India, Pakistan and the Future
The terrorist attacks of Nov 26 will go down in history as a turning point for the people of South Asia, if not the world. The attacks seem to have been orchestrated to destabilize the new democratic government of Pakistan and ensure that no one talks peace between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. The terrorists would have hit a jackpot if internal Hindu-Muslim hatred could have been provoked, leading to more carnage. However, the people of India have responded in a very mature fashion.
First, there is very little talk of revenge against Pakistan. People are angry against the fragile neighbor and at the same time, they recognize that there is little Pakistan can do for India or for its own self, given that it is largely controlled by their military and spy agencies. Second, and more importantly, the ire of the Indian people has been finally turned on India's incompetent civil government. The people of India have had it being governed by imbeciles, and are out on the streets recognizing their frustration. This is unprecedented. Rarely have all the politicians gone into hiding from the media. No one is making statements anymore. Those who are foolhardy enough to do so regret it from both sides of their face. Others are pleading for the politician-bashing to stop. Blogs, facebook groups and the personal internet has come alive with people expressing their anger and desire for change. Noted journalist Barkha Dutt, among others, has been at the receiving end of criticism for the media, prompting her to make a formal response.
We have perhaps never been closer to change than we are now, as the net connects us not just to the traditional newsmakers, but to regular people, who, if inspired to believe that change is possible, can make change happen. Obama's victory this year would hardly have been conceivable in an age without the internet, where an older and out-of-touch political caste would never have believed that such a change would be acceptable to the population. Its funny how our political representatives are most out of touch with the people they represent. As we slowly wake up to the fact that change begins with one person, the time has come to think about what we'd like to change to. Change for change's sake is counterproductive. Most Indians don't know that Mahatma Gandhi opposed a British parliamentary system in his 1913 book, Hind Swaraj or Self Rule. He used uncharacteristically strong words when describing it in Chapter 5, The Condition of England: prostitute and barren.
He wrote, "I pray to God that India may never be in that plight." It is baffling that his disciples did exactly the opposite of what he suggested, and his description would be considered by many as accurate about our parliamentary system today. I suggest that it is time for the Indian people to question the efficacy and ethics of a democracy like the one we have today. It is certainly better than the dictatorial system in China that stifles any voice that threatens it, but democracy cannot be mistaken for freedom, for it is a system where 51% have the right to coerce the remaining 49%, as we have seen the world over. An essay on Plato points out a major failing of a democracy:
.. the rule by the many was no remedy for the ills of oligarchy, according to Plato, because ordinary people were too easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians. It was the demos, after all, the majority of ordinary people, who time and again had supported the disastrous campaigns of the Peloponnesian War by their votes, who had condoned numerous atrocities and breaches of the law, and who were also responsible for the questionable trial and execution of Socrates.
Sounds so much like the times of Nazi Germany which elected Hitler democratically and executed Jews and others legally. All democracies of our time that go to war do so with the legitimacy of elected governments. I believe that we should encourage people to think about what we want our "free" society to look like, without worrying about whether it is possible. Once we know where we want to go, we can then discuss how to get there.
There is something else that no one is talking about right now, which I think is critical for the survival and progress of South Asia. And that is reunification with Pakistan. Pakistan's existence came out of a negation of the idea of India. Pakistani politicians come to power with strong anti-India rhetoric and Kashmir promises. How can there be peace if Pakistan views India as the other and vice versa? At the same time, reunification is abhorrent to most Pakistanis. The impression is that they needed their own space to practice Islam, without having to apologize or live like a minority. Now that they have their own land, why should they risk becoming a minority again? Besides, who is India or anyone else to use its power and clout to threaten the idea of Pakistan? All valid points. Reunification that is done by force or coercion can only lead to disaster. Is it possible for Pakistan and India to both want to reunite, without losing their individual identities?
Yes. It is time for both Indians and Pakistanis who are sick of their political systems to dream of a South Asian Union, just like the European Union. East Kashmir and West Kashmir would have access to each other, without hindrance, resolving a six decade grievance in the hearts of the Kashmiri people. Pakistan would have access to not just all of Kashmir, but all of India. When a Pakistani citizen comes to an Indian airport, the first question they would get is: do you want a cab? The second might be: do you want a hotel? And India would have access to all of Pakistan, with the same treatment. Suddenly, we are not the other. The Indian and Pakistani troops can patrol the joint borders of South Asia together while the inter-country borders could be opened for free movement with minimal fanfare. You could be driving on the South Asian autobahn from Karachi to New Delhi, and at the border, you'd just see a small sign board saying, "Welcome to India, please continue to drive safely." Imagine?
Contrary to what a lot of Indians think, Pakistani citizens are no different from Indian citizens. They want peace and progress and are as sick of their politicians as we are of ours. What stops both countries from making their borders irrelevant? Here is a story that might shed some light. One economist tried to understand why Pakistan does not import tea from India, instead of paying a lot more to get it from Kenya (this has been written about). The Pakistani establishment cited the Kashmir dispute as the reason. Then, the economist asked why they didn't import tea from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh? Then, the real story came out - Pakistan has massive investments in Kenyan tea, and it is against the business interest of some merchants to let India into the market. What's the best way to stop India? Rake up the Kashmir issue.
India and Pakistan would have been friends and the South Asian Union would have been a reality a long time back were it not for narrow business interests that prevent this from happening. If you think that all the business interests are on the Pakistan side, think again. Domestic business lobbies exist on both sides.
Hatred multiplies with hatred, but dissolves when fired upon with love and compassion. While India strives to come up with a better defense system, the best defense is giving others many reasons to love you. We have a lot of work to do.
India, Pakistan and the Future
- » Published on December 06, 2008
- » Type: Opinion
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