September 3, 2001


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The travails of God's
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Dancing with the wolves

Rajeev Srinivasan

You want a plebiscite? Okay, let's do a real one, then!

As I wrote this on Independence Day, August 15, 2001, I was thinking how the spectacle of the stillborn Indo-Pak talks in Agra reminded me of the track, Wish you were here, from the Pink Floyd album of the same name.

We're just two lost souls in a yellow fish bowl
Year after year, running over the same old ground.
What have we found? Same old fears.

Without a doubt, running over the same old ground. Finding the same old fears, the men in khaki from Islamabad and the men in dhotis from Delhi.

In particular, I doubt if the Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf wished it otherwise. For he took extra care to sabotage the summit by insisting on unreasonable conditions. He acted as though he seriously expected India to sign an agreement turning over all of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan: the goal of the fundamentalists.

Nothing less would have been satisfactory for Musharraf. He was quite deliberate: he pruned his delegation of all unnecessary members, including his trade, culture and finance ministry colleagues, and limited his delegation to hard-core ideological hawks. He was clearly not interested in talking about the proposed Iranian gas pipeline, or about collaboration in the forthcoming round of WTO talks, or about cross-border terrorism. He merely wanted Kashmir to be turned over to him, pronto!

Musharraf, it appears in hindsight, came handicapped by groupthink: he has begun to believe in the propaganda that he and his fundamentalist colleagues have fashioned. That India is suffering grievously from 'the thousand cuts' his terrorists have been able to deliver. That the Indian army is on the verge of collapse against his terrorists. That public morale is at an all-time low in India. That the economy is in shambles. That the Americans leaned hard on India to come to the negotiating table. That Pakistan, being composed of tough, meat-eating Muslims, would easily walk over the cunning 'vegetarian Hindus' of India, if only Pak politicians didn't cave in. These are all comforting myths, but myths they are indeed.

These mythologies have become so entrenched in Pakistan that it is impossible for them to work with India in a constructive manner. They study an entirely fantastic history -- which ignores 4,000 years of an Indian (yes, Hindu and Buddhist) past before Islam arrived in the area. What they read from the Indian media is Nehruvian Stalinist 'secular' 'progressive' twaddle that leads them to believe that it is only a matter of months before they can fly the green flag of Islam atop Delhi's Red Fort. They still find it hard to digest their comprehensive rout in 1971.

The ugly nature of the summit could have been, and indeed was, predicted by a number of people including me: see my earlier column It's their nature, their custom: Why the Indo-Pak summit is doomed. We are seeing the proverbial irresistible force meeting the immovable object: two nations talking past each other, both steeped in their own grievances.

While I think the Indian side, as usual, did not plan the event properly, I think most of the blame for the failure of the summit should be placed on Pakistan's shoulders. I am quite at a loss to understand why some commentators have said that Musharraf came out the winner and that it was a PR disaster for India. Of course, many of the people who said this are 'secular' 'progressives' who want nothing more than to give Kashmir to Pakistan. As though that would solve anything whatsoever.

Consider, for example, the Pakistanis' behavior. Musharraf insists on meeting with the Hurriyat Conference, despite strong signals from the Indian government. This is against protocol, and should not have been countenanced. A state guest is not expected to meet people that the host doesn't want him to meet, in particular secessionists and enemies of the state.

After all, when Vajpayee went to Lahore, did he meet MQM leaders who are fighting the Pakistani government? When Clinton went to Beijing, did he meet the head of the secessionist Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang or freedom-seeking Tibetans? I think if Vajpayee goes to Pakistan again, he should make it a point of meeting MQM leaders. Two can play at this game.

A proper response from India would have been to threaten to cancel the summit, unless the dictator agreed to follow normal diplomatic decorum. Being limp-wristed, the Indians did not do so. They should definitely have done this after Musharraf's ambush-style breakfast meeting with the forever brain-dead Indian media: this violated normal diplomatic protocol.

Furthermore, consider the great rumpus over what Sushma Swaraj said or did not say. It is true that she didn't mention Kashmir. But what of that? It is like Gandhiji's comment when asked whether he felt awkward meeting the British king while he, Gandhiji, was dressed in no more than a loincloth: 'The king wore enough clothes for both of us put together!' Musharraf and his minions had made more than enough noise about Kashmir to make up for anything Swaraj did not say.

