An incoming barrage from India: Indians take their country more seriously than we do

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by Rage, Dec 2, 2009.

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    An incoming barrage from India

    Irfan Husain
    Wednesday, 02 Dec, 2009

    A Pakistani border security guard, in black uniform, shakes hand with an Indian
    border security guard, during the 'Beating the Retreat' ceremony at the joint
    India-Pakistan border check post of Wagah, in Amritsar, India on Tuesday, Nov.
    24, 2009. – Photo by AP.

    A part of my daily routine is to check my inbox for emails from readers, and answer them, even if briefly. Occasionally, I upset some of them by the brevity of my reply, but I do try and acknowledge them all, unless they are downright abusive.

    However, these last few days have seen such a flood of hate mail that I click open incoming emails with a sinking heart. Some are unprintable; other readers have gloated over Pakistan’s current problems with unseemly glee. One Indian reader (a doctor, no less!) wrote from Australia to say that every time he heard of yet another terrorist attack in Pakistan, he raised a celebratory glass of wine.

    All this outpouring of anger has come my way from Indian readers because of a column I wrote in this newspaper last Saturday (‘Mumbai’s winners and losers’; November 28). I had argued that by halting peace talks, the Indian government had handed the terrorists a major victory.

    I had also made the point that attacks like the one in Mumbai a year ago were precisely the reason for negotiations to continue with a greater sense of purpose. Finally, I had suggested that India, being the bigger and far more powerful country, could afford to make a unilateral gesture to reassure our generals without compromising its own security. I concluded by saying that India needed peace as much as Pakistan did. One would hardly have thought that these proposals would warrant such a torrent of venom. Luckily, a handful of Indians did agree with me. But over 90 per cent rejected my arguments, saying basically that ‘Pakistan should stew in its own juice’, and that as long as terrorist groups existed on its soil, there could be no peace talks.

    Clearly, this seems to be the prevailing attitude in India, and given such hard-line views, it is difficult to see how there can be peace between the two neighbours. I have long argued that the only way to lift millions of people in South Asia out of their abject poverty is to unleash the potential of trade and travel between the two enemies, and to reduce defence spending. Clearly, this is not going to happen in my lifetime.

    Sadly, younger Indians and Pakistanis seem to be increasingly indifferent to the whole notion of normalisation. They have been so badly let down by two generations of politicians and opinion-makers that the very idea of peaceful relations seems positively bizarre.

    I was made aware of this generational shift in attitudes a couple of days ago when our Indian friend Renu got into a somewhat heated discussion with my son Shakir here in our beach house in Sri Lanka. She had made a comment on how culturally close Indians and Pakistanis were, and I agreed with her. Shakir disagreed, saying that both of us were out of touch with the vast majority of Indians and Pakistanis, as we spent a part of the year abroad.

    Predictably, the discussion swung to Partition, Kashmir and the history of tension and mistrust that has marked Indo-Pakistan relations. While Shakir finally conceded the original point about cultural commonalities, he did not budge on the need for both sides to shed old animosities and get on with life.

    Nearly ten years ago, I was in New Delhi to attend a conference, and was invited to speak to the editorial staff at the Times of India. I made the point that despite all of Pakistan’s problems with censorship over the years, several journalists regularly questioned and criticised core government policies in the mainstream press. This could not be said of India where the major newspapers formed a consensus around important issues like Kashmir and the nuclear programme. None of the Indian journalists present challenged my assertion.

    The incoming hate mail I am getting these days reminded me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a visiting Western journalist in Lahore. He covered Pakistan for his news weekly from New Delhi, and was a frequent visitor. I said something inane about how he must miss the social scene in Delhi. His reply surprised me: ‘I love visiting Pakistan because when I write a critical piece about India, all my Indian acquaintances are furious with me. In Pakistan, when I write something negative, everybody agrees with me.’

    There is a great deal of truth in this flippant remark. Indians take themselves and their country a lot more seriously than Pakistanis do. The smallest slight from a foreigner, whether real or perceived, unleashes a barrage of defensive comment across the spectrum. This hyper-sensitivity to criticism is in sharp contrast with the cynicism Pakistanis bring to bear on national issues.

    Perhaps these opposing attitudes are a legacy of the historical baggage we all carry. Indians are now in charge of their own destiny after long centuries under first Muslim, and then British, rule. They are proud and prickly, brooking no criticism from outsiders. Even when one of their own casts too jaundiced a view on India – as Nirad Chaudhri did over fifty years ago – these views are rejected and their author virtually hounded out.

    No doubt there is a lot to admire in this strong sense of patriotism. But for my part, I am much too jaded and cynical to wish there was more of it around in Pakistan.

    Decades of animosity and travel restrictions have deprived two generations of Indians and Pakistanis of the opportunity of getting to know each other’s country, and separate fact from propaganda. Despite satellite television and the Internet (or perhaps because of them), the gulf between the two countries is growing wider. So while I agree with Renu about our common cultural roots, I am forced to agree with Shakir about peace being low on the agendas of both countries. [Incidentally, I would like to request my Indian readers to resist the temptation to lash out at me again; and if they must, I may be unable to reply].


    I was horrified to learn of the recent attack on columnist Kamran Shafi’s Wah residence. This brutal attempt bears the fingerprints of one of our agencies, as mentioned in the FIR. President Zardari must have the incident investigated promptly, even though we all know the fate of such inquiries.

    DAWN.COM | Columnists | An incoming barrage from India

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