By Marvi Sirmed
Tharoor sahib may also like to know more about the diversity of Pakistani ‘liberals’ before passing judgements, just as we would like to know more about how Mr Tharoor defines ‘liberalism’.
A place where you can understand the dynamics of international relations and make judgements about an entire nation just by going through Twitter ‘timelines’ of some columnists: welcome to Indo-Pak subcontinent!
In a simplistically written article in The Asian Age (and Deccan Chronicle) on July 21, Shashi Tharoor — one of the most refined and brilliant politicians of India — baffled many Pakistanis. He was reacting to the comments a few of us sent via Twitter on a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, which declared that Salmaan Taseer, the late Governor of Punjab, hated India. The article started with this poorly reasoned point and developed into a powerfully worded argument covering various ailments Pakistan’s establishment has been inflicting on this fateful country since its birth. One would not disagree with the main argument of the article, as it appeared to reproduce what this scribe and so many fellow columnists in Pakistan have been writing for so long. But not everything in that article was agreeable.
Without undermining Indian pride and doubting its strong credentials of democracy and freedom of thought, it is possible to disagree with an Indian writer, one supposes. My disagreement with the WSJ article was at a factual level. Replying to Mr Tharoor’s question about why I “attacked” his favourite author, I asserted my strong agreement with the central argument of the said article. Not only that my agreement could get no attention from Mr Tharoor but my disagreement was painted as my complacency and bid to smokescreen the mistakes on the part of the state of Pakistan.
My disagreement with the WSJ article stood on two deeply flawed arguments of the author. One: that Salmaan Taseer hated India; and two: the idea of Pakistan was given by Sir Mohammad Iqbal. I have written so many times in the past addressing distortions of history by Pakistan and sometimes India too. The ‘delusional liberals’, as we are labelled by a “headline writer” as per Mr Tharoor, do not agree or disagree with an idea based on who said it, but emphasis almost always is put on what is being said and to what degree it compromises on facts.
The proclamation that Taseer hated India is one of the biggest crimes against the truth. Based on many discussions with the late governor, I can say it with full responsibility that the claim is wrong and must be based on some personal considerations, certainly not factual. Many close friends of late Taseer would bear me out on this. This very paper, owned by him, was inaugurated among many Indian guests, including Arundhati Roy. Taseer’s speech on this occasion would still be fresh in the memories of many, in which he not only emphasised the importance of peace between the two neighbours but also made his famous statement about Siachen. He said something to the effect that we cannot afford to keep fighting for a piece of land covered with snow. I am also aware of his tweets, most of which he would write in sheer jest and would enjoy the reaction on them afterwards. His taunts and wittiness was not limited to India; it equally irritated his political rivals at home as well.
Secondly, the downright faulty perception that Iqbal or even Syed Ahmad Khan gave the idea of Pakistan needs to be contested. To see the evidence, one could study the works by Pakistan’s revered historian K K Aziz who wrote Murder of History, an epic work to correct the way history has been distorted to fit poorly envisioned, short-sighted momentary agendas. His work became the inspiration for Professor Krishna Kumar, who wrote Prejudice and Pride: School Histories of the Freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan, the pioneering comparative study of textbooks, in 2001 and one which covers many issues including a mention to this too.
K K Aziz has also written about the evolution of the idea of Pakistan in his five volumes work, History of the Idea of Pakistan. He, strongly evidenced and duly referenced, has comprehensively dealt with the subject, parts of which can be corroborated by India’s respected historian, Bimal Prasad in his landmark three volumes work Pathway to India’s Partition. At around 64 instances in history before even Syed Ahmad Khan, different people — including Britons — had given the idea of partition in one way or the other. In fact, Iqbal in his letter that appeared in The Times on October 12, 1931, page 8 (now available on the internet), clearly dispels the impression that he had, in his famous Allahabad address, demanded or even spoken of any idea that resembles the establishment of a new state. So powerful is the force of distorted historical texts that even Indians, living in a freer and more democratic environ, appear to have been losing their vision of history.
