By Khaled Ahmed
May 22, 2014
India’s new prime minister provokes alarm and fascination in its neighbourhood.
Now that the BJP’s Narendra Modi has been elected India’s new prime minister, Pakistani commentators are speculating about how he will behave towards Pakistan, and vice versa. Politicians are up to their usual funny tricks and some are using Modi as a bugbear to become popular, pledging tit-for-tat for Modi’s declared and undeclared challenges to Pakistan.
The media becomes partisan when it comes to India and whips up the ugly feelings inculcated by textbooks, which often recoil on Pakistan because no one outside Pakistan believes what Pakistan says. When Modi said, “There will be no talks with Pakistan until attacks on India end,” the Pakistani media rejoined with “What attacks?” and “What about your attacks on Muslims?”
Cursing Modi in Pakistan is considered morally plausible because of what happened in 2002 to the Muslims of Gujarat. The world rounded on him, and America and some countries in Europe placed him under a visa ban. Hence, when you curse him in Pakistan, no one in the world will call it politically directed hyperbole. But if someone in Pakistan says he is pained by the plight of Muslims in India, he is leaning on double standards.
Frances Harrison, a former BBC correspondent, in her recent book, Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War, writes: “A damning report by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the largest Muslim party, detailed 241 attacks on Muslims during 2013. These attacks included mosques being stoned, Muslim-owned shops being struck by Buddhist monks, calls for the Hijab to be outlawed and a successful campaign against Halal meat. Four-letter obscenities against Allah have been scrawled on mosque walls and pigs’ heads drawn on their exteriors or even tossed inside.”
TV anchors call in representatives from religious parties to showcase the hatred of India in general and the BJP in particular: friendship — read trade — with India is immoral, since the Kashmir issue is outstanding; India has to be held accountable, not mollified. Some non-state actors are so powerful they can scare any government by staging “long march” against Islamabad’s efforts to trade freely with India. They have their own foreign policy and can enforce it, knowing that the government will have to own it through denial.
It is deemed crowd-pulling to respond manfully to the “Modi challenge”, as Pakistan’s impetuous Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan did when he heard that Modi had promised during the electoral campaign that he would bring Dawood Ibrahim from Pakistan and put him on trial. Ali’s “brave” riposte was: “Those who accuse Pakistan of providing shelter to Dawood Ibrahim and then talk about attacking Pakistan should know that Pakistan is neither weak nor do such threats frighten its people.” He also accused Modi of “trying to destabilise the region”, which the BJP then denied, saying that Modi had not made any remark about “attacking Pakistan to bring back fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.”
Islamabad’s interior minister has become known for shooting off his mouth, which must embarrass Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won the election in May last year stumping for free trade and a liberal visa regime with India. While Pakistani Hindus, haunted by forced marriages and conversions in Sindh, were leaving for India at about 500 per year, he stood in the National Assembly and said, “I am a Muslim first and a Pakistani later.” It is similar to Modi’s belief in a “Hindu nation”, which forces many commentators to compare it to Pakistan’s tenet of a “Muslim nation” that “excludes” non-Muslims.
Everybody in Pakistan knows that Dawood Ibrahim has a residence in Karachi and also lives in the UAE. Politicians have said so on TV. One has heard Lahore’s fashion designers singing paeans to his endless largesse when he visited them in April, arranging dowry for another wedding in his family.
Most of the gaseous anti-Modi opinion in Pakistan is borrowed from the alarm raised by secular writers in the Indian media. They fear that he will destroy the pluralist polity of India by arousing the Hindu masses to communal frenzy using Pakistan as a bogey. Even personal gibes, like Modi treating his wife unkindly, are a cross-border borrowing. The Deutsche Welle actually quoted a cab driver in Karachi as saying: “Break off relations with India if he wins. Modi is a monster. He is responsible for the killings of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat.”
Ex-ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi, whose opinion possibly moulds the thinking of the Pakistani military establishment, cautions: “The policy response [to Modi] needs to be carefully calculated and calibrated and guided by a sober appraisal, avoiding both a wishful, over-eager reaction and an alarmist one.” She, however, worries that Modi’s condemnation of Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif’s platitudinous likening of Kashmir to Pakistan’s “jugular vein” might herald a hard-line policy in New Delhi. Her advice frontloads the pursuit of the deadlocked bilateral “composite dialogue” to test the new government before “opening up” on trade.
Others think the BJP’s past record on relations with Pakistan was better than that of the Congress. Starting with Morarji Desai, rightwing religious leaders are more forthright in accepting Pakistan and listening to its grievances. Perhaps there is a subliminal recognition of “two nations” — Hindu nation and Muslim nation — in the region as the weapon with which to punish the minorities of South Asia.
Be that as it may, the Indian masses have voted with over 66 per cent turnout at the polls and made it possible for Modi to rule India. For once, populism and economic realism have coalesced and “political freedom” at the cost of “economic freedom” has been pushed back. Modi has run a model development economy in Gujarat and will clean up the occluded central policymaking holding back foreign investment. No one can deny that “business-friendly” Gujarat received around $8.8 billion in FDI between 2000 and 2013, which was nearly 4 per cent of India’s total FDI during this period.
According to economist Surjit Bhalla, Gujarat has done better economically than the seven states, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, all credited with good performance. European analysts don’t agree and Modi still sounds like something horrible in French because of 2002.
Pakistan’s Sharif won in 2013 on the slogan of normalisation of relations with India based on enhanced economic cooperation. The establishment doesn’t agree, and there are “83 incidents of border violations by India” on the LoC in Kashmir this year. Nevertheless, Indians are biased because of the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the international community is with them. Culprits named have head money on them but are free and powerful in Pakistan. Another attack, against the will of the government in Islamabad, will set back the process Sharif wants to initiate with India. Remember, Kargil happened when Vajpayee was talking peace with Sharif in Lahore.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’