Aatish’s personal fire

Aatish Taseer uses reductionist analysis to sell to Indian and US audiences by using his father's clout.

Ejaz Haider July 18, 2011

Will Cuppy, American humorist and literary critic, was said to read some 25 volumes of history on average before penning his humorous sketches of historical figures contained in the delightful volume The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. That was then. Now we base our analysis of an entire country on a tweet. Welcome to Aatish Taseer’s Wall Street Journal article “Why My Father Hated India”!

There’s much thrown in here so let me try a flowchart of sorts.

Indian rocket test fails; father tweets to taunt at India’s misfortune; father’s attitude to India causes tension with Aatish (right!); Pakistan’s obsession with India; grounded in Partition; Pakistan’s search for identity; rejection of India’s culture; Islamisation; identity crisis; coups; Pakistani military is the villain; wants strategic depth in Afghanistan; plays a double game; imaginary threat from India; back to father’s tweet; veneer of bravado; arid pain and sadness; wounds of Partition to be healed.

How does one deal with a piece which throws in everything except the kitchen sink in order to construct a supposedly linear reality? The technique reminds me of the cross-examination of Stanley Weber by the two strange characters, Goldberg and McCann in Pinter’s The Birthday Party. From ‘why the chicken crossed the road’ and ‘you left the organisation’ to ‘why you defiled your mother’, the rhetoric becomes a nightmare for Stanley and leaves him catatonic. Taken separately, one can discuss issues and arrive at a balanced analysis. But that’s not the purpose of Aatish’s piece. Pakistan must be seen as a mistake, acting without stimuli. India is Professor Godbole sitting contentedly and doing nothing while Dr Aziz goes around raging and making a fool of himself. That is of course nonsense. But whoever controls the narrative wins.

Mercifully, contained within Aatish’s piece are pointers to greater complexity. The father was killed because he supported a Christian woman. How does that fit in with the article’s thesis that the father hated India (and Pakistan has to hate India and be Muslim) because that religious distinction lies at the core of its ‘other’-isation of India? Or is Pakistan more complex than is hinted in the article?

Aatish’s father did not ‘hate’ India. He was one of those who did much to open up Lahore — to Indians — by using the Basant festival. There is not a single viable political party in Pakistan that does not want to normalise with India. That is a matter of record. But Salmaan Taseer (Aatish’s eye for detail doesn’t inspire much confidence since he gets the spellings of his father’s name wrong), like others, was a proud Pakistani. We don’t need to ‘other’ India to be Pakistanis but neither can we ignore real problems that need to be addressed. Tackling those problems requires mature analysis, not reducing everything to Pakistan’s identity crisis vis-a-vis India.

But what of the Pakistani military, the villains in all this? Since Aatish began with India’s failed GSLV rocket test, let me put in some facts here for him.

The Indian Army, standing at over 1.1 million active-service personnel and 1.8 million reserves, is configured under six area commands (operational) and one army training command (ARTRAC). Three of these area commands — western, northern and southwestern — are totally Pakistan-specific. A fourth, central command, with one corps (1 Corps) is also primarily Pakistan-specific. The Indian Army has 13 corps, out of which eight, including one from the central command, are specific to Pakistan.

But more than the number of corps, it is the number of divisions — infantry, mountain, armoured — as well as independent armoured and artillery brigades that manifest the deployment pattern or order of battle (ORBAT) of the Indian Army. The Pakistan-specific area commands and corps have a much-higher number of lower formations, the actual fighting elements, than the eastern and southern Commands.

Aatish alleges that Pakistan army has diverted most of the $11 billion to arming itself against India. He has no details and is plainly wrong but let’s take what he says on face value. This money has come to Pakistan over 10 years, according to his own piece. Compare this with India’s defence expenditure especially in purchasing power parity terms and one would realise what Pakistan is up against. He can check the figures with SIPRI and IISS.

Finally, each of his points has inspired scholars to write books; he would do well to avoid reductionist analyses. Nor should he utilise his father’s clout to serve personal ends by making a sales pitch to audiences in both India and the US. On a personal note, his article would have extracted only a yawn from me but for a query from Shashi Tharoor who wanted to know why I had advised Aatish Taseer to stick to writing novels. Now, Mr Tharoor is serious business. And if he needs to be explained what was wrong with Aatish’s article, then we are in real trouble.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2011.


John Smith | 11 years ago | Reply


shweta mittal | 11 years ago | Reply

mr. ejaz haider, perhaps aatish is a little too biased against his father. but many of the observations he made about pakistan in 'a stranger to history' have unfortunately proved to be true in the years since the book was published. his father made other anti-india tweets. it was not as though he was objectively criticising india's corruption scams or its mishandling of the maoist movement. his comments were downright mean and spiteful. he was one of those pakistanis who simply could not digest the fact that india was rising while pakistan was having a rough time. whereas aatish's criticism of pakistan seems to come from concern. and for those pakistanis who claim that indians are obsessed with pakistan. they post comments on pak websites, i will speak for myself. i was actually searching for aatish's WSJ article on google. while doing so, i came across this site. i wanted to read it because i always like to know how the other side feels. ejaz haider is considered a respected journalist whose articles have appeared in The Indian Express. regards, shweta mittal

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