An Old Story of New Beginnings

Nawaz Sharif’s participation in Narendra Modi’s inauguration may be the first time a Pakistani pri­me minister has attended such celebrations in India, but it is just one of many occasions that have been billed as an opportunity for laying the foundations of a new relationship between India and Pakistan.

In 1950, Prime Minister Liaq­uat Ali Khan travelled to Delhi and si­gned the Liaquat-Nehru pact, wh­i­ch was expected to resolve the issu­es created by the violent Partition of 1947 that gave birth to Pakistan. But the optimism about the agreement died within a year with the ass­assination of its Pakistani signatory. Pakistan went through several years of political instability while the army gained influence in policymaking.

Then, once General (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan assumed the reins of power directly in a coup d’etat in 1958, it was argued that a Pakistani military leader was better positioned to normalise relations with India than the weak politicians who preceded him. Pakistan’s participation in US-led military alliances was also meant to give the new country sufficient self-confidence in dealing with a larger, more powerful and ostensibly hostile neighbour.

Ayub Khan said that only two is­sues caused friction between Ind­ia and Pakistan. One related to the di­vision of the Indus waters, which was resolved by the US-backed and World Bank-funded Indus Waters Tr­eaty. The other, according to Ay­ub, was Jammu and Kashmir, and the field marshal started the 1965 war hoping to find its final solution.

Another war, in 1971 over Bangladesh, resulted in a massive military defeat for Pakistan and the loss of half its territory. Ayub’s successor as military dictator, Yahya Khan, was forced to relinquish power to civilian Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was presumed that now a more coherent Pakistani state and a triumphant India would find lasting peace.

At Shimla, in 1973, Indira Gandhi purported to show magnanimity. The Ceasefire Line in Kashmir became the Line of Control and a carefully worded agreement committed both countries to the peaceful resolution of disputes. But the Simla Accord virtually fell by the wayside after the military coup of 1977 that led to Bhutto’s judicial murder two years later.

General Zia-ul-Haq and Morarji Desai spoke of peace amid Western media commentary that the two ostensibly pro-US leaders could accomplish what left-leaning Indian governments under the Congress could not. In the end, Zia lasted in power for almost 11 years, but good relations between Pakistan and India did not.

When Benazir Bhutto was elected prime minister in 1988, we heard the “new beginning” mantra again. India was now led by Rajiv Gandhi, and the two young prime ministers were expected to transcend the bitterness of Partition, of which neither had any personal memory. But the Pakistani establishment cut short Benazir’s tenure while stepping up jihad for the liberation of Kashmir.

Nawaz Sharif, a Punjabi civilian originally backed by the army, was supposed to be the new miracle worker. But he was pushed out of office by the establishment within three years of his election. Sharif was succeeded by Benazir Bhutto for three years, only to return to office after another palace coup.

By the time Sharif returned to office in 1997, Pakistan’s Inter-­Services Intelligence (ISI) had helped install the Taliban in power in Kabul and myriad jihadi groups were seen as challenging India’s might in Kashmir.

Once Pakistan tested nuclear weapons following India’s nuclear tests in 1998, the rationalists argued that a Nixon-to-China moment had arrived. If only Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpa­y­ee would travel to Pakistan and talk to the Muslim nationalist Pakistani leader, a modus vivendi between the two countries could be found.

Vajpayee did indeed travel to Lahore, assuring Pakistanis of India’s acceptance of their country and its nuclear status. But that did not prevent General Pervez Mu­s­harraf from plotting and executing the war in Kargil and subsequently taking over the reins of power in Islamabad. Musharraf kept talks with India going under the shadow of both nuclear weapons and terrorism. But details of the elaborate deal his emissary is said to have worked out with Satish Lamba are nowhere to be found in Pakistan’s Foreign Office since the general lost power in 2008.

Civilian President Asif Zar­dari’s vision of regional integration was blown to pieces by Lashkar-e-Toiba’s terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008 within a couple of months of his election. Now, hopes are being pinned on renewed dialogue under Nawaz Sharif, who does not need to negotiate the complexities of Pakistan’s coalition politics, unlike Zardari.

Hope springs eternal and engagement is always better than giving up in despair. But it is important to understand the reason for the historic failure of efforts aimed at fostering friendly neighbourly ties between India and Pakistan.

There are many logical reasons for why and how India-Pakistan ties can be normalised. It is psychological, not logical, factors that have he­ld the relationship back so far. As lo­ng as Pakistan’s establishment co­ntinues to paint India as an existential threat and a permanent enemy in the minds of its people, no Pakistani leader — civilian or military — can embrace the Canada-US model in India-Pakistan relations.

Although Indians are now focused more on their internal development, they have a long way to go in reassuring Pakistanis that their acceptance of a united Pakistan is final and irreversible.

