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Why not at an arm's length?

June 24, 2003 14:02 IST

It may seem absurd and outlandish, but it's a fundamental question nonetheless: 'Why should India at all extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan?'

One argument has been that we can change our friends but not our neighbours. But why must we necessarily be pally with that neighbour? If your next-door neighbour is quarrelsome, has an evil eye on you and your property, and has a pathological allergy for you, you can certainly choose to keep him at an arm's length, can't you?

Indeed, being aloof from their immediate neighbours is the choice of millions in our towns and cities. In no way does that attitude prevent the welfare and happiness of the practitioners of that choice. So why must India believe that peace and friendship with Pakistan is essential for retaining and enhancing India's high international status?

Is the fear of an attack by your neighbour a cause for wanting to be friendly with him? Yes, but that's for cowards and/or for those with a guilt complex of some sort. Now India isn't a coward, is she? Nor does India harbour guilt of any kind -- not vis-à-vis Pakistan nor with the rest of the world. So why must we offer peace and a hand of friendship to a neighbour who, even after we offer him friendship, thinks nothing of insulting us publicly and casting aspersions on our trustworthiness?

Why offer friendship to someone who grabbed part of our property 56 years ago, who not only refuses to part with it but also wants some more of it by threatening us? Either we live with that theft -- as we have done for 56 years now -- or fight by entering his home to reclaim what has legally been ours all along. If, on the other hand, we have assessed that that stolen property is just not worth a bloody fight in recovering it, why not remain indifferent about it all? Why not simply dismiss that loss as an NPA -- the way banks and other financial institutions do -- and go about our lives?

What about the rats and roaches and lizards that your neighbour covertly releases into our property? Well, just go on killing them, developing newer poisons and strategies for trapping them and by being more vigilant. Crushing those insects into Hades and throwing them at your neighbour's doorstep might be a good idea too. But what about those amongst our family who suffer because of those insects? Sad, but can't be helped really, especially if some of them who suffer belong to the disloyal kind who feed sugar and cheese to those insects -- almost like 'serves them right,' you know.

In any case, what's the guarantee that any handshake or agreement with a genetically diseased neighbour is going to be honoured by him? At least his record in keeping his word has been so utterly dismal that even his great guarantor for so long has now refused to counter-guarantee his vow of good behaviour. One Mr Armitage will tell you why.

That great guarantor has, for five years now, believed that our locality has become a fatal 'flashpoint' because of the continuing strain between our neighbour and us. Well, we are the ones, not our neighbour, who has given the word that we shall not be the first to explode, say, a gas cylinder on our quarrelsome neighbour or anyone else in our locality and beyond. And we always keep every word we give to all and sundry -- we are, after all, of an ancient and cultured civilisation. So, if the great guarantor is worried about a fatal 'flashpoint' in our locality, it ought to be his job to discipline our neighbour and not to hustle us, instead, into a handshake with the thief who raided and ran away with our property, aided and abetted by the perverse police system of the world.

Just see the profile of that neighbour of ours, Pakistan.

Although much smaller in size than India, Pakistan's literacy rate is 44 per cent against India's 66 per cent; while 55 per cent of Indian females are literate, that proportion is 32 per cent in Pakistan (http://www.saag.org/paper8/paper710.html) Further, the base of the education system there is frighteningly fundamentalist.

Proof of this accusation lies in the work of historian K K Aziz, who studied, lived and taught outside Pakistan for most of his life. Based on the scrutiny of 66 textbooks used in the schools and colleges of Pakistan by students of classes of 1 to 14, the manuscript of one chapter he wrote for a book was published as a series of 11 lengthy articles in The Frontier Post of Pakistan in April and May 1992. Reacting to those articles, a letter by one Professor M I Haq in that newspaper of May 11, 1992 said, 'The cumulative effect of these shoddy textbooks, as summed up by Mr Aziz, is horrifying and stunning. The inbreeding from these repetitive, incoherent and subjective books compulsorily prescribed in all schools and colleges of the country generates hypocrites, blindfolded zealots, fundamentalists, intriguers, time servers and ignoramuses with the highest degrees.' (Page 258, The Murder of History, Vanguard Books Pvt Ltd, Lahore, 1992, by K K Aziz).

Three years earlier, on April 29, 1992, The Nation, another Pak newspaper, had written, 'It is time our books imparted some knowledge rather than continuously concentrating on indoctrination and creating a hostile world-view among our students.' Would you want your children to be friendly with such children of such a neighbour of yours?

There is no reason to believe that that scenario has changed since 1992. The result can therefore only be an increasingly radical Islamist leadership in all walks of life. Thus, even if they are gifted the Kashmir valley there is no reason to believe that the Pakistani leadership's pathological hatred of predominantly Hindu India will cease until a divine miracle makes those blokes out there re-interpret Islam as a doctrine of 'live and let live.'

Already has Pakistan been given derogatory labels. Below are some pointed out by Arindam Banerji in his saag website paper cited above.

  • 'Pakistan is the most delinquent of nations' -- Bernard Henri-Levy
  • 'Pakistan is a platform for terror' -- Nancy Powell
  • 'A dysfunctional nation or Problemistan' -- Richard Behar of Fortune

Nine months ago, in a feature article based on the contents of some 50 cited references from India, Pakistan, the UK and the US, Narayanan Komerath wrote, 'Reports from diverse sources describe a Pakistan role in most foreign terrorist attacks directed against the United States in the past decade.' Narayanan's article also points out that Pakistani terrorists have been caught in almost every part of the world including UK, US, Spain, France, Algeria, India and Kuwait. The arrest of 34-year-old Iyman Ferris announced by the US authorities is the latest catch.

The America of George W Bush voices a different view of course. Well, then, he is welcome to bear hug Musharraf at Camp David, to give him a dozen or two of F-16s, to tip him an extra billion dollars and write off two billion more of his debts -- all for services rendered to America's so-called war against terrorism. But we know what we know, and the rest of the world knows it too. And perhaps the truth about Pakistan will dawn on the America of Bush and Powell only when the Brooklyn Bridge is blown to bits by Iyman's ilk in Pakistan. Meanwhile, who wants a terrorist as a friendly neighbour?

Then there's Pakistan's political regime --- such as it is. Almost always a military junta that is simply scared of democracy unless it be of the manipulated kind, there is presently the unique reality of an all-powerful president being also being the chief of the army.

Commenting on the recent Lahore high court judgment upholding the perverse brand of 'dual citizenship' enjoyed by Musharraf, the Pakistan People's Party said, 'This ruling accords the dubious distinction to Pakistan as being the first state to declare that democracy and civil rule is the same as military citizenship.' (The Hindu, June 13, 2003). Should we be friendly with such a Jekyll and Hyde neighbour?

Our industry associations believe that peace and friendship with Pakistan will greatly benefit us. Maybe, maybe not. But if the neighbour hasn't reciprocated our Most Favoured Nation treatment we gave it years ago, we shouldn't be begging for its trade when we are, head held high, on the way to become a trillion dollar economy by the end of this decade despite the 'nuclear flashpoint' of the 'Kashmir imbroglio.' The world market is big enough for us without the peanuts from Pakistan's small and struggling economy where the army is perhaps the single biggest entrepreneur.

In short: Why not keep our Western neighbour at arm's length? The 'hello-hello' of mundane diplomatic relations is good enough. Let's just watch Pakistan stew in its own juice. And let's also watch the truth dawn upon America, as it eventually will one day.

Arvind Lavakare