Atal Bihari Vajpayee was keen on establishing a rapport with Pakistan which would be better than the usual quarrelsome relationship that India had with it. He began this process when he was Foreign Minister and continued when he became Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh was passionate about settling all differences with Pakistan in as amiable fashion as possible. Indeed, he took considerable risks with his parliamentary colleagues in the way he did his diplomacy at Sharm-el-Sheikh and later.
The result of the effort of these 15 years is hard to see. No doubt we have better a trade relationship, but annoyances like the most recent LoC incursions and total denial of 26/11 involvement by Pakistan continue to irk. Even during Vajpayee’s tenure, Kargil was a rude shock from which India recovered thanks only to some immensely brave fighting by the jawans.
Why does this pattern of reconciliation punctured by violent incidents continue in India’s relations with Pakistan? Is it just a normal pattern of the younger brother always cocking a snook at the older brother and getting away with it because older brothers have to display forbearance? Is there no end to this schizophrenic behaviour pattern in sight?
The answer has to be no. It is difficult for Indians to realise the deep sense of inferiority and consequent resentment that Pakistanis feel about their larger neighbour. I learned this when, during a month-long stay in Islamabad, the inevitable second question everyone in Pakistan asked me was, ‘Why don’t you give up Kashmir?’ My feeble answer was that I had a UK passport and even otherwise, countries do not give up what they think is legitimately theirs. I did not thereby stop the argument. Each of my interlocutors went on with a litany of complaints about how unjust the international system was to allow the Kashmir question to remain unsettled, about India’s moral hypocrisy etc. I had a distinct feeling that Pakistanis felt their country was incomplete without Kashmir.
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All this was 15 years ago. Since then, the growth of the Islamist movement has exposed the central weakness of Pakistan as a nation. It was set up as a home for Muslims; not all Muslims of the pre-1947 India, but a sizable minority. It was, however, not built as an Islamic nation as such. Jinnah had no time for such gestures. Nationalism in his view was about a people, not about a religion. Off and on, attempts were made by various dictators to lurch in the Islamic direction, but without much conviction. The elite in Pakistan wears its religion lightly while sipping whiskies.
But now, there is a groundswell which is Islamist and represents the downtrodden people alienated from the elite. The politicisation of Islam into Islamism was bound to unsettle Pakistan sooner or later. As it is, the state is ambivalent about Islamist movements; in favour if directed abroad towards India or Afghanistan but unhappy as well as unable to control it at home. Even so, the various jihadist movements are not interested in overthrowing the ruling elite as it allows them to use the State as and when they need its help. Occasionally, the elite loses patience as Musharraf did with the Red Mosque, but an uneasy truce has been there otherwise.
Just as Bollywood cannot resist bad remakes of trashy Hollywood movies, Pakistan seems to be staging a parody of Indian political movements. Tahir ul-Qadri is staging what looks like a bad remake of the Anna Hazare movement. But PPP is more fragile than UPA. The Supreme Court is on its own trip in ordering the arrest of a Prime Minister who is accused of some corruption but not convicted of it. The government is nervously awaiting a miraculous completion of its full five-year term, which looks unlikely now. Qadri has brought the government to its knees, which is ominous for Pakistan’s future. If and when new elections happen, any outcome can only be fragile
India has to learn to live with a naughty younger brother who will never behave himself but also never be a serious threat.