though logically, it should only increase that sense of responsibility in the government of Pakistan, and with all due respect to humanitarian concern for Pakistani victims of terrorism, it’s only normal for Indians to be more concerned about what directly threatens them, and no, the Indian government has not orchestrated any Kargil war or Operation Gibraltar, all the Indo-Pak wars actually having been initiated by Pakistan, and if an Indian states these facts, as many Pakistani liberals do, it doesn’t mean that he/she is biased (supporting your own side can’t automatically be presumed to be bias, if one has a rational basis, and this is not to say that one should be blinded by nationalist bias to consider the morality of the Indian state in foreign policy, or even engagement with secessionist forces, to be axiomatic, but that doesn’t mean writing off genuine contentions where the Indian state has an upper hand), and no, the Indian media doesn’t invite to its studios those promoting bizarre, baseless conspiracy theories, the way some media houses in Pakistan invite Zaid Hamid (who goes to the extent of taking pride in the killings of Hindus in Afghanistan, and laments that it has been long since it was repeated by the Pakistani establishment!). The Pakistani establishment, as Pakistani liberals point out, is responsible for having created terrorists in the first place, some of whom have turned against their erstwhile master, and that is, by no means, India’s fault.
Some among the peace-mongers even try to suggest that so much as raising the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan implies an anti-Muslim sentiment (yes, in a debate in Jesus and Mary College, Delhi, I once attended, I remember a girl interjecting someone to the effect whether that person was communal because that person had talked about terrorism in India emanating from Pakistan), which is the biggest insult to Muslims, for this misplaced logic unintentionally equates all Muslims as being somewhat associated with the terror factory! Islamophobia in India is a real problem (I have written an e-book, available for free download, trying to logically address and dispel the same, and I would request all readers with even the mildest sense of anti-Muslim resentment to peruse that book with an open mind, not skim through it judging it by preconceived notions, and equally, I would assert that there is much exaggeration of Muslim victimhood in India, which I have discussed at some length in this article), but it cannot be checked by brushing the facts about Muslim extremism under the carpet, for facts cannot be hidden forever and combating extremism under any banner cannot be effective until we understand how that banner is being invoked to ideologically, or even strategically, counter the same (if some Muslims are resorting to extremism in the name of Islam, we need to counter their version of Islam and the prejudices they hold about whoever they are against, and I have discussed how to do so in this article; just chanting the mantra of peace, without even addressing real or perceived grievances or countering regressive ideologies in specific cases, is no solution ever).
And yes, India does not have discriminatory laws against its religious minorities like the blasphemy law in Pakistan or the law that restricts the Ahmedias’ civil liberties and religious freedoms in Pakistan, nor have the religious minorities here faced any systematic ethnic cleansing that has reduced their percentage in the Indian population (as is the case with the Hindus of Pakistan, and sections of the minority communities of Pakistan have almost never been involved in rioting or terrorism, the scenario in India being different, given the Khalistanis, Indian Mujahidin and some terror groups in India’s northeast invoking Christianity), nor did the saffronized textbooks of the previous NDA government present such blatantly biased and distorted versions of history as we see in Pakistan, and to use the logic of whataboutism employed by the peace-mongers, more Muslims have been dying at the hands of Muslim extremists in Pakistan than Muslims at the hands of Hindu extremists in India over the last few years. Indeed, prejudices about “the other” exist among many people, to varying degrees, on both sides of the border, and need to be dispelled, and people-to-people contact can help in creating a good climate, but till both sides have a frank discussion of political narratives (people-to-people contact has usually just meant exchanging pleasantries, but just mention ‘Kashmir’ and the average Indian and the average Pakistani, if really compelled to discuss the same, will be a hardcore jingoist) and shed their chauvinistic versions of nationalism (but this does not mean, in the Indian context, shying away from acknowledging the dismal scenario in Pakistan for what it is), long-term Indo-Pak peace is not possible, and while there are those with vested interests in perpetuating the conflict in both India and Pakistan, the biggest stumbling block is the Pakistani army, which always actually seeks to derive its political legitimacy and huge budgetary share from the anti-India bogey!
