In his famous essay, What is a Nation, the French philosopher, Ernest Renan, argued that selective amnesia — “forgetting”, as he puts it — is an important part of modern nation-building. This is achieved in many ways, but most importantly by controlling the narrative. The narrative determines the core aspects of the identity of a state. It is successful when that identity is internalised by the peoples to a point where those core aspects are not disputed, and where any external challenges to them are simply not entertained.
Using this central benchmark — I make no attempt here to problematise this process — we have to concede that Pakistan lags far behind India in defining the core aspects of its nationhood. Not because India is not internally troubled, which it is, but because India has developed a centre that holds it together. The centre drives India and perpetuates the narrative, deflecting the world’s attention away from India’s musty underbelly: Abject poverty, very high levels of corruption, the near-absence of the state’s writ in the Red Corridor, terrible human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir, crimes against women and, yes, Taliban-style panchayats.
And while the media highlights internal troubles, it is largely pliant to the state when it comes to presenting the state to the outside world and is the most effective vehicle for the state narrative.
It is a common practice for states to sell the narrative internally. But it is a greater exercise in soft compellence to sell it to other collections also. An even greater success would be to make one’s narrative acceptable to sections of another collection with whom one is locked in conflict.
India has done this with Pakistan and, as a realist, I salute them for this success. Of course, India’s success in this regard is directly proportional to Pakistan’s failure to sell itself to its people. This, as I have noted on a number of occasions, is the biggest threat to Pakistan.
One consequence of this is a large number of us swallowing, hook, line and sinker, India’s narrative on its conflict with Pakistan. Here are some examples:
India is a status quo power while Pakistan is a revisionist state; India just wants to live in peace; there’s nothing about Pakistan that interests India; India, the Little Red Riding Hood, has to keep the world’s fourth largest military because Pakistan attacked it four times — ’47, ’65, ’71 and ’99. Let’s just take these up.
(NB: It’s quite another fact that every time Pakistan has tried to engage India on force rationalisation — nuclear and conventional — including as part of the 2004 dialogue framework, India shifts the goalpost by referring to China).
The term ‘status quo power’ is used cleverly in modern interstate relations. It ignores the direct and indirect influence — soft and hard power, and diplomacy — exerted by stronger states on the weaker ones in the former’s areas of concern by focusing instead on whether a state wants to capture another’s territory. Let there be no doubt, however, that rising powers are always revisionist states. They challenge an existing power configuration by spreading their influence and power. China is one; India is lagging far, far behind but following the same paradigm.
Pakistan is accused of being a revisionist state, primarily vis-a-vis Occupied Kashmir. And a part of our self-loathing intelligentsia has accepted this bunkum. Pakistan has no designs on India but Kashmir is not a part of India. It is a disputed area and that fact is also accepted by India. Because this will be deliberately twisted by the ‘what-abouters’, let me clarify that I am not advocating a war with India, merely stating a fact.
As for revisionism, Pakistan, within the region, is a status quo power because it checks India’s desire to project power in South, the West, and southern Asia. A neoliberal paradigm is possible if India is prepared to address the issue of Kashmir meaningfully. The last three years have clearly shown that the problem lies inside Occupied Kashmir. They have also shown that India remains singularly and callously unconcerned about the Kashmiris.
And what about the wars Pakistan is supposed to have thrust on India?
The 1947 war began as an indigenous uprising in different parts of the then State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It is a matter of historical record that Pakistan had no clear state policy on how to use force against India’s illegal invasion of J&K. The ragtag Poonchis and other Kashmiri groups, with help from tribesmen and some elements of the Pakistani military, managed to capture the territory which now forms Azad Kashmir. If they hadn’t, Pakistan would have today needed just the present size of its army to defend the northern salient.
The 1965 war was a mistake. Much has been written about it inside Pakistan. But there is absolutely no reason to be apologetic about making an armed attempt to get back territory in occupation of an adversary. Pakistan never violated the Indian territory: It crossed what was then the CFL (ceasefire line). The fact is that it was India that aggressed against Pakistan directly when it attacked across, and violated, the international border.
As for India’s generosity, as mentioned by many Indian analysts, in returning to Pakistan the Haji Pir Pass, I have to give them full marks for dissembling! The Tashkent Agreement required the two sides to go back to status quo ante. India decided to keep Kargil because that secured its road to Leh, and return Haji Pir Pass to get back Chhamb and Jorrian because in that area we were dangerously close to the chicken neck. You cut off the chicken neck and you cut off India from Occupied Kashmir. But the problem is not Indian dissembling; it is our acceptance of this deceptive narrative.
And Pakistan attacked India in 1971!? This actually takes the cake. Ignore India’s full-fledged assault on then East Pakistan and trot out Pakistan’s attack in the west, an attack that came too late. That episode also opens the chapter in this region of covert war. Yes, it was introduced by India when it trained the Mukti Bahini; India repeated this exercise with Sri Lanka when it trained the LTTE. I don’t grudge India any of its actions. States do these things in their interests, perceived or real. But to present India as the babe in the wood? Nah; not happening.
Of course there is Kargil in 1999. More of us have blasted Kargil here, including this writer, than perhaps writers in India. It was a terrible operation at all levels. Worse, it came at a time when Pakistan and India were moving towards normalisation. That process should have been allowed to move forward and bear fruit. But let us not forget India’s occupation of the Saltoro Range, its violation of Pakistani posts along the LoC. In a conflictual model these things happen. Yet I will be the first to deduct marks from the Pakistani military on the Kargil operation. Still, the man who did it also became India’s best partner in peace.
Finally, implying that India can’t have peace until Pakistan accepts India’s diagnosis will not beget India a viable policy. Pakistan wants peace. But it doesn’t want to become a west Bangladesh, to use Stephen Cohen’s phrase. So, let’s get rid of the I-am-the-good-guy-here baloney and level with each other.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2011.