On a recent trip to India, I was moved by the genuine concern people have about Pakistan. As a Pakistani living in the United States, I am subjected daily to serious exasperation, courtesy the American media. Americans do not understand Pakistan because they do not care. And there is no real knowledge without caring. Indians certainly do care. Pakistan has been on the Indian mind since the moment of their co-creation. India and Pakistan are like two ends of a thread tied in a fantastic Gordian knot; their attachment magically survives their severance. And how the love grows! The recent Jaswant Singh controversy over Jinnah only partially unveiled how Pakistan is critical to the ideological coherence of Indian nationalism in both its secular and Hindutva varieties. But behind this veil, Pakistan has always been internal to Indian politics. It should come as no surprise then that establishment Indians (bureaucratic and political elites, intellectuals, media types, and the chattering classes) are well-versed in the nuances of Pakistani society. Indians understand Pakistan like no one else does, or can.
Still, there is this curious blind spot: no one in India appears to remember 1971. Worse, no one seems to think it relevant. For all their sophistication, Indian elites continue to understand Pakistan primarily with reference to the events of 1947. Anything else is incidental, not essential. The established Indian paradigms for explaining Pakistan, its actions and its institutions, its state and society, have not undergone any significant shift since the Partition. The tropes remain the same: religion and elite manipulation explain everything. It is as if the pre-Partition politics of the Muslim League continues to be the politics of Pakistan—with slight non-essential variations. More than 60 years on, the factors may be different but little else has changed.
This view is deeply flawed. It reflects a serious confusion about the founding event of contemporary Pakistani society. The Partition has a mesmerising quality that blinds the mind, a kind of notional heft that far outweighs its real significance to modern South Asian politics. The concerns of the state of Pakistan, the anxieties of its society, and the analytic frames of its intellectual and media elites have as their primary reference not 1947 but the traumatic vivisection of the country in 1971. Indians have naturally focused on their own vivisection, their own dismemberment; but for Pakistan, they have focused on the wrong date. This mix-up has important consequences.
Second, the Indian establishment routinely misconstrues as ideological schizophrenia the Pakistani intellectual classes’ complicated responses to India. The nuances of the Pakistani experience of India are the very picture of incoherence to them. Worse, Pakistanis often frustrate the project of creating a common South Asian sensibility to bridge the political gaps between the two communities.
But again, no one in India accounts for 1971 when making such grand universalising (and, if I may add, genuinely noble) plans for the future of the region. Pakistani intellectual elites share with their Indian counterparts the normative horror of what the West Pakistani military did in the East. How can anyone in their right mind not deem such behaviour beyond the pale? But horror does not preclude abiding distaste for the Indian state’s wilful opportunism in breaking Pakistan apart. It is for this reason that while the intellectual classes in Pakistan, especially the English language press and prominent university scholars, have almost always condemned their state’s involvement in terrorist activity inside India proper, they have remained largely quiet concerning Kashmir. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Kashmir does not seem so different to them than East Pakistan.
It is for this same reason that there was no great outcry about the isi’s supposed involvement in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. The general sense among the educated elites was that India deserved it for trying to “encircle” Pakistan through Afghanistan. Indians process this either as paranoia or as a visceral hatred of India that blinds Pakistanis to facts. Perhaps there is some of this too. But it bears appreciating that Pakistan is a post-civil war society. Fear and anxiety concerning India’s intentions in the region are hardly limited to the so-called ‘establishment’ in Pakistan. It is a general fear, a well-dispersed fear, a social fear. And a relatively coherent fear at that.
Ultimately, this is the real value of a renewed focus on 1971 rather than 1947. It normalises Pakistan. It allows for discussion of real differences between the two societies and the two states, rather than of reified stereotypes that have little political relevance any more. This is not to justify the actions of the Pakistani state, which are in many cases entirely unjustifiable on both moral and political grounds. It is merely to hope that a mutual comprehension of normalcy may lead to peace and progress. Certainly, no one will deny that there is value in that.
(The author is with the Religious Studies Department at Yale University. He is also a member of the MacMillan Initiative on Religion, Politics and Society at Yale and a doctoral fellow at the Centre for Global Islamic Studies at Lehigh University.)
Khurram Hussain is right when he says 1971 is the right lens to understand his country (To Understand Pakistan, 1947..., Nov 9). After pushing conflict into India, first in Punjab and Kashmir, and then through terror attacks elsewhere, Pakistan is now being mauled by the very tiger it was riding. Bazeed Mirza, Edinburgh
Pakistan is neither a proud nation nor a country. It’s a failed state, the outcome of its own actions. Without US aid, it would cease to exist, the way it has ceased to exist as a civilised society. India should wait patiently till that country, and Bangladesh, return to where they belonged. Roger Mangat, California
Our existence depends on how we preserve the idea of India, not Pakistan. Our diversity, resulting in tolerance and acceptance of difference, is our strength. That’s why India and the idea of India rock! Priya, on e-mail
Indians remember the 1971 war not only as a triumph but also by the refugee stamp used on all mail to raise funds for the millions accommodated in India. We also remember that Gen Musharraf stood without saluting Prime Minister Vajpayee who’d been invited to Pakistan by Nawaz Sharif. No one can deny the damage Musharraf and other generals have done to Pakistan. Instead of working for progress and development, Pakistan has spent billions trying to avenge 1971. What else would a country with 180 million people with little education and employment do but turn to cultivating poppy? Jayaraman, Thane
Khurram misses many other dates, before and after 1971: Pakistan’s first military coup in 1958, the 1965 war, the Talibanisation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Kargil, the U-turn on 9/11 and the war on terror and General Musharraf’s double games. By Hussain’s logic, any date can be chosen and focused on to interpret the Pakistani psyche. It’s true, Indians understand Pakistan more than anyone else, for we have seen how a population lost its history for nothing in 1947 and has since been directionless. Sam, San Jose, US
Partition and the Indo-Pak conflict was the subject of my documentary Beyond Pakistan and is now the subject of a feature film I am making. The key is in the hands of Pakistan’s rulers. Can it move on? Lalit Mohan Joshi, London
It is because Pakistan was created to satisfy the ego of one Mr Jinnah that the world is now suffering. Trideep Choudhary, Mumbai
I pity the Pakistani aam admi for it’s obvious that their army is totally anti-people. Masud Karim, Chittagong
Assuming what Khurram Hussain writes in his piece, To Understand Pakistan, 1947 is the Wrong Lens (Nov 9), is correct—that Pakistan’s collective political behaviour has its roots in 1971 and that it’s in fact a normal society, if we look at it from the proper frame—that same logic should apply to India post-1947! After all, we lost 20 per cent of our territory but our people chose to move on. On the contrary, it was Pakistan that always fired the first shot, joining up with China, taking a shot at us in 1965, and then those massacres of Pakistani Bengalis by Pakistani Punjabis that led to 1971. Srini Jasti, San Jose, US
Khurram Hussain says the 1971 defeat is the cause of Pakistan’s demand for Kashmir and its cross-border terrorism, perpetuated in the hope that India will tire and offer Kashmir on a platter. His other point seems to be that India believes Pak society to be abnormal and that religion is the “substance of this abnormality”. Does Pakistan by that token hate India because it’s a democracy—where Muslims enjoy equal rights—and not a theocracy? I’m sure Pakistanis, too, want to live in a liberal state. Isn’t that why they are fighting the jehadis? Madhusudan B. Thaker, Vallabh Vidyanagar
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
I am Pakistani, i am muslim and i have no fear of Hypocrisy like india...you Should Apologize to Pakistan to Save the Relationship...
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