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Home > News > Columnists > Shiv Shankar Menon

Misconceptions about India, Pak abound

April 16, 2007

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I would like to examine why India-Pakistan relations have been so unsatisfactory for so long, and what we might do about them.

While both India and Pakistan feel that India-Pakistan relations are unsatisfactory, each of our societies has its own received wisdom on why they are so. To an outside observer these ideas might appear as self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating myths, or self-fulfilling prophecies.

In Pakistan, for instance, I have heard three kinds of arguments that seek to explain the unsatisfactory nature of our relations.

One might be called the foundation myth. This believes that India wants to undo Partition, is inveterately hostile to Pakistan, and attempts, through hegemonic behaviour, to destroy Pakistan. I am afraid that this argument flies in the face of the reality of the last 60 years and of India's evident self-interest. No political party or responsible or influential person in India wishes to undo Pakistan.

The second argument might be called the national security myth. This argues that the asymmetry in size, power and development between the two countries makes India-Pakistan hostility inevitable. This is a rather strange argument since no two states in the world are evenly matched or identical.

Thirdly, the Kashmir issue is sometimes used to argue that India-Pakistan hostility is inevitable. Kashmir is sometimes even described as the unfinished business of Partition, or as a reflection of a fundamental religious divide between two communities that cannot live together. This is patently false, as over 13 centuries of Islam in the subcontinent prove. It is the mixture of politics in the sphere of religion that has made differences over issues like Kashmir incendiary.

This is not to say that no inaccuracies are purveyed in India about Pakistan.

One of them is that Pakistan has a fundamental identity problem and can therefore only define herself in anti-Indian terms. This is clearly not the case in reality.

The other argument that one hears in India questions the role of Pakistan army, arguing that the Pakistan army needs hostility towards India in order to justify its hold on power in Pakistan. To me this too does not seem a sufficient explanation. The Pakistan army's dominance over Pakistan's internal political space has now lasted for so many years, and is so complete, that it seems no longer to need an external threat to justify its rule.

As in Pakistan, there are also some in India who present India-Pakistan hostility as somehow a reflection of the communalism versus secularism paradigm. As I said before, this ignores the social reality of the subcontinent, the history of religious tolerance.

Real peace is more than an absence of violence. And to be secure, peace must be based on shared interests and common prosperity. Unfortunately, much more remains to be done by Pakistan to curb cross-border terrorism, which continues, despite some fluctuations and variations over time.

Each of us has a tendency to project upon the other our own political experience and attitudes. For instance, I have often heard Pakistani leaders speaking about Indian intelligence agencies in terms of respect and awe that no Indian would use. We need to learn to recognise the differences in our systems and in the way we work, and the effect that this has upon our ability to handle the relationship. Otherwise, these projections become self-perpetuating.

These are excerpts from India's Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon's speech on 'India-Pakistan: Understanding the Conflict Dynamics' at Jamia Millia Islamia on April 11.

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