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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 14, March 29, 2014

In Pakistan and at Home

Wednesday 2 April 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

I was at Lahore when Pakistan defeated India in the Asia Cup cricket match. There were celebrations and firings in the air. This is understandable because a country which is one-seventh of India feels elated by vanquishing it in some field. Even otherwise, there is no love lost between the two. What surprised me was the running theme in the talks about the victory—that India has not accepted Pakistan. This is not true and politicians in Pakistan raise this slogan to frighten the voters for their candidature. But why should Pakistan seek recognition from India for its identity is beyond my comprehension.

When Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Lahore he assured Pakistan that it did not have to look for recognition because the country is its own identity. Vajpayee, still the most popular Indian in Pakistan, also went to the Minar-e-Pakistan, the place where the 1940 resolution for the creation of a separate Muslim state was passed in a Muslim League session. I too went there and heard Vajpayee repeating the words that the solidarity and integrity of India was dependent on the solidarity and integrity of Pakistan. It is regretful that some extremist groups washed the Minar-e-Pakistan to “purify” it after his visit.

Lahore has expanded eight times since independence. The city is prosperous and shops are full of goods and buyers. Still there are many beggars roaming around. The famous Mall Road is “down town”. The defence area has expanded to accommodate the rich and the upper middle class people. Here the extreme disparities between the rich and the poor are visible like any metro in India.

Punjab—Lahore is its capital—remains the backbone of Pakistan. Sindh is disturbed, prima-rily because of the ever-quarrelling Shias and Sunnis. Balochistan has a national liberation movement demanding autonomy. During my five-day stay, I saw pictures in newspapers and television channels of marchers from Quetta to Islamabad to voice their demand for independence. It had taken them three months to reach Islamabad. India is blamed for supplying money and weapons to sustain the insurgency in Balochistan. The North Western Frontier Province is too engaged in fighting the Taliban from the area adjoining Afghanistan to have respite for development.

I asked a leading lawyer what kept Pakistan together. He said straightaway: it was the military. This may well be true. Yet I do not think that there can ever be another coup. The process of democratic governance is deepening all the time and it looks impossible to undo it. People would come to the streets to resist a military dictator.

Nonetheless, the military counts in the affairs of Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s repeated calls for talks with India cannot be without the consultation of the military. I believe it has drawn a ‘Lakshman rekha’ beyond which the government cannot go. In fact, if one were to follow the media in Pakistan, one would come to the conclusion that both newspapers and television channels stay away from any mention of the Army. Otherwise bold and strident, the media would not cross the Taliban path too. Nawaz Sharif favours talks with them.

Pakistan’s biggest problem is terrorism. What was created to harass India in Kashmir has become a Frankenstein to trouble the country. Both civil and military authorities are harassed by the Taliban from Afghanistan. Adding to the attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan is the home-grown group called Tehreek—e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). They can strike at anytime, anywhere and kill the ones they want. Fear of terrorists stalks the land. Lahore or, for that matter Punjab, is by and large safe.

It is said that Punjab’s Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, has entered into an understanding with the TTP and “rewards” it for sparing the province. But some Taliban are not bothered about a dialogue with the Central Government. The lower courts at Islamabad were attacked by suicide bombers even when both the government and Taliban had declared a one-month ceasefire.

Pakistan had once declared Afghanistan to be part of its strategic depth. In a briefing to the press, the Army Chief has reportedly told the media about the change in the policy. There was no strategic depth, he has conveyed. Maybe this is because of Pakistan’s inward-looking policy. The country faces a host of problems. The lengthening shadow of the fundamentalists is only one of them, however important. What disappointed me most in Lahore was the absence of protests against human rights violations. Liberal voices are hardly heard. Nobody dares mentioning the killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer who voiced his opposition to the blasphemy laws.

Back home, as many as 69 Kashmiri students at Meerut from the Vivekanand University were suspended for cheering the Pakistani cricket team. They were first booked for sedition. The suspension evoked so much criticism that the students had to be taken back. However, this indicates the mindset on Kashmiris as far as India is concerned.

The authorities responsible suspending the students were either a bigoted lot or a set of people who believed that they would be applauded for their anti-Pakistani step. Nothing like that happened. There was no reaction and even the media, inured to sensationalisation, did nothing beyond reporting the university’s step.

Both incidents, the celebrations and suspen-sions, emphasise that the narrative before partition—the Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan—has not changed. Deep down it is the same thinking that religion identifies the nations.

Even after 67 years since independence, India has not been able to implant secularism as firmly as it has done in the case of democracy. Pakistan has little minority problem because the ethnic cleansing in the country has been substantial. Therefore, the quarrels are confined only to the Sunnis and Shias. The Ahmedias, declared non-Muslims, bear the brunt and their graves are being dug up to throw out the remains.

As for relations between India and Pakistan, the hostility has worn off, giving way to a desire to befriend India. Were there to be relaxation of visa, the visitors from Pakistan would come in thousands. This holds good for India as well. The problem at this end is that the extremist fringe represented by the Jamaat-e-Islami and Hafeez Saeed is taken as the prevalent mood in Pakistan.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com