Perhaps a time will come when Pakistan will become part of a great sub-continental Confederation. Right now nothing of the sort seems possible. Indeed, if reports from New Delhi caution, India is due for more terrorist attacks originating from Pakistan in the weeks ahead. What on earth is the matter with our western neighbour? Reading this book brings back memories of how the entire concept of Pakistan grew and fructified, in rapid sequence, one never thought possible in 1939. Sixty odd years after Partition one wonders whether Pakistan can survive and whether, given the right conditions, India and Pakistan will come together, not through merger, but as a Confederation, with each state having its own laws but with open borders and, more importantly, open hearts.
In the preface to this book, Karan Singh says that in the final analysis “a positive relationship with Pakistan will help India to rise to her full stature as a global power”. That statement needs to be amended. Not India, but an Indo-Pak Confederation it is that will rise in full stature that none dare challenge. It would be iconic and the cynosure of all powers. But is that possible? Can Pakistan understand and accept this thesis? What are conditions like in Pakistan today? This book seeks to understand the situation. It is divided into five sections. Each section carries articles by well-known scholars and journalists from both India and Pakistan.
The idea, according to the editor, Ira Pande, is to look at Indo-Pak relations through various viewpoints like politics, economy, religion, music, arts, crafts, cricket, cinema and see whether there is any prospect of finding a commonality. Among the contributors are Ashutosh Varshney, Arvind Sharma, Meghnad Desai, BG Verghese, Mukul Kesavan, Laila Tyabji, Rehan Ansari, Salman Haidar and Yousuf Saeed, not to mention Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy and Philip Oldenburg. Meghnad Desai is painfully cynical. According to him there is not much difference between India and Pakistan when it comes to economic performance except that in the last few years, India has gone ahead of Pakistan in term of its per capita income. In every other field, as Desai sees it, the two countries are dismally similar with one predominate commonality: both have chosen to use their scarce resources on weapons over welfare.
Salman Haidar, a former diplomat, points out that “the two countries have placed themselves in a cul-de-sac, boxed in by their own animosities” and asks: “Is this to be the unchanging shape of things?” even when he notes that “there are some better sings”. C Raja Mohan, who teaches at a Singapore University is a little more optimistic and notes that a Pakistan at peace with itself with guaranteed international borders and integrated into a structure of regional cooperation with India, might seem impossible at the beginning of 2009 but “an India that decides to work in tandem with the United States and offers attractive incentives for moderate forces in Pakistan to reclaim their South Asian heritage and identity might just be able to pull it off”.
Raja Mohan wants India as a rising power to pacify its border lands. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management seems sure that “Pakistan’s accelerating plunge into the abyss now appears irresistible and “the spectre of imminent state failure in Pakistan is, consequently, real”. He wants India to “draw itself out of the cocoon of its own delusions, and face realities that it has long sought to deny”. Perhaps the most realistic approach towards the future of Pakistan is the one taken by Ashutosh Varshney, who is Professor of Political Science at Brown University and has also taught at Harvardi Varshney has no illusions. For example, he asks: “Could an economically declining Pakistan continue to play the game of military parity with an economically resurgent India, just as the Society did with the United States?” Pakistan’s existence as he sees it, is based on anti-Indianism. If that is taken away, he says, “Pakistan as a nation loses a key component of its national identity, if not the only component”. So where does one go from here? To him “the integral link between anti-Indian and Pakistan’s identity” need not be a source of despair because “surprising as it may seem, the link lends itself to some ideas of peace”. How? Says he: “Adversaries can be respected, even admired. Enemies are killed. India and Pakistan must cease to be enemies; they needs to become adversaries competing vigorously to become better than the other”. Varshney sees the US-Canada relationship as “a model for the long-term vision”.
Varshney’s argument is that South Asian Islam is fundamentally multi-cultural and that “for peace in the sub-continent Pakistan needs to re-invent the nature of its anti-Indianness”. Not all articles, of course, deal with politics. Madhu Purnima Kishwar looks at Pakistan differently. As she saw it, Jinnah was not willing to settle for safeguards for the minority within the framework of democracy which was why he came up with the idea of Pakistan as a homeland for all Muslims. As she put it “His success in mobilising the Muslim masses to support partition was not a triumph of religious appeal over secular politics as is often believed” but “Jinnnah carried the day because he could convince significant number of Muslims that he alone could safeguard their economic, political and cultural interests and protect the Muslim community from the assimilative tendencies and domination of both the Congress as well as Hindu culture”. That is giving Jinnah too much credit.
Jinnah sought Pakistan because his ego had been hurt and he found himself outclassed by Gandhi which he did not, at all, like. But where Kishawar scores is when she gets exceptionally warm welcome in Muslim homes when she went visiting her family home in Peshawar. As she put it, “this kind of spontaneous forging of close family relationships between Indians and Pakistanis happens routinely even when the two nations are at war with each other”. There are other contributors who write on similar lines. Perhaps, just perhaps, judging from the experiences of the likes of Kishwar, Pakistanis will get tired of their hatred of India and finally embrace it for better or for worse. But reading this book is like going through multiple experiences, political and philosophical, not to speak of emotional.
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