Pakistan and India
While I should be writing and revising my personal statement for graduate school(s), my mind has been stimulated by a book I am currently reading entitled “Pakistan: A Hard Country” by British journalist Anatol Lieven. 100 pages in, Lieven has painted a very vivid picture of Pakistan from within which illuminates the country’s relationship with America and India.
Last week, Aatish Taseer, the son of the late Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab wrote a scathing Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why My Father Hated India.” Taseer, whose mother was an Indian Sikh and whose father was a Pakistani Muslim, always felt uneasy with the Pakistani obsession with India - that is, the cultural rejection of, military encroachment upon, and psychological delusion of, India.
In one passage, Taseer is relentless:
In the absence of a true national identity, Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India. It turned its back on all that had been common between Muslims and non-Muslims in the era before partition. Everything came under suspicion, from dress to customs to festivals, marriage rituals and literature. The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination.
I believe the picture painted above is quite accurate. Pakistan was born as a state of the Muslim people, but not an Islamic state (which other country does this remind you of?). The original founders were overwhelmingly English in every way, down to their own secularism and liberalism, the latter of which was grounded on a very modern understanding of Islam. The founder of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah was himself a very educated and visionary politician who, up until 1947, would have accepted a unified India with equal status given to Muslims in some form of confederation.
Jinnah, who was born into an Ismaili family but later converted to Twelver Shia Islam (the dominant religion of most Persians), would found a country in which his own religious sect would be persecuted five decades later. Because Jinnah died a year after Partition, the new state’s foundations rested on pudding. In fact, imported pudding, since the legal, political, judicial, and economic infrastructure of the country were overwhelmingly British. To this day, the language of Pakistani civil servants and diplomats is not Urdu (which is only the mother tongue of 7% of Pakistanis since this was the native language of Mohajirs (emigrants from India) who now reside in Karachi) or Punjabi (which a majority of Pakistanis speak in one dialect or another) but English.
Think of most successful countries today - their founding leadership lived long enough to see the implementation of their original ideas and ideals: The Founding Fathers in America, the Fathers of Confederation in Canada, the Indian Congress leadership (who still dominate Indian politics), the Israeli Labor Party, De Gaulle and the Fifth French Republic.
At its founding, many South Asian youth dreamed of the possibilities of the new state as a Utopia where modern Islam would combine with a robust form of socialism to eradicate poverty and serve as an alternative to the Soviet Union. Their dreams quickly vanished as the bloody reality of partition - the death of 1 million people in the greatest migration in human history - became apparent.
However, up until the 1990s, Pakistan had the stronger economy, the better roads, the stylish clothes, and the faster cars. Why? Because India was experimenting with a particularly vicious form of socialism, an alliance with the Soviet Union under the auspices of the term “Third World” and a virtual dictatorship under the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.
What happened? As Taseer points out, Pakistan carved away at its Indian identity and Arabized society by importing a Saudi form of Islam. Anyone who knows anything about South Asia will know that fundamentalist Islam was a parasitical importation because it stood in opposition to Indian/Pakistani culture.
Take Punjabi culture in particular, which I can personally comment on. Punjabis on both sides of the border have always been mystical, flexible, and tolerant (for the most part - extremists exist in every culture and religion), espousing music, dance, and colourful festivals. There is a reason why Bollywood is so familiar to Pakistanis - the actors speak their language, dance to songs they understand, and include cultural motifs and symbols which do not need to be explained. The fact that the King of Bollywood is a Muslim speaks to India’s pluralism and contradicts the Pakistani state’s narrative of India serving only Hindu interests.
Now, Pakistan has this military and cultural obsession (to the point of rejection) of India, which I daresay is also shared by many Indians vis-a-vis Pakistan. India is now the world’s largest arms importer and is thought to be supporting nationalist uprisings in Pakistan. But, India remains pluralistic and democratic with a growing economy and a dignified albeit still-corrupt government led by the estimable Manmohan Singh. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been withering away. It lost half its territory in 1971, which became Bangladesh, imported and then embraced fundamentalist Islam, and began (and never ended) the funding of militants. There were only two countries in the world that recognized the ruthless Taliban government in Afghanistan. One of them was Saudi Arabia. Can you guess the other?
Peering into history, it seems to me that Partition was a mistake. A United India today would have close to 470 million Muslims out of a population of 1.5 billion people. It would unquestionably be the next superpower and would make all of this talk of a resurgent China look farcical. I would also fathom a guess that sooner or later, it would also have a Muslim Prime Minister - just as the Republic of India today has a Sikh Prime Minister, a Catholic as the head of its dominant party, and just recently had a Muslim President.
I believe Pakistan needs to completely eradicate fundamentalist Islam from its agenda and eliminate Islam as the state religion, implement and enforce a fair level of taxation (currently only 1% of Pakistanis pay taxes), eliminate myths regarding Indians and Hindus, move forward to prosecute militant groups and end their funding, forcefully weed out corruption, and begin embracing its unique South Asian history and heritage all while moving bilateral relations with India forward.
The model here is not India -which has many similar problems, particularly with right-wing Hindu and Sikh nationalism - but Turkey.
Having a family that was split by Partition, this issue hits close to home. My paternal grandmother saw “both” Punjabs, having been born in Lahore (which would have been the capital of a unified Punjab) and having spent time in Amritsar, which is the holy city of Sikhs and home to the beautiful Golden Temple, only 30 km east of Lahore, she experienced first hand the treacheries of 1947.
What I’ve written above might offend the stereotypical Pakistani nationalists who enjoy myths and lies rather than facts, which are very, very stubborn things. But only by acknowledging historical and cultural realities can South Asia move towards peace.
*Correction: As my friend Dhruv pointed out, there was a third country that recognized the Taliban in Afghanistan: The United Arab Emirates.
“I'm not supposed to know anything about foreign policy. Just thought I'd throw that out.”—
Herman Cain to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter while on his campaign bus on Monday (source: Politico)
My first thought: WTF?
My second thought: Herman Cain is absolutely right. If he were running for President of the United States, he would need to know something about foreign policy, but he’s not doing that. He’s simply on a book tour and he’s using the Republican party’s nomination process to promote that tour. It’s a good thing for Cain that one need not understand anything about foreign policy or government in order to sell books.
Teaching 21st Century Skills = Teaching About Cuba
If we are going to educate our students for the 21st century, then why is instruction on Cuba not emphasized in our Spanish classes? Even my textbook, with all of its references to Spanish-speaking countries, wants to present a watered-down, Uncle Sam-friendly version of Cuba by highlighting Miami. What are we afraid of?