The Slow End of Ideology

India has rejected the politics of loyalty and legacy. Can Pakistan move on too?

In his book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, American political psychologist Drew Westen argues that feelings trump cold analysis in the making of political choices. What, then, was the dominant sentiment that resulted in the massive mandate for Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s latest general election?

As an India-friendly Pakistani currently living in exile in the US, I observed the Indian election through the media as well as the eyes of many Indian friends. That, admittedly, does not qualify me as an authority on Indian politics. But as Benazir Bhutto used to say “There is a bit of India in every Pakistani and there is an element of Pakistan in every Indian.”

Pakistan’s democrats admire Indian democracy and have always done so, even at the risk of being accused of being pro-Indian by the country’s military-dominated establishment. Linked by a shared civilisation and having been one country until 1947, the political sentiments on both sides of the border have remarkable similarities.

Indians have adhered to democracy consistently while the democratic aspirations of Pakistanis have been devoured by an overwhelming military-intelligence complex. But, like India, Pakistan’s democratic process (whenever it is allowed to operate) is influenced by familiar feelings about caste, religion, feudal loyalty and ethnic identity.

In the first few elections after Independence, Indian politics was dominated by the sentiment of gratitude towards those who led the country to freedom from the British. The foremost sentiment in Pakistan, of trying to forge a new nation and to justify the two-nation theory, ended in the military’s dominance. The task of defining Pakistani nationhood could not be left by the military to feudal politicians prone to cutting deals among themselves.

The death of Jawaharlal Nehru resulted in contention for leadership among many equals within the Indian National Congress. Indira Gandhi could claim Nehru’s legacy through the bloodline, making it easy for the people to transfer their emotional loyalty from Nehru, the freedom fighter, to Indira, the freedom fighter’s daughter. Her tragic assassination triggered the emotion of respect for sacrifice, which continued after the assassination of her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi. In Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) went through similar transitions after the judicial execution of the elder Bhutto and the terrorist assassination of his daughter, Benazir.

Family legacies had worked to build democracies in countries as far apart as Greece and India. The Papandreou and Karamanlis families provided leaders for rival parties in Greece, and the Nehru-Gandhi family was the focal point for the Indian National Congress. Pakistanis sought a similar nucleus in the Bhutto family for struggle against military rule. In India, the Nehru-Gandhi family made policy with a free hand but the Bhuttos in Pakistan have had the added burden of dealing with the machinations of the military-intelligence complex.

The politics of family legacy is often intertwined with ideology. For example, for many, the Nehru-Gandhi family represents India’s secularism and in Pakistan, the Bhuttos are identified with relative pluralism in an otherwise hardline Islamist ideological environment. But the depth of loyalty to a legacy lasts only as long as the memory of the legacy. With each passing generation, India’s memory of its freedom struggle is less sharp. Sentiments of loyalty over past sacrifices, too, cannot last forever.

As has been said by virtually every pundit and columnist over the last few days, India is now swept by the desire for progress and change. Ideology may still be important but performance and results matter more to more and more people.

The dominant sentiment in India’s latest election was embracing aspiration and modernity while rejecting ideology and legacy.The spectre of a communalist Modi did not scare voters because the Modi associated with the Gujarat riots of 2002 did not show up during the election campaign. The Modi people voted for espoused a vision for bullet trains, efficient government, economic opportunity and modernity.

The people are often willing to accept that leaders can change their view. After all, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam of Pakistan, had gone from being an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity in the 1920s to being the principal advocate of the two-nation theory and Muslim separatism. It was sad as well as comical to see globally recognised terrorist Hafiz Saeed appear on Pakistani television to describe Modi’s election as prime minister as affirmation of the two-nation theory.

India appears to have moved beyond ideology as the core emotion of its politics.

Interview with New York Times about ‘Magnificent Delusions’

WASHINGTON — The meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the White House on Wednesday is the most recent attempt by American and Pakistani leaders to reset a fraught relationship.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, has documented that legacy of mistrust in a new book, “Magnificent Delusions” (Public Affairs, Nov. 5). Mr. Haqqani, a former adviser to Mr. Sharif who now teaches at Boston University, was a victim of those toxic ties, forced out in 2011 amid allegations, which he denies, that he sought American help to rein in the Pakistani military.

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Malala’s Fight for a Modern Pakistan

Although Malala Yusufzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize, the mere fact that a 16 year old was seriously considered for the honor is significant. Such global attention for a teenager would be cause for national celebration in almost any country of the world. Not in bitterly divided, conspiracy theory-prone Pakistan.

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Mamnoon Hussain: The New Man in Pakistan

He may be a figurehead, but the president who is elected today is worth keeping an eye on for signs of where Pakistan is going.