Coming back to Mr Tharoor, his preconceived notion seems to be that whenever a Pakistani would opine about a foreign — specifically Indian — writer on his Pakistan-specific writing, it is going to be negative. It is going to be an ‘attack’ however slightly a disagreement is made on factual information. It might be true elsewhere, but we in Pakistan keep raising uncomfortable issues with the state, and that too quite frequently. Sometimes by even putting our lives in danger.
Tharoor sahib may also like to know more about the diversity of Pakistani ‘liberals’ before passing judgements, just as we would like to know more about how Mr Tharoor defines ‘liberalism’ and if our liberalism determines the degree to which we should hate our country, it is essentially one certificate that I would not like to get from him. Similarly, for making my voice heard by the masses, I do not need to get a certificate of patriotism from the state of Pakistan.
The difference between him and I may be (in addition to his intellectual superiority) that in order to love my country, I do not feel the need to hate India, which still carries the roots of so many Pakistanis. Just like an Indian liberal is an Indian first, a Pakistani liberal is a Pakistani first. Whenever the conscience has demanded to choose, Pakistani liberals have made the right choice — truth vis-à-vis blind complacency. The reason why we are so critical about our own state is precisely this: we love Pakistan. Please take it as it is.
The writer is a student of international relations and counter-terrorism.
Source: The Daily Times, Lahore
Jul 22, 2011
By Shashi Tharoor
International affairs all too often seems a weighty subject, full of complexity and nuance, laden with portents of tension and conflict. No wonder it lends itself to overly solemn treatment, full of abstract analyses and recondite allusions:
The relations between countries, it is usually assumed, cannot be understood through the recitation of trivial anecdotes.
True enough. And yet sometimes a minor incident, a tempest in a teacup, can illuminate broader foreign policy challenges. Something of this nature happened this week, when Aatish Taseer, the estranged son (by an Indian mother) of the recently-assassinated governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer, wrote a searing column in the Wall Street Journal, with the provocative title “Why My Father Hated India”, on the pathologies of hatred that in his view animated Pakistan’s attitude to our country.
“To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge — its hysteria — it is necessary to understand the rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan,” Aatish Taseer averred. “This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan’s animus toward India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.”
He went on to make his point in language that was both sharp and, at least to this reader, heartfelt and accurate. I do not know Aatish Taseer, nor had I met his colourful father, but I have admired the young man’s writing, particularly his poignant ruminations on Salman Taseer’s murder by his Islamist bodyguard earlier this year. So I was surprised to see the outraged reactions his article provoked from Pakistani liberal journalists. A number of them whose ideas I have appreciated and whom I “follow” on Twitter — the likes of Marvi Sirmed and Mosharraf Zaidi, widely-respected progressive thinkers both — reacted with rage and derision. One of them, the estimable Ejaz Haider, who has penned some courageous pieces in the Pakistani press criticising his own country, went so far as to author an entire column to disparage and deconstruct Aatish Taseer’s.
Young Taseer had, in his piece, put the onus on the Pakistani Army for that country’s problems, and particularly for diverting the vast amounts of American aid it has received (he underestimated it at “$11 billion since 9/11”) to arming itself against India. He added, powerfully, words I would have gladly put my own name to: “In Afghanistan, it has sought neither security nor stability but rather a backyard, which — once the Americans leave — might provide Pakistan with ‘strategic depth’ against India. In order to realise these objectives, the Pakistani Army has led the US in a dance, in which it had to be seen to be fighting the war on terror, but never so much as to actually win it, for its extension meant the continuing flow of American money. All this time the Army kept alive a double game, in which some terror was fought and some — such as Laskhar-e-Tayyaba’s 2008 attack on Mumbai — actively supported.
“The Army’s duplicity was exposed decisively this May,” he went on, “with the killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. It was only the last and most incriminating charge against an institution whose activities over the years have included the creation of the Taliban, the financing of international terrorism and the running of a lucrative trade in nuclear secrets. This Army, whose might has always been justified by the imaginary threat from India, has been more harmful to Pakistan than to anybody else. It has consumed annually a quarter of the country’s wealth, undermined one civilian government after another and enriched itself through a range of economic interests, from bakeries and shopping malls to huge property holdings.”
