Pakistan, living and loving to hate India
In part of the Pakistani media, and in some sections of Pakistani society, the Indian view of Pakistan is routinely caricatured. We hate Pakistan, it is said. We have never reconciled ourselves to the existence of Pakistan and wish to see it destroyed. Our agents are continually plotting to break up Pakistan. And so on.
A second, more offensive, characterisation also lurks beneath the surface. India is a Hindu country. There is no place for Muslims in our society. We discriminate against them. And sometimes, we attack them during pogroms.
I won’t bother to dignify the second characterisation with a response.
Any society whose three most popular icons are called Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, has no explaining to do on the Hindu-Muslim front. There may well be communal tensions – just as there are ethnic tensions – within the framework of Indian society.
But India, unlike Pakistan, is a nation founded on a secular view of the world and not on religion.
But it is the first caricature that is the most worrying. It is a view propped up by sections of the Pakistani establishment to justify a certain kind of order. If Pakistan is not under threat from India then why does it need such a huge army? Why should so much money be spent on defence expenditure? And if India is not actively interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs then why are the Mohajirs so restive? Why are the Baluchs so unwilling to accept Islamabad’s authority? Why did East Pakistan break away and become Bangladesh?
It is easy to see why some Pakistanis need to prop up the Evil India caricature to justify the events of recent history and the current state of Pakistan. But, every now and then, fate conspires to demonstrate how false this caricature is.
The truth is that Pakistan is at the periphery of the consciousness of most Indians. The further you go from Delhi, the less Pakistan matters. When people do think about Pakistan, it is not with any sense of hostility. Only on one issue do feelings run high. And that is the Pakistani role in terrorism. Frankly, that should come as no surprise.
Feelings run high on this issue all over the world, in America and Europe, and even in Pakistan itself. Concerns about the Pakistani army’s sponsorship of terrorists are a global phenomenon and are unconnected to any specific emotion within India.
If you need any proof of the goodwill that exists in India towards Pakistan you need only look at the reception accorded to Asif Zardari when he visited India on Sunday. For days before the visit, the media had been breathless with excitement. When he did arrive, his trip was the subject of live TV coverage. His son Bilawal was treated as though as he was a matinee idol. And the Indian public eagerly awaited every detail of the visit: what Zardari ate; who he sat next to at lunch; what he wrote in the visitors book at the Ajmer dargah; etc.
India has no reason to love Asif Zardari. He was President of Pakistan when 26/11 occurred. And his government has failed to act against those who masterminded the attack. The kindest thing that we can say about his role in those events is that he is an ineffectual figure, unable to do much because of the hostility of the army.
And yet, we welcomed him with warmth and enthusiasm.
So it was with Pervez Musharraf when he came for the Agra summit. Then too, Indians had no reason to like the President of Pakistan. General Musharraf was the architect of the Kargil invasion, had refused to turn up to greet Prime Minister AB Vajpayee when he was on a visit to Lahore, and had taken office after arresting the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Despite this background, Musharraf received an ecstatic welcome.
Crowds lined the streets as his convoy passed through Delhi. The elite lined up to be introduced to him. And the media gave him fawning coverage.
In the event, the General remained true to his background. He was hard and uncompromising during his summit with the Prime Minister, invited editors for breakfast and lectured us on India’s misdeeds and then, stalked out of the summit blaming internal divisions within the Indian government for the failure of the meeting.
It is a measure of how much goodwill there is in India towards Pakistan that even after this fiasco, Indians are still excited about the visit of a Pakistani President. At some level, we are willing to forgive the political failures and to rely on neighbourly affection alone.
I make no judgements about the wisdom of this approach. When Musharraf came to Agra, I was in a tiny minority of columnists who warned that we were expecting too much from him. And at his breakfast meeting with editors, I was one of the few people who asked a hostile question.
(“You are the architect of Kargil. Why should we trust you now?”)
Similarly, I don’t think the Zardari visit is going to make any difference to India-Pakistan relations. Presidents and summits have come and gone over the years but relations still remain pretty much the same.
My only point is this: Pakistanis who believe that all Indians hate them and that we are committed to the destruction of their nation should look at the warmth with which we greet their leaders. Even though history tells us that we should not necessarily trust Pakistani politicians or have much faith in their intentions, we cannot stop ourselves from being welcoming and excited when they do visit our country.
Call it a triumph of hope over experience if you will. Or call it India’s essential goodwill towards Pakistan. But either way, the conclusion is the same: the Pakistani people have nothing to fear from the Indian people.
Now, if they would only act against those terrorists…