Pakistan will elect a new figurehead president Tuesday, completing the first successful transition in the country’s history from one elected civilian government to another. The man widely expected to win the election, Mamnoon Hussain, is a virtually unknown member of the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), the political party led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which returned to office in legislative elections held in May. Sharif will now control all constitutional levers of power.

Mamnoon Hussain, the next figurehead president of Pakistan. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty)

Governing Pakistan and addressing its myriad problems, including the continuing menace of terrorism, will be no easier for Sharif than for his predecessors.

In May Pakistan’s electorate voted largely along ethnic lines. Sharif’s majority is derived primarily from support in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, which is home to an overpowering majority of the country’s soldiers, civil servants, journalists, and judges.

Lacking support in other regions, Sharif will only heighten divisions in an already polarized nation if he presses his advantage in numbers without seeking consensus on even minor matters. As it is, Punjabi dominance has fueled resentment among smaller ethnicities, including an ongoing insurgency in Baluchistan along the border with Iran and Afghanistan.

Sharif is two months into his third term as prime minister. His previous two terms were interrupted by Pakistan’s all-powerful military, the last time in 1999 when Gen. Pervez Musharraf overthrew Sharif’s government in a coup d’état.

Although he began his political career as a protégé of Islamist military dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq, he is said to have matured into a pragmatic conservative with wide popularity among Punjabis. But his success in office depends largely on his ability to rebuild Pakistan’s economy as well as wresting control of foreign-policy decision making, which continues to remain in the hands of the all-powerful military.

So far Sharif’s foreign-policy views have been far from clear, adjusted for the benefit of the audience of the moment. His hands are somewhat tied by the anti-Western, hypernationalist rhetoric unleashed during the election campaign by his party as well as by the supporters of cricketer turned politician Imran Khan.

The bombast fuels a Pakistani view of self that contrasts greatly with how the rest of the world sees this nuclear-armed, terrorist-infested Muslim country of 180 million people.

Sharif has promised to fight terrorism with the help of the West and to resume the peace process he had started with India in 1999. If he can deliver on these promises, he will earn the gratitude of a world that worries about Pakistan as an epicenter of global jihad. But Sharif and Khan both represent a major problem that afflicts Pakistan’s politics. Leaders say one thing to Westerners in English and another to their compatriots in local languages.

The bombast fuels a Pakistani view of self that contrasts greatly with how the rest of the world sees this nuclear-armed, terrorist-infested Muslim country of 180 million people.

Pakistan’s national discourse is based on denial of the concerns of other nations. During the 1980s Pakistan denied it had a nuclear-weapons program only to celebrate its existence after nuclear tests in 1998. Jihadi terrorist groups and their leaders are still hailed as heroes, and some even openly participated in the election process without fear of penalty.

Pakistan’s media, both free of government restrictions and unrestrained by concerns about accuracy, constantly feeds conspiracy theories to a nation that tends to blame outsiders for its problems.

Conspiracy theories are often a substitute for examining harsh facts, such as the discovery of Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Nationalist bombast supersedes the need for analyzing the country’s underlying economic and social problems.

In such an environment, the parties of Sharif and Khan ran campaigns that created expectations without offering concrete solutions. For example, Sharif has promised to build a bullet train from Karachi to Lahore without explaining how he would pay for it. Similarly, Khan’s demagoguery about shooting down drones drew applause from his enthusiastic followers without examining its implications for U.S.-Pakistan relations.

It is important that Pakistan remains a democracy and makes peace with its neighbors. But if Sharif is to succeed in halting Pakistan’s perilous descent, he must forge national consensus and change the Pakistani worldview. Instead of offering to pay Pakistan’s bills, as has been the case in the past, the international community must now encourage Pakistan’s elected leaders to fully take charge, tame the militants, and educate their own people about the country’s problems.

The West Should Not Disengage

The targeted attack on Malala Yusufzai should open the eyes of all those who have been looking for ways to avoid fighting these barbarians.

This young girl is the latest casualty in a clash of contrasting visions. Others, notably former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, have been killed for advocating enlightenment against the obscurantism represented by the Taliban and its Islamist allies.

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Muslim Rage Is About Politics, Not Religion

Muslims have good reason to be angry—and it’s not a sophomoric movie trailer on youtube.

Thousands of cellphone subscribers in Pakistan received an anonymous text message recently announcing a miracle: an earthquake on Tuesday, Sept. 18, had destroyed the Washington, D.C. movie theater that was exhibiting Innocence of Muslims, the controversial film that has triggered violent protests in several Muslim countries. An email version of the text message even included a picture of a mangled structure. Allah, the texter claimed, had shown His anger against the movie’s insult to Islam and Prophet Muhammad, and with Him on their side the faithful should not be afraid to vent their anger against the West, which belittles Islam and abuses Islam’s prophet.

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