It is hard to imagine anyone in India, however sympathetic they might be to Pakistan, dissenting from this view of the malign role of the Pakistani military. In our naïveté, we also tend to assume that Pakistani liberals would agree with us, seeing the salvation of their land lying in greater democracy and development, free of the stranglehold of the world’s most lavishly-funded military (in terms of percentage of national resources and GDP consumed by any Army on the planet). Alas, judging by their reactions to Taseer’s article, this seems not to be the case.
In his rebuttal, Ejaz Haider goes into great detail about the strength and deployment patterns of the Indian Army, as if to justify the Pakistani military’s behaviour. But there is no recognition whatsoever that India’s defence preparedness is prompted entirely by the fact that Pakistan has launched four incursions into our territory, in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999; that India is a status quo power that manifestly seeks nothing more than to be allowed to grow and develop in peace, free from the attentions of the Pakistani military and the militants and terrorists it sponsors; and bluntly, that there is not and cannot be an “Indian threat” to Pakistan, simply because there is absolutely nothing Pakistan possesses that India wants. If proof had to be adduced for this no doubt unflattering assessment, it lies in India’s decision at Tashkent in 1966 to give “back” to Pakistan every square inch of territory captured by our brave soldiers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including the strategic Haji Pir Pass, all of which is land we claim to be ours. If we do not even insist on retaining what we see as our own territory, held by Pakistan since 1948 but captured fair and square in battle, why on earth would we want anything else from Pakistan?
No, the “Indian threat” is merely a useful device cynically exploited by the Pakistani military to justify their power (and their grossly disproportionate share of Pakistan’s national assets). But Pakistani liberals are particularly prone to the desire to prove themselves true nationalists; it is the best way to ensure that their otherwise heretical opinions are not completely discredited by the men in uniform who hold the reins of power in the state.
As this otherwise minor editorial spat demonstrates, Indians need to put aside their illusions that there are liberal partners for us on the other side of the border who echo our diagnosis of their plight and share our desire to defenestrate their military. Nor should we be surprised: a Pakistani liberal is, after all, a Pakistani before he is a liberal.
The author is a Member of Indian Parliament from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram constituency
Source: Asian Age, New Delhi
Why My Father Hated India
Aatish Taseer, the son of an assassinated Pakistani leader, explains the history and hysteria behind a deadly relationship
By Aatish Taseer
Ten days before he was assassinated in January, my father, Salman Taseer, sent out a tweet about an Indian rocket that had come down over the Bay of Bengal: "Why does India make fools of themselves messing in space technology? Stick 2 bollywood my advice."
My father was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, and his tweet, with its taunt at India's misfortune, would have delighted his many thousands of followers. It fed straight into Pakistan's unhealthy obsession with India, the country from which it was carved in 1947.
Mohandas Gandhi visits Muslim refugees in New Delhi as they prepare to depart to Pakistan on Sept. 22, 1947.
Though my father's attitude went down well in Pakistan, it had caused considerable tension between us. I am half-Indian, raised in Delhi by my Indian mother: India is a country that I consider my own. When my father was killed by one of his own bodyguards for defending a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, we had not spoken for three years.
To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge—its hysteria—it is necessary to understand the rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan. This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan's animus toward India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.
The idea of Pakistan was first seriously formulated by neither a cleric nor a politician but by a poet. In 1930, Muhammad Iqbal, addressing the All-India Muslim league, made the case for a state in which India's Muslims would realize their "political and ethical essence." Though he was always vague about what the new state would be, he was quite clear about what it would not be: the old pluralistic society of India, with its composite culture.
Every day at sunset, Indian and Pakistani guards on the Wagah border face off in a militaristic flag-lowering exercise called the Beating Retreat Ceremony. WSJ's Tom Wright reports on India's effort to tone down the bizarre display.