I think that is not the real reason. I think the Pakistanis were offended that a woman would dare do something like this. I have noticed that among Pakistanis, the worst insult is to call another man a woman. The second biggest insult is to call him a Hindu. Therefore to have a Hindu woman in a position of power say something they didn't like was the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of a bull. Women, as far as Pakistanis are concerned, are chattel, mere baby-factories: see Amnesty International's note. Hindu women, of course, are meant to be converted to Islam and made into chattel.

Similarly, consider what happened with Nirupama Rao, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, a senior IFS officer. When she made a statement to the assembled Pakistani media, she was manhandled and jostled and even hit on the shoulder. Once again, how dare a Hindu woman speak to them? Notice that this happened on Indian soil. If the Indian government had any guts, the offending Pakistanis should have been lathi-charged immediately. Assaulting spokespersons is simply not done in civilized society: alas, Pakistanis have trouble understanding that.

For instance, nobody ceremoniously washed the Raj Ghat that had been polluted by the presence of this dictator. How ironic that he came to the resting place of that pacifist par excellence, this dictator who has on his hands the blood of hundreds of Indian soldiers in Kargil! Yet, nobody insulted him there or at the Taj Mahal. But after Vajpayee went to the 'Minar-e-Pakistan' in Lahore, some Muslim fanatics went and washed the 'polluted' place! Such things are only done by barbarians.

That brings up another point, mentioned by Sunanda K Datta-Ray in an excellent comment (thanks to reader Gopi for the pointer) where he quoted widely from Rushdie's Shame. Why on earth did India go to such great lengths to have a big shindig and hoopla in Agra? The summit should have been held with no great ceremony in a drab and business-like atmosphere. This was no visit by a friendly head of state, but a soldier at war with India: we should have met him in Delhi at some military barracks, no tourism and photo-ops please. Remember Clinton's very business-like trip to Islamabad?

In fact, it was a mistake to have this meeting in North India at all. Because a great deal of Pakistani mythology consists of the idea that they, Muslims, were rulers of much of India for some years, and therefore deserve to rule it again. But why stop at the Islamic invasion of Sind? How about the people who lived there before Islam arrived? Namely Hindus/Buddhists/Jains? Why shouldn't they rule themselves? But then, nobody accuses Pakistanis of being logical.

North India is full of reminders of Muslim empires. It would be much better to have Indo-Pak summits in Chennai, with its flourishing Tamil culture that emphatically rejects Urdu-poetry-recitations, or in Bangalore with its glittering high-tech razzmatazz. These are the images these Pakistanis need to take away with them: that Indian culture is far greater than their Urdu-Persian-Arabic monoculture; and that India is fast leaving Pakistan behind in development.

Perhaps they should also be taken to Hampi, the remains of the great city of Vijayanagar, that Muslims burned to the ground, destroying its high urban culture, the area essentially reverting to hand-to-mouth subsistence agriculture. The Pakistanis must be told, 'Never again. Never again shall we allow you to violate our civilization! And this is why.' It is Hampi that is a teardrop on the face of Time, not the Taj Mahal: it should be a place of pilgrimage for all Indians, to shed a tear for the splendors of that Forgotten Empire.

As V S Naipaul said recently in an interview: India has been a wounded civilization because of Islamic violence: Pakistanis know this; indeed they revel in it. It is only Indian Nehruvians like Romila Thapar who pretend that Islamic rule was benevolent. We should face facts: Islamic rule in India was at least as catastrophic as the later Christian rule. The Christians created massive poverty in what was a most prosperous country; the Muslims created a terrorized civilization out of what was the most creative culture that ever existed.

There is nothing wrong in acknowledging obvious truths. Unfortunately, the Marxists who call themselves 'historians' in India (see the cover picture of a hammer-and-sickle ostrich sticking its head in the sand in Arun Shourie's damning Eminent Historians) are past masters at dissimulation. Let me be clear: the objective is not to crucify today's Muslim Indians for the sins of their ancestors, but to gain a strategic understanding of the mind-sets of today's Pakistanis and other enemies of India. It is essential for Indians to understand their tactics, their objectives, and their role-models.

Part II: A Plebiscite for annulling Partition

Rajeev Srinivasan

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