Thursday, December 22, 2005

Talking to a Neighbour

Someone from the same neighbourhood as the one I live in posted a comment on a news story I posted a link to. Here's a reply. Thought others might be interested, too.

Well, hello, neighbour!

"true roots"? "Hindu India"? "Muslim Pakistan". Are you saying that only what is today the Union of India is the homeland of Hindus and Hinduism? Weren't a large part of the empires that are the pride of history in that area and its people based in what is today Pakistan and even Afghanistan? Gandhara? Taxila? Moenjodaro/Mohanjodaro?

Personally, I'd like to not restrict more profound concepts--like that what is a South Asian Muslim, or what is a Hindu and what is the homeland for Hindus--to modern geo-political entities. Political borders come and go--and very often cut across human, cultural, and genetic affinities. We often discuss Europe as a parallel for our region, especially to point that the global trend is of coming together. And personally, I think that South Asia in general and just the Union of India in particular have more diversity (and certainly a larger population) than all of Europe. And if you look at Europe, you have Germans in Austria (Oster Reich, or "Western Country" in German), Germany, Switzerland, and historicly in other countries. But does that mean that a person of German ancestry in Switzerland is necessarily to be treated with more suspicion than others if they apply for citizenship in Germany? Or an American of German ancestry whose grandparents fled during one of the world wars?

I would like to believe that people can hold warm patriotic feelings for their own country without being necessarily hostile to a neighbouring country, whatever the history has been.

And it has now been two generations since the "partition"/independence--the people applying for citizenship are by no stretch of the imagination the same as the ones that chose to live in one or the other country at that time.

As for the historical bases for the existence and shape of one country or the other. I am, I like to think, a self-confidently patriotic Pakistani who is married to a proudly patriotic Indian and who works in the movement for peace between the two countries, but I believe that if we as individuals and as national communities are comfortable in who we are, we should have the self-confidence to compete in the marketplace of ideas and ideologies without the kind of insecurity and pettiness that this kind of policy seems to reflect. Pakistan, particularly, claims to have an ideology. And I am not talking about "just Islam". In fact, what passes today for "Islamism" and "Islamic politics" in today's news and opinion is very far from what I was brought up to believe my community's ideology is or what the founders' intent was; the idea of a country where people can live as who they are and not have to be second class citizens. And all people. I might not know all the history, but your assertion that Pakistan did not say that Hindus who wanted to stay could strikes me as rather inaccurate. What was Jinnah's speech, so oft-quoted, where he said that as of independence, all citizens of Pakistan are Pakistanis and free to worship as they wanted and live as they wanted. Now the bloodbath that followed (and it happened on both sides) did not live up to either Jinnah's words or the dreams and aspirations of Gandhi; that's a separate story.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mean to pick on India exclusively--Pakistanis, both in and out of government, too often display symptoms of the same kind of underlying insecurities and the same pettiness. I mean this as a critique of all sides, and a call to everybody to aspire towards the moral high ground. We live in separate geo-political entities, but we have a lot in common--history, culture, religions, music, cuisine, you name it--and others with far less in common work together across boundaries. Let us try to build a positive atmosphere for ourselves, our nations and our children; that would be best for all of us.

Some come on over (within Ardenwood and across the border--whether you have an Indian or a Pakistani background, visit "the other side") and let's have some chai.


Anonymous said...

Hello Neighbor to you too Sabahat!

Before I comment on anything you have said, I must commend you on writing these interesting blogs. I have most truly enjoyed reading them as I just ran into them today. I would like to note one more point for some of your other readers. I am not trying to incite any “irrationally exuberant” feelings on either side of our culture. So to those readers of your blog that may want to start bashing me, I say “just hold your damn horses” and be prudent and comprehensible in your discussions, if any.

I am not a proponent of Hindu India or a Muslim Pakistan. I am only stating the historical basis upon which the countries were partitioned. I agree with your point that we were all a part of the bigger union, historically and remain so today. Nonetheless, we do not live Wizard of Oz type of life today. The geopolitical reality has changed in the last 60 years. As much as I would like to see it, it is not likely to change overnight. We do need more people like you who are the eternal optimists and are not willing to give up!

I also feel that comparing the Greater India (historically) with Europe may be a bit of a stretch. The Indian establishment has come to distrust the Pakistani establishment and I for one believe that there is good reason to do so. I say this based on the fact that Pakistan has been ruled by Army Generals for most of its history, who have placed their vested interests ahead of any “friendship building” exercise. On the other hand, in Europe after World War II, there was a conscientious effort to adopt democratic ways and rebuild the lost trust among nations. That effort has not yet been replicated by the Pakistani generals, including Musharraf. In fact, I would consider Musharraf to be as disingenuous as the rest of the pack. He promised to remove himself from power in 2-3 years and he is still around. I understand there is a war going on in a neighboring country, but no war ever distracted the Indians from electing democratic governments. My point in all this, merely talking about building better relations is not going to do it.

I have always said to friends that one of the most effective ways of solving this problem is through massive economic development. Someone has rightfully said, “Na baap barha na bhaiyaa, the whole thing is that ke bhaiyaa sab se barha rupayaa.” If you look back at the history of United States, in the 19th century the Mexicans went to war against the Americans, a time when the Americans were not as strong or as powerful. If you tell someone who has not studied American History (like yours truly) that Mexicans went to WAR against the Americans, they would be shocked, right? But the fact is that Mexicans won’t even dare think about doing that today. I can foresee a similar scenario playing out between India and Pakistan. Massive amounts of economic development either in India or in Pakistan is likely to put a stop to this entire BS. When that happens no one would care to go to war or care whether one is a citizen of India, Pakistan or Jhumri Tallaiyaa! Actually, quite like the people of European Union feel today.

I hope this made an iota of sense to you and your readers. I used to be quite idealistic and then I became a blood sucking investment banker and became much more practical.


Manzoor Khan said...

Dear "PB",

The idea that Economic development can really curb the perennial Indo-Pak BS is really, really interesting. I always thought that had India been a France or a Germany today, Pakistan woudn't be BSing with India, and like wise, had Pakiland been a Japan (a country that was screwed up in 1945, almost the same time when India got its independence and Pak came into existance, but is now an awesome economic powerhouse), India coudn't have done much to Pakistan either.

Individually, it's required that both the countries try harder and harder and march ahead towards being a developed economy, towards generating more jobs, towards curbing poverty and illiteracy.

And, in this march, I somehow believe that they both can be pally to each other: why not start selling cars to Pakistan? Why can't Air Deccan have a subsidary in Pakistan? A tremendous amount of trade can flourish between the two neighbours, which will lead them to help each other directly or indirectly towards their "individual" march towards being an Economic powerhouses.

Just a thought!

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