Iqbal's vision took concrete shape in August 1947. Despite the partition of British India, it had seemed at first that there would be no transfer of populations. But violence erupted, and it quickly became clear that in the new homeland for India's Muslims, there would be no place for its non-Muslim communities. Pakistan and India came into being at the cost of a million lives and the largest migration in history.
This shared experience of carnage and loss is the foundation of the modern relationship between the two countries. In human terms, it meant that each of my parents, my father in Pakistan and my mother in India, grew up around symmetrically violent stories of uprooting and homelessness.
But in Pakistan, the partition had another, deeper meaning. It raised big questions, in cultural and civilizational terms, about what its separation from India would mean.
In the absence of a true national identity, Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India. It turned its back on all that had been common between Muslims and non-Muslims in the era before partition. Everything came under suspicion, from dress to customs to festivals, marriage rituals and literature. The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination.
Had this assertion of national identity meant the casting out of something alien or foreign in favor of an organic or homegrown identity, it might have had an empowering effect. What made it self-wounding, even nihilistic, was that Pakistan, by asserting a new Arabized Islamic identity, rejected its own local and regional culture. In trying to turn its back on its shared past with India, Pakistan turned its back on itself.
But there was one problem: India was just across the border, and it was still its composite, pluralistic self, a place where nearly as many Muslims lived as in Pakistan. It was a daily reminder of the past that Pakistan had tried to erase.
Pakistan's existential confusion made itself apparent in the political turmoil of the decades after partition. The state failed to perform a single legal transfer of power; coups were commonplace. And yet, in 1980, my father would still have felt that the partition had not been a mistake, for one critical reason: India, for all its democracy and pluralism, was an economic disaster.
Pakistan had better roads, better cars; Pakistani businesses were thriving; its citizens could take foreign currency abroad. Compared with starving, socialist India, they were on much surer ground. So what if India had democracy? It had brought nothing but drought and famine.
But in the early 1990s, a reversal began to occur in the fortunes of the two countries. The advantage that Pakistan had seemed to enjoy in the years after independence evaporated, as it became clear that the quest to rid itself of its Indian identity had come at a price: the emergence of a new and dangerous brand of Islam.
As India rose, thanks to economic liberalization, Pakistan withered. The country that had begun as a poet's utopia was reduced to ruin and insolvency.
The primary agent of this decline has been the Pakistani army. The beneficiary of vast amounts of American assistance and money—$11 billion since 9/11—the military has diverted a significant amount of these resources to arming itself against India. In Afghanistan, it has sought neither security nor stability but rather a backyard, which—once the Americans leave—might provide Pakistan with "strategic depth" against India.
In order to realize these objectives, the Pakistani army has led the U.S. in a dance, in which it had to be seen to be fighting the war on terror, but never so much as to actually win it, for its extension meant the continuing flow of American money. All this time the army kept alive a double game, in which some terror was fought and some—such as Laskhar-e-Tayyba's 2008 attack on Mumbai—actively supported.
The army's duplicity was exposed decisively this May, with the killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. It was only the last and most incriminating charge against an institution whose activities over the years have included the creation of the Taliban, the financing of international terrorism and the running of a lucrative trade in nuclear secrets.
This army, whose might has always been justified by the imaginary threat from India, has been more harmful to Pakistan than to anybody else. It has consumed annually a quarter of the country's wealth, undermined one civilian government after another and enriched itself through a range of economic interests, from bakeries and shopping malls to huge property holdings.
The reversal in the fortunes of the two countries—India's sudden prosperity and cultural power, seen next to the calamity of Muhammad Iqbal's unrealized utopia—is what explains the bitterness of my father's tweet just days before he died. It captures the rage of being forced to reject a culture of which you feel effortlessly a part—a culture that Pakistanis, via Bollywood, experience daily in their homes.
This rage is what makes it impossible to reduce Pakistan's obsession with India to matters of security or a land dispute in Kashmir. It can heal only when the wounds of 1947 are healed. And it should provoke no triumphalism in India, for behind the bluster and the bravado, there is arid pain and sadness.
Mr. Taseer is the author of "Stranger to History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands." His second novel, "Noon," will be published in the U.S. in September.