In fact, I would even go to the extent of asserting that till such time as Pakistan doesn’t liberate its democracy from the mullah-military nexus (here’s a piece on that nexus by a Pakistani liberal), peace with India is impossible, and hence, we should always have the best degree of preparedness when it comes to war and terrorism. As eminent Indian police officer KPS Gill has aptly stated-
“There is… one general principle that must guide our explorations, perspectives, plans and projections: The primary and most effective strategy to avoid war is to prepare for it. It is one of the ironies of the human condition that, if you love peace, you must be ready and willing to fight for it. The weak, the vulnerable, the unprepared and the irresolute will always tempt the world and call misfortune and ruin upon themselves. This is tragic, but it is the inexorable lesson of history. It is strength that secures respect and dignity; conciliation, appeasement, and a desperation to avoid confrontation at all costs – these will only bring contempt and aggression in their dower.”
Stern measures like suspending trade with Pakistan, which strengthens their economy much more than ours, is certainly not be a bad idea, and trying to have talks is impossible if there are repeated terrorist attacks from their end.
Our left-liberal chorus that wants India to severe trade ties with Israel (an idea I do not support) should not logically have any objections to this proposal, given the sponsorship of terrorism by the Pakistani establishment not only in India but even in Iran and Afghanistan, as also Pakistan’s poor human rights record with the Baloch people who have been deprived of self-determination (theirs was an independent country like Nepal or Bhutan, invaded by Pakistan, and those who suggest that it is the same vis-à-vis India and Kashmir should read this article) and subjected to aerial bombings. On the other hand, however, we must equally not stereotype the Pakistani populace in a negative fashion, not only because it’s fundamentally wrong and may incite more violence from their end, but because keeping an open mind is necessary for us to resolve issues with Pakistan if it ever gets out of the mess it is in, for long-term peace and stability, which will only be in our interest, and jingoism perpetuating conflict is not. We must indeed, with an open mind, understand the multiple narratives of the Kashmir issue (no, it is really not as oversimplified as many of us imagine) and work towards a compromise that ensures an end to conflict, for no other avenue is possible with a fellow nuclear power. Indeed, to explain this with an analogy, Nehru was not overly trusting of or generous to the Chinese as many imagine, but in fact, a little too aggressive and tried to unilaterally impose the Indian position on the Sino-Indian borders, on the Chinese (his infamous “Forward Policy” among those who know of it), ignoring the advice of military officers like Thimayya asking him to not provoke the Chinese, and rejecting the very fair and pragmatic Chinese offer of a swap of Indian and Chinese claims over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh respectively (kindly study the history of the Sino-Indian border dispute carefully and with an open mind before calling me anti-national), and even resorting to the threat of force, leading to the war of 1962 disastrous for India, and the conflict has only perpetuated, and so, if and when Pakistan liberates itself from the mullah-military nexus (the likelihood of which seems very low), we should be in a position to arrive at a lasting solution. There are some people circulating saffron maps (possibly inspired by green maps of a proposed Islamic caliphate, even including parts of India, a very ridiculous idea) online, showing Myanmar (not a part of India in Mauryan or Mughal times) and several other neighbouring countries (including obviously Pakistan) as a part of the proposed to-be larger India. While many would dismiss this as childish, it only worsens the image of India among neighbouring countries, where, barring Afghanistan and Bhutan, India is seen as a hegemonic power (and this negative image only works to the strategic advantage of India’s adversaries). Some international observers have even unfortunately and erroneously taken this seriously as translating into the BJP having a territorial expansionist ideology, as you can see here (and this was even before Ram Madhav’s interview to Mehdi Hasan). Also, gone are the days when the size of a country solely determined its status (that way, India is larger than England and way larger than Singapore!), and trying to accommodate unwilling citizens (like Pakistanis), who are bound to raise the banner of revolt, is not a good idea! Also, being a developing nation wherein very many Indians suffer from poverty and illiteracy, solving these problems within our borders should indeed be our primary focus.
