| Pride of place
India has often complained of being bracketed with Pakistan by the international community. The “India-Pakistan” hyphenated perspective of south Asia has led to a sense of frustration in New Delhi. Pakistan is seen as a shackle that prevents India from realizing its global ambitions.
While addressing German members of parliament of the Bundestag on May 28, Atal Bihari Vajpayee argued for a “reform of old mindsets and eliminating the remnants of the Cold War ideologies which have promoted a view of India through a restrictive south Asian prism.” He was urging not only the Germans to take a fresh look at India.
But who has helped create the restrictive south Asian prism that Vajpayee was referring to' Has not India itself helped shape the context within which it is viewed only in relation to Pakistan'
Indians desirous of friendship with Pakistan are often given to saying, “We are the same people. Our societies are similar.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. We have turned into very different people since 1947, when Partition was forced on the subcontinent. Our societies are not similar as they have grown along different trajectories. Our political destinies are not the same because we have chosen different objectives and destinations.
By being obsessed with our assumed commonalties with Pakistan we in fact create the restrictive view of India that Vajpayee was referring to. India and Pakistan do not fit into the same slot. There is no comparison between the two countries. There are cultural and historical ties that bind India and Pakistan. But we have also had very different recent histories.
Prime Minister Vajpayee told German MPs about the remarkable nature of Indian polity. Compare the qualities of the Indian polity that Vajpayee enumerated with Pakistan and we are set apart immediately.
India is a secular, pluralist democracy; Pakistan is an Islamic country and a sham democracy. Since independence, there has been a continuity of democracy in India despite the high levels of illiteracy and poverty among its people; in Pakistan, short democratic interludes mark long periods of military dictatorship.
India is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society which values and promotes diversity; plurality is swamped by Islam and Punjabi cultural hegemony in Pakistan. India functions within a constitutional, democratic and federal framework; Pakistan’s constitution has not stabilized in the last five decades. Military dictators tend to over-write it at their whims and fancies, and true federalism remains an unfulfilled demand. India has institutionalized fundamental freedoms, human rights and the rule of law; Pakistan is in the nascent stages of development of these essential democratic characteristics. The rule of the gun and not of law is rampant in vast areas.
Pakistan has hardly witnessed any land reforms and the distribution of land remains highly skewed — land owners in Pakistan count the extent of their holdings in terms of how many railway stations are on their lands. Big landlords are known to dispense their own justice to their serfs and run private prisons. India may have pockets of feudalism left but its land reforms seem almost revolutionary in comparison to Pakistan.
For Pakistan, too, it makes no sense to be compared with India. Most Pakistanis are upset with any harking to the similarities of culture and people with India. The entire raison d'être is challenged by the notion of sameness.
Pakistan looks toward west Asia; its world-view is shaped by Islam and the notion of “umma” or Islamic brotherhood. Pakistan’s main enemy is not India but those in the West who have identified Islam as their prime target. India is merely a distraction for Pakistan, although perhaps a necessary one for domestic reasons.
What then do we have in common with Pakistan' Nothing except language and a common past that the Pakistanis refuse to recognize. Cynics would argue that we have more in common with Mauritius and Surinam — both of which have a sizeable Hindi-speaking population — than with Pakistan when it comes to these two issues.
We must get rid of the hyphenated perspective from our own mind first before we ask the rest of world to do so. Yet, because of the constraints of geography we have to deal with Pakistan. Unless we settle with our western neighbour by making peace, it will keep on being an irritant in India’s dealing with the rest of the world.
Vajpayee pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he proposed a new peace initiative to Pakistan. That he did so before his three-nation tour was significant. This was the first visit abroad by the Indian prime minister in the wake of the Iraq war. Under these circumstances, there was no way that terrorism was not going to be on the agenda of discussions with the heads of states that Vajpayee met. India is a victim of terrorism perpetrated from Pakistani soil. And terrorist violence in India cannot be discussed without evoking references to Kashmir and Pakistan.
The initiative on Pakistan taken in advance of such an important visit showed up Vajpayee as a statesman capable of taking bold peace initiatives. By contrast, Pakistan was forced to follow and react. Up to the time Vajpayee announced his new peace offer, India was under pressure to talk to Pakistan. By having gone the extra mile, the world had no advice to offer to India. However, there was advice aplenty for Pakistan on stopping cross-border terrorism if the latest peace initiative were to succeed. Most importantly, this time around, it was not India that raised the issue of Pakistan. The leaders that Vajpayee met raised it themselves.
It is a measure of the esteem accorded to India now that Vajpayee was able to meet all leaders of the permanent five members of the United Nations security council within 24 hours at St Petersburg. India is neither a member of the P-5, the Group of Eight developed countries, the European Union, or a former Soviet bloc country — it was the only outsider considered worthy of participation in the tercentenary celebrations of St Petersburg. Many would have given their right arm to be seated at the high table where India was accorded the pride of place between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush. This was an honour that did not bracket India with Pakistan by any stretch of the imagination.
That the hyphenated view of the subcontinent is changing was also evident at Evian in the “extended dialogue” with the G-8. The leaders of the developed world wanted to know about India’s concerns about the correctives required to make the international trading regime beneficial to both the developing and the developed world. This was a tribute to not only the importance of India’s voice on these matters but also a recognition of the growing importance of the Indian economy.
Pakistan was nowhere on the radar screen of the G-8. If the developed countries are breaking out of the restrictive prism of south Asia, India must encourage them to do so. But this can only be done by giving up our own psychopathic obsession with Pakistan. Only then can we move on in the world.