In Flourishing India, An Old Obsession With Pakistan
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Photo by Narinder Nanu / Getty Images
No one knows exactly how many people died in the communal bloodletting that followed the partition of India in 1947. Estimates say it was more than 1 million.
Santosh Madhok, 81, remembers the hurried departure of the bankrupt British as they folded up their empire. She remembers a multitude of Asians on the move — Hindus and Sikhs fleeing the newly created nation of Pakistan, and Muslims trudging across the landscape in the other direction.
She and her family, who are Hindus, fled to India from the city of Multan, now in Pakistan.
After crossing the newly created border, they traveled by train to New Delhi, India's capital. The usual seven-hour train ride took four days because the tracks were littered with dead bodies, and gunfire erupted outside the train windows.
"Every other person was so sad, crying, the children; and the trains were full," she recalls.
Since then, India and Pakistan have fought three wars. Both countries have built nuclear arsenals. And they have become locked in a relationship rooted in rivalry and suspicion.
Obsessing On Pakistan
"I actually feel we give too much time in our minds to Pakistan," says Rahul Gandhi of India's ruling Congress Party. He thinks it's time for attitudes to change.
His mother, Sonia Gandhi, is the party's president. His grandmother was former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the assassinated daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister.
Rahul Gandhi, who many observers believe will one day lead India, would like to see his nation spending much less time obsessing about Pakistan.
"We are now becoming a serious international player. Pakistan is a very small piece of our worldview," he says.
Many analysts believe India's biggest foreign policy challenge these days is its rivalry with China.
But changing attitudes about Pakistan isn't going to be easy. The subject dominates India's news media, which often makes no attempt to disguise its bias. A recent television newscast used the phrase "most preposterous" to describe a position espoused by Pakistan's interior minister.
"It's hysterical. It's absolutely, totally unprofessional," says Seema Mustafa, editor of India's Covert magazine. "I think the television channels have actually forgotten they are journalists, and they've become advocates for war."
She says the relationship between India and Pakistan is a paradox. "At the individual level, it turns into a whole level of camaraderie. And at the political level, it is akin to hate," Mustafa says.
Indians who take a hard-line stance on Pakistan sometimes display a strangely contradictory view of that country, Mustafa says.
"People who have been sort of going hammer and tongs about nuking Pakistan — of taking your army across and finishing that country — are people I have seen visit Islamabad and be even friendlier with the Pakistanis. And the families all start visiting each other, big gifts are taken. Then after that, they come back and say the same thing," Mustafa says.
Peace Process On Hold
In 2004, India and Pakistan started a peace process, and opened up some trade and transport routes. They came close to a framework agreement over Kashmir, the disputed