Can India, Pak Ever be Normal Neighbours?

Published: 09th January 2016 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th January 2016 12:13 AM   |  A+A-

Can India and Pakistan ever have normal neighbourly relations? The question is relevant in the context of the terror attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot, close on the heels of a surprise goodwill visit by Prime Minster Narendra Modi to Lahore. Of course, the chain of the sordid events has taken the predictable path. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Lahore bus visit was followed by Kargil. And before that, the unconditional release of over 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war by India in 1971 was reciprocated by Pakistan with export of terror for over two decades into Indian Punjab in the guise of Khalistan movement.

But before we make efforts to find an answer to the question raised at the beginning of this article, we have to ask ourselves yet another question. Can Pakistan learn to live at peace with itself before it can do so with the rest of the world, including India? Over the years, after General Zia-ul-Haq became the President and introduced a high dosage of Islamic fundamentalism in the education system and governance, violence has become central to Pakistan’s social and political life. Witness majority Sunnis throwing bombs at the minority Shia’s mosques and vice-versa. If Muslims are not safe, it is not in ‘Kafir’ dominated India, but in Pakistan, a declared Islamic state.

The Pakistan Army,  which owes allegiance to the theocratic State, has waged a war, against the Taliban, who too are throwing bombs and shooting people and getting killed by scores, in the name of Islam. Killers and victims, on both sides, swear in the name of shared faith! Is it not too much to expect that those who are always at each other’s throat can hardly think of leaving their neighbours undisturbed? Why is Pakistan so prone to politics of hate and bigotry?

The reasons lie in the mindset and ideology that triggered the demand for creation of Pakistan. Till 1937, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a leader without any worthwhile following. After he changed his ideological tack, from a secularist to a rabid Muslim leader, spewing venom against Hindus, over 90 per cent Muslims of undivided India accepted him as their unquestioned leader. In contrast, Gandhiji, who all his life had bent backwards to win the support of Muslims and had spoken in terms of love and inclusiveness, could not manage the support of even 10 per cent Muslim population. Ironically, Jinnah was not a practising Muslim – he enjoyed his evening drink and loved sausages. Both are forbidden in Islam. But all this was ignored because he worked for vivisection of India and spoke against its timeless pluralistic culture. He was loved for his hate of Hindus and Sikhs. 

In essence, what Jinnah said meant rejection of pre-Islamic culture and traditions of this ancient land by those who had converted to a new faith, mostly under duress. Bulk of the Muslims could not reconcile to the idea of living as equals with those (read Hindus) who they had suppressed and persecuted for over six hundred years.

Misplaced pride in past and fear of an uncertain future propelled the demand for a separate Islamic nation. It was hatred against Hindus that fuelled the movement for creation of Pakistan; now the same hatred is eating into the idea of Pakistan as a State. For long it was said that Pakistan was run by three A’s — Allah, Army and America. But now, the three A’s have fallen apart – The Mullahs and Military that collaborated for long to destroy India are now often at loggerheads – witness the military action in the Waziristan region and the retaliatory Taliban-sponsored massacre of schoolchildren of army men in Peshawar followed by hangings of many Taliban activists by the Government.

That the Army is laying down the policy for the Government in that country is written at length in every analysis about that country, emanating from every analyst from former top diplomat Husain Haqqani to the recent American Academic C. Christine Fair (Fighting to the End). Both the military and mullah have cooperated as well as competed among themselves for their much sought after prey. The third leg of Pakistani tripod, the US, has over the years given up the policy of equating both India and Pakistan to keep Islamabad in good humour so as to ensure its support against the erstwhile Soviet Union. With the collapse of communism in 1991, the days of cold war are over and Pakistan’s importance in American scheme of global politics has dropped considerably. Following 9/11, the menace of terror has emerged as a defining issue for the US state policy. And to make matters worse for Pakistan, the country is known not only as an epicenter of terror but also a failed state.

Meanwhile, India’s global profile has improved, thanks to its stable democracy and growing financial muscle. The new perception in Washington is to align with India in the wake of growing fear among East and South Asian nations of an increasingly aggressive China and build a chain in which India at one end and Japan at another, will be terminals to contain Beijing. With increasing global cooperation against Islamic terrorism that finds a fertile land in Pakistan, America wants Islamabad to provide evidence of action taken to curb Jihadi terror effectively; Pakistan’s all powerful army’s occasional foray into the thick of Waziristan is not enough.

Pakistan is not a monolith society. The dividing lines run, both, horizontally and vertically between various sections. Since intolerance is their signature tune, Pakistanis find it difficult to reconcile their differences based on language, regions and different shades of Islam. Of course, there is no room for Christians, Hindus or Sikhs in Pakistan.

For the first time probably, a leader of the stature of Prime Minister in Pakistan has shown the courtesy of calling his Indian counterpart and promising action against those who had used Pakistan soil to wage war against India following the recent shoot-out in Pathankot. On the Indian side, we would watch, how far and what actions Islamabad will take as a follow up to their Prime Minister’s assurance.

How effective is military–mullah factor still? Will the US pressure on the Pakistan establishment to eschew terror as a state policy against India work? India would naturally watch, as the days go by, what and how far Pakistan moves against the Jihadi-Army elements responsible for Pathankot. Because, this Jihadi-Army combine is part of the deep cuts that Pakistani policy has all along been wanting to inflict on India. May be, the next few weeks will answer the question – whether India and Pakistan can ever live as normal neighbours.

The author is a Delhi-based commentator on political and social issues. E-mail:


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