Not being a hawk does not mean acting like a perennial dove, and your having met some very nice and friendly Pakistani individuals, in no way, changes the security threat India faces. We must commemorate all those innocent civilians, irrespective of religion or nationality, who died in all the terrible terrorist attacks on our soil, the sacrifices of all those Indian security personnel, irrespective of religion, who fought Pakistani soldiers and terrorists risking their lives, some dying martyrs (and among many others, the names of Brigadier Mohammad Usman and Hawaldar Abdul Hamid of the Indian Army will remain enshrined in golden letters) and the Muslims of Mumbai refusing to bury the bodies of the nine terrorists who were killed in the wake of 26/11, calling their activities un-Islamic (indeed, there is no dearth of Indian Muslims who very well understand that Islamic theology is not at loggerheads with Indian nationalism). Let our humanitarian concern for the victims of terrorism in Pakistan not come in the way of devising a strong policy against those across the border who sponsor terror against our people, and such a policy can include, if the need be, covert intelligence operations against terrorists who threaten or have threatened us, and even creating a ruckus in the United Nations about the biased and distorted history taught in Pakistan, and that too ensuring that such a curriculum is not taught at any grade (it is noteworthy that there were huge demonstrations in China against Japanese textbooks they believed were biased against the Chinese). Expecting the Pakistani judiciary to take action against terrorists threatening us is totally futile, given that the judge who issued a death sentence for the killer of provincial governor Salman Taseer (Taseer was killed for raising his voice against the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy law against Pakistani Christians) has had to leave Pakistan, and the sentence has not been carried out in several years now. In contrast, Nathuram Godse who killed Mahatma Gandhi (for the mahatma had raised his voice for riot-affected Muslims) was hanged, and hundreds have been convicted in connection with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 (some of the infamous massacres for which convictions have taken place were at the Best Bakery, Naroda Patiya, Ode and Sardarpura), and many convictions have taken place even for the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008 (including of politicians like Manoj Pradhan) and the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 (though some prominent politicians in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 are yet to be convicted).
We rightly mourned the killings of innocent children of military personnel in Peshawar, but do we remember the massacre in Kaluchak in 2002 in which children of our soldiers perished at the hands of Pakistani terrorists, after which Omar Abdullah said that India should retaliate strongly in the face of such an inhuman event? And it’s not about bearing endless grudges, but about the fact that we, Indians, irrespective of religion, are all still potential victims of terrorism from or sponsored from across the border, as the terrorist attacks in Kathua and Samba in J&K in March 2015 have demonstrated, as also the terrorist attacks in Kashmir during the elections, in which Kashmiri Muslim policemen and civilians died (no, there was no attempt by militants to create any good atmosphere in the valley, whatever Mufti Muhammad Sayeed may have said) and even the blasts in Burdhwan, West Bengal, in October 2014 (the Bangladeshi Muslims resorting to terrorism, all have their affinity to Pakistan, unlike the Bangladeshi Muslims rejecting theocracy who were responsible for the Shahbag protests), in Bangalore in December 2014 and the attack on the police station in Gurdaspur, Punjab, in July 2015, other than the latest terror strikes in Pathankot. We don’t have to and shouldn’t turn ourselves into irrational hate-mongers or jingoistic nationalists with bloodlust or irredentist tendencies, and that would eventually harm us too, especially while dealing with a nuclear-armed neighbouring country, but we can’t take the very real threat of terrorism lying down either.
