Why Pakistan continues to struggle with friendship with India: A closer look

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Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif

That Hindus and Muslims have co-existed in India for centuries is an indisputable historical fact, but Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah didn’t think so. In 1940, while delivering the All India Muslim League’s presidential address in Lahore, he argued that Hindus and Muslims belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions [Emphasis added]. He went on to add that “it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction. . .” [Emphasis added].

Hindus and Muslims had not only lived together, but even fought side-by-side to throw off the yoke of the British rule in 1857, and continued to do so subsequently. Yet, Jinnah saw things quite differently, and he intentionally sowed the seeds of communalism by maintaining that “Hindus and Musalmaans [Muslims] derive their inspiration from different sources of history.” He even went to the extent of fuelling communal passion by remarking that, “They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap.” [Emphasis added].

Eight decades and three years after Jinnah propounded his questionable Hindu-Muslim incompatibility theory, by being able to “evolve a common nationality”, both these communities in India have proved him wrong. Furthermore, Hindus and Muslims living together did not “lead India to destruction” but instead, made the country an impressive success story. At the same time, Jinnah’s vision that an exclusive sovereign nation for Muslims would ensure that his community thrives in Pakistan ran into rough weather just within a few years of its creation, and the reason for the same isn’t hard to find.

By taking refuge in religion to garner support of his community members for a separate Muslim nation, Jinnah did great harm to the very country he forced the British to create as Pakistan was founded on the completely unsubstantiated notion that an inherent and irreconcilable animosity existed between Hindus and Muslims that made their cohabitation impossible.So, it was but natural that anti-India sentiments became the building block and the core determinant of patriotism in Pakistan.

While friendly relations, economic cooperation and healthy competition with India would have spurred progress, but by making it a Hindu versus Muslim issue and indoctrinating the people of Pakistan into believing that India was an existential ‘enemy’, Islamabad consciously embarked on a self-destructive course. Grossly over playing a non-existent threat of unprovoked aggression from India, Pakistan Army was able to apportion a lion’s share of the national budget and Rawalpindi’s obsession to match India militarily. This stymied infrastructure development and retarded commercial progression. 

To say that everything in Pakistan is pathetic while all is rosy in India would be incorrect. However, there’s a discernible difference. While New Delhi has its own set of problems, it possesses requisite political stability as well as the diplomatic, economic and military capability to effectively manage thorny issues, both at international level and on the domestic front.

On the other hand, Pakistan is plagued with a host of issues that continue to defy resolution-be it political instability due to an overbearing military, a host of separatist movements with armed groups challenging the state’s writ with brazen impunity, rising fundamentalism and sectarianism, excesses against religious minority communities, and most importantly, a rapidly failing economy. So, while India is well on its way to progress, it’s Jinnah’s Pakistan that seems to be staring at ‘destruction’!

Most of Pakistan’s problems are on account of its distinctive anti-India stance. In a recent article published in Dawn, Islamabad based nuclear physicist, author and activist Pervez Hoodbhoy accurately points out that From Pakistan’s birth onward, patriotism and nationalism was conflated with anti-Indianism. This became a substitute for nation-building or working towards high positive goals. Hence, loving Pakistan means hating India; liberating Kashmir is the topmost priority; nuclear weapons are our most precious national assets; and an oversized army must be provided with every resource else we shall be swallowed up by India.” [Emphasis added].

Hoodbhoy isn’t the first or sole Pakistani to have brought out the issue of how ‘anti-Indianism’ is perceived as a non-negotiable patriotic and nationalistic imperative in Pakistan. In an interview given to The Wire in 2016, Pakistani journalist, academic, political activist, and former ambassador of Pakistan to Sri Lanka and the United States, Husain Haqqani mentioned that “Pakistan’s nationalism currently is defined by militarism” and that “the army has been the dominant reality in Pakistan”.

He also mentioned how army officers “act as if they are the guardians of Pakistan’s identity,” stressing that “they have defined Pakistan’s identity in a certain way in which ‘anti-Indianism’ is more important.” During an interaction related to his book ‘India vs Pakistan-Why Can’t We Just Be Friends’, Haqqani said, “My argument as a Pakistani is why do we even want to be [militarily] equal [with India]? Why do not we want to be happier and prosperous and successful?.”

He went on to add, “What is this obsession about being ‘equal’ and trying to equalise the field with crazies like Hafiz Saeed [Lashkar-e- Taiba co-founder] because he will only create hatred, which will only bite us back.” Haqqani rightly maintains that “Pakistan always had this presumption that India has a tremendous conventional military advantage and Indian Army will be much more bigger than Pakistan’s. So, Pakistan needs irregular methods to be able to be equal.” [Emphasis added].

 Haqqani’s revelation about Pakistan Army’s proxy war in Kashmir has been corroborated by none other than Pakistan’s former President and ex-army chief Late Gen Pervez Musharraf himself. In a 2015 interview, he admitted that In the 1990s, the freedom struggle began in Kashmir. At that time, Lashkar-e-Taiba and 11 or 12 other organisations were formed. We supported them and trained them as they were fighting in Kashmir . . .”

Let’s return to the question of why can’t Pakistan befriend India? The answer is that for the highly propagandised masses in Pakistan, any attempted rapprochement with New Delhi is the ultimate perfidy. Hence even though cordial Indo-Pak relations and unfettered commercial activities between the two neighbours will definitely benefit Pakistan much more than India, no one in the seat of power and authority in Pakistan would dare to try and mend fences with India, as any such attempt would be tantamount to political hara-kiri!

So, despite the crying need for Islamabad to consider normalisation of relations with India, the harsh reality is that there can be no business as usual in the foreseeable future, at least. And despite a Pakistani armed forces delegation attending the recent SCO working group meeting in New Delhi, the hope that this development would raise the possibility of Pakistan’s defence minister attending the SCO meet later this month, may well turn out to be a case of great expectations.

Postscript: How damaging any attempt to normalise Indo-Pak relations can be for any Pakistani can be gauged from the fact that former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan chose this very emotionally sensitive issue to target his arch-enemy ex-army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

By alleging that “Gen Bajwa wanted me to develop friendly ties with India [and] he put pressure on me for this”, the wily Khan has tried to portray the retired army chief as a person willing to compromise national honour by developing friendly ties with India and hence a downright ‘traitor’.And by going on to say that “it was one of the reasons that our relationship deteriorated”, he has tried to highlight his own unmitigated Indophobic credentials and thereby project himself as a consummate Pakistani ‘patriot’!  

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