A few years ago, during a discussion on Pakistan’s identity at Forman Christian College, the then Vice-Rector, Dr Marcia Grant, remarked that perhaps Pakistan’s identity was ‘Not India’. While almost all the other people there, mainly Pakistanis, shrugged off the suggestion, I always thought that the brilliant Dr Grant had hit the nail on its head.
From its inception, Pakistan has been simply obsessed with India. Like the neglected twin, Pakistan has always looked at its larger, and now more prosperous, neighbour for comparison. For Pakistan, India was the ‘other’ and had to be reacted against. Hence, just because India celebrates its independence day on August 15, Pakistan has to show it one up and celebrate it a day earlier; just because India has nuclear weapons, Pakistan needs them too; just because the US signed a civil nuclear agreement with India, Pakistan needs the same deal too and so on. It seems that Pakistan’s existence is almost inextricably tied with an eternal competition with India, no matter what the cost to its exchequer and people.
That said, some of Pakistan’s obsession is not unwarranted. India did try to throttle Pakistan in 1947-48, especially by blocking Pakistan’s due share of sterling and rupee reserves; it did cut off Pakistan’s canal waters in 1948; and it did help the Bengali secessionists to achieve independence in 1971 and inflicted a crushing defeat on Pakistan. That much, and more, is true. However, we must also remember that it is the same India that signed the Indus Water Treaty in 1960, giving Pakistan three rivers which it could have easily retained; it is the same India that did not occupy Pakistan in 1971 when it could have; and it is the same India whose prime minister visited Pakistan on ‘Bus diplomacy’ in 1999, when he had no real need for it. The same India has managed to be an enemy and an accommodating neighbour.
I come from a military dominated family. My father fought for the country in the Second World War and then worked in the Pakistan Movement and a large number of my father’s side of the family is either in the army or the police. Hence, September 6, Defence Day, has always been an important patriotic day for us. While I will save comment on Ayub Khan’s exemplary spin in 1965 for another day, what has recently intrigued me is that we rarely take the name ‘India’ during programmes/events on September 6. We usually just say ‘enemy country’ and leave the listeners to know that we mean India. It is as if ‘India’ and ‘enemy’ are synonymous. This is symptomatic of our India obsession and our great fallacy, I believe.
As we make our slow transition into regular democratic rule, I hope that we can also learn two lessons from the past. First, that there are no permanent friends or enemies in international affairs. This is something which every student of international relations learns on the first day, but it is still an alien concept in Pakistan. Pakistanis still divide the world into ‘friends’ and ‘foes’ and base their foreign policy on this precept, which is obviously flawed. States formulate policy on interests. The improvement of Sino-Indian relations is a prime example of this. India has been an ‘enemy’ but it can also be a ‘friend’.
Secondly, and most importantly, we need to end our almost maniac obsession with India. We can no longer be ‘Not India’ and cannot any longer act like a neglected twin. At least I would like to live in a country which does not define itself against any other country, but has its own identity and is comfortable with it. Obviously, identity formation is a long process and Pakistan is mired in several problems here, but still it would be healthy for Pakistan to think about what makes it special rather than what it is rejecting. Our India-centricism has not only created a false image of us but has also prevented us from focusing on things which would improve the lives of people in our country, like education, health and sanitation — simply the basics. September 6, Defence Day unites the whole country, but it is indeed very sad that only anti-Indianism brings the country together — surely, there is more to Pakistan?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2013.