In fact, a large section of our secularists, by choosing to act as peace-mongering jokers, have ceded the legitimate space for the demand for a tough stand against the Pakistani establishment to the Hindu rightists, thus strengthening the latter, though the extreme Hindu rightists actually have nothing meaningful to offer in this respect but for empty, crass and even counterproductive sloganeering. Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, who can’t in the least be accused of anti-Muslim bias in their governance within India (leave aside what Pakistani conspiracy theorist loonies have to say!) have been the toughest on Pakistan among our prime ministers, even more than Vajpayee, who neglected more than 40 intelligence reports suggesting cross-LoC infiltration and still went ahead with the Delhi-Lahore bus service (I made this point in a televised debate on Times Now sitting right next to a BJP spokesman, whom I personally respect), or so far, even Modi, as the eminent strategic analyst Sushant Sareen points out in this article, and the recent incident of VK Singh, a minister, attending a Pakistani High Commission event on Pakistan Day (23rd March, also the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in 1931, as also the assassination of 24 Kashmiri Hindus in the village of Nandimarg in 2003) in the wake of the then very recent terrorist attacks in Kathua and Samba in J&K (and no minister having visited the kin of the victims of terrorism) only reinforces that stand, though on a different note, Modi has not in the least been found wanting when it comes to goodwill gestures with Pakistan, be it offering assistance for flood relief in POK, releasing Pakistani fishermen during Ramzan, having Indian schools observe silence for the terrorist attack in Peshawar, wishing Pakistan luck for the cricket world cup or offering financial assistance to the Pakistani hockey federation. An effective foreign policy is actually about incisive planning, not an image of being a religious hardliner or just offering powerful oratory in election rallies or strong tweets before elections! This is not to say that I am advocating support for the Congress, which I am also very disappointed with on many fronts, including its Pakistan policy, such as resuming talks with Pakistan after having suspended them in the wake of 26/11, but the blind belief of many people to the effect that the BJP, given its Hindu rightist image, is the best bet for national security, is highly misplaced. Other than the facts I have mentioned earlier in this paragraph, it may also be added that it was during the tenure of the previous Vajpayee-led NDA regime that a senior political leader, Bangaru Lakshman, was caught on camera taking a bribe compromising national security, and during that very tenure did the Kargil coffin scam take place and following the attack on parliament (by the way, the BJP being in power in the centre or the states has never been a guarantee against terrorist attacks), in the Indo-Pak border skirmishes, more of our soldiers lost their lives on account of not being supplied bulletproof vests and other protective gear!
And indeed, at any rate, we cannot allow India to become another Pakistan in terms of civil liberties (religious freedom being one of them). Dehumanizing a minority (I would again refer the readers to my e-book aimed at addressing and dispelling anti-Muslim prejudices in the Indian context) and accepting an exclusionary brand of nationalism, especially with blind hero-worship of a political leader, can, in the long run, pave the way for a breakdown of democracy, eventually proving to be violative of everyone’s human rights, for one goes down a slippery slope. We saw that in Germany, for example, and Pastor Martin’s following quote about the Nazis is famous in that regard-
“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Likewise, in Pakistan, Muslim extremists initially only targeted Pakistani Hindus, Christians, Jews and those they regarded as following deviant sects of Islam, but now, the average Pakistani Sunni going to a mosque or market too faces the threat of being bombed! Similarly, the elements in India that wish to promote undemocratic ideas like the prohibition of apostasy from Hinduism, prohibition of inter-religious marriages (for them, every instance of a marriage between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman amounts to “love jihad”, overlooking how very many Muslim women have married Hindu men and changed their religion and name, prominent examples being sitarist Roshanara Khan, model Nayyara Mirza and actress Nakhat Khan, who on getting married, changed their names to Annapurna Devi, Nalini Patel and Khushboo Sundar respectively), seek to impose their version of history on us, and often have an aversion to the English language and other cultures, should be kept in check. But the secularists who want to keep them in check cannot do so if they act as peace-mongering clowns when it comes to our hostile western neighbour, thus strengthening the Hindu right that is then seen as tough.
Shashi Tharoor, one of the staunchest critics of the Hindu right in our intelligentsia even before he joined politics (back then, he had also been very critical of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi), has been among the few who have also been rational on this front and has this to say about so-called dialogue programmes organized by our Indian peace-mongers, even in our political class as far as their conduct with Pakistanis is concerned (the reference to visitors is to Pakistani visitors)-
“They focus on making the visitors feel welcome, emphasize the feel-good aspects of their presence in our midst, celebrate the many things we have in common and try to brush the real problems under a carpet (not a Kashmiri carpet, since that might provoke disagreeable thoughts). In other words, they are a self-fulfilling exercise in self-vindication. Their success depends on denying the very disagreements that makes such dialogues necessary in the first place.”
Further, he has stated-
“India has long been in favor of placing the Kashmir dispute on back burner and promoting trade, travel and the rest; it is Pakistan that has taken the view that there cannot be normal relations with India until Kashmir is settled, on terms acceptable to Islamabad. So inasmuch as there is hostility that such dialogues attempt to overcome, the hostility starts with Pakistan, which wants a change in the territorial status quo, and not with India, which is perfectly content to leave things as they are.
One example of this asymmetry is that India had given Pakistan most favored nation (MFN) trading status as far back as 1995, and Pakistan has still not reciprocated. It remains the only example on the entire planer of a one-sided MFN; no other country has ever refused to reciprocate an offer of MFN trading status from a neighbor. (In 2011, Pakistan announced it would finally extend MFN status to India, but the enabling legislation and the necessary regulations were yet to be written twelve months after the announcement.) India continues to show its good faith time after time, persisting in the peace talks even after the Kabul embassy bombing, offering aid after natural disasters in Pakistan (in one egregious instance, aid of $25 million offered by India in the wake of severe floods in Pakistan was initially rejected by Islamabad, which finally, grudgingly said it would be glad to have the money if given through the United Nations rather than directly). In the summer of 2009, when the country was still in boil over the prime minister’s visit to Salim el Sheikh, the Indian team played the Pakistani team at a charity cricket match in England, with the proceeds going to the relief of displaced people from Swat in Pakistan – every penny being sent to the very country from which terrorists had attacked India just a few months previously. So the goodwill and the heart of India should not and cannot be doubted. It is unfortunately not being matched from the other side. There is no equivalent example that Pakistan can cite. Then the Pakistani side’s tendency to equate the two countries’ experience of terrorism-‘We are bigger victims of terrorism than you are,’ one visitor said; ‘If you can cite Mumbai, we can point Samjhauta,’ added another-omitted the basic difference that no one form India has crossed the border to inflict mayhem on Pakistan. Indians can and should sympathize with Pakistani victims of terrorism, but their tragedy is home-grown, an evil force turning on its creator; whereas Indians have died because killers from Pakistan, trained, equipped and directed by Pakistanis, have travelled in our country to kill, maim and destroy. There is no moral equivalence, and to pretend there is builds the dialogue on a platform of falsehood. Finally, friendship has to be built on a shared perception of the danger-of a sincere acceptance by the Pakistani military establishment that those who attacked the Taj in Mumbai are just as much their enemies as those bombing the Marriott in Islamabad. This woud require more than fuzzy words from parliamentarians-it needs genuine cooperation from Pakistan, including useful information-sharing and real action to arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators. The Samjhauta plotters are in jail in India, while Hafiz Saeed is still at large in Pakistan.”
About the Pakistani government (and not the Pakistani people), Tharoor says-
“(We must not take seriously) the insincere press releases of the civilian rulers who are occasionally allowed to don the masks of power in Pakistan. We must accept that the very nature of the Pakistani state condemns us to face an implacable enemy in the self-perpetuating military elite next door, for lasting peace would leave them without a raison d’être for their power and privileges. We must not be deluded into making concessions, whether on Kashmir or on any other issue, in the naïve expectation that these would end the hostility of the ISI and its cohorts. We must understand that Pakistan’s fragile sense of self-worth rests on its claim to be superior to India, stronger and more valiant than India, richer and more capable than India. This is why the killers of 26/11 struck the places they did, because their objective is not only to kill and destroy, but also to pull down India’s growth, tarnish its success story and darken its luster in the world. The more we grow and flourish in the world, the more difficult we make it for the Pakistani military to sustain its myth of superiority or even parity. There are malignant forces in Islamabad who see their future resting upon India’s failure. These are not motives we can easily overcome. This means that talking to plausible civilians has severe limitations. A smooth president, a bluff prime minister or a glamorous foreign minister makes for good television, but behind their affability they are each aware that a step too far could make them a targets of their own military establishment. We should be aware of this too, and we should ensure they are aware that we are aware.”