Archive for January 20th, 2009

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the relationship between India and Pakistan has certainly suffered. Below, Rakesh Mani, a New York-based banker and freelance writer, discusses the current state of our countries’ relations, and what needs to occur for the good of both nations. [The piece originally appeared in Dawn newspaper on January 19]:

We are now gripped by a solemn fear that the terrorist atrocity on India’s financial capital can trigger new furies across the arc of the subcontinent. If the terrorists wanted a mobilization of troops to the India-Pakistan border and a diversion from the pressure applied on them in Pakistan’s northwest areas, they will soon have their way if the region allows itself to be taken over by nationalist fervor.

Across the world, Indians are outraged by what they see as Pakistan’s alleged complicity. But it might well be that the terrorists, though Pakistanis, were not state-sponsored. It is a difficult fact for many Indians to accept, but the Pakistani state seems to have largely exited this “business.”

The fact that India held peaceful elections in Jammu & Kashmir with massive voter turnout points to this. The electoral success would not have been possible if Islamabad had sent in extremists and militants, as New Delhi believes it is wont to do.

Yes, Mumbai’s terrorists may not be state-sponsored agents but, as with other terrorists, they are indeed society-sponsored. For various reasons, Pakistan has become the global epicenter of Islamic terrorism – a problem that has serious security implications for not just India, but for Pakistan itself.

Still, we cannot afford war. It will be political and financial suicide.

Politically, launching targeted strikes against the militants’ facilities will give rise to increased public support for Pakistan’s fiery mullahs and pose a dangerous threat to the country’s stability. Economically, the prohibitive price of battle will hit hard at India’s booming economy and Pakistan’s crumbling one.

Escalating tensions need to be defused swiftly. Now more than ever, we need real statesmen to step up to the plate and act with maturity, restraint and vision. We need a realisation that India and Pakistan are in this together, one cannot succeed while the other falters. Along with a shared history and culture, we now have a shared enemy.

The only real beneficiaries of this are the right-wing religious parties. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accuses the ruling Congress party of being soft on terror. “Fight Terror. Vote BJP,” they say. Can we feign shock if an embittered India votes to sacrifice its pluralism for the sake of its security in the coming elections?

And who benefits the most from Hindu nationalists sweeping to power in India but the Islamists in Pakistan? It gives them justification as the defenders of faith. The two complete each other’s constituencies, they thrive on each other. But if we can knock them out on one side of the Wagah border, we can take the ground out from beneath their feet on the other.

But here it is the failure of Pakistan’s intellectual and social elites. Sipping cocktails comfortably in New York and London, they bemoan the government and old mindsets. But in Karachi, they won’t ever set a bold example. Back home, it’s easier to follow the rigidly conservative social diktats. Social freedoms are better exercised abroad.

They’re educated and modernized, but won’t speak out against anti-Indian rants and hard-line religious doctrine. So from the pluralist, tolerant Islam that was once the case, the country is now held captive to a puritanical version of the faith that is constantly policed by those who believe themselves to be rightly guided. Growing up with this rigid doctrine, young, ordinary Pakistanis are readily subordinating the love of the state to religiously inspired visions.

A crisis is the perfect opportunity for solutions; even radical solutions. So we cannot let this crisis go to waste. It must be used to curb a dangerous national obsession with faith, and to arrange an economic marriage in South Asia. Ultimately, this economic marriage is what will bring long-term peace and prosperity in the region. Businesses must open up across the border. When times are less tense, permits must flow for industries and investments. The impacts on the economy and on the people’s psyches will be huge.

Soon, South Asia’s businessmen will become the region’s most ardent diplomats. They will exert every pressure on their governments to avoid conflict, because conflict will hurt their commercial interests. Perhaps in the long term, the region will become one economic bloc, and share a common market and currency, along with a common culture. Divisions can break down in the face of economic cooperation.

The world has woken up to India’s economic potential. India is being courted as never before. Why should Pakistan, whose people have so much in common with Indians, not do the same? Getting riled up by old prejudices arrests us – Pakistan can only gain from an economic marriage of convenience with India. For Pakistan’s sake, and the world’s, let’s hope that wedding bells are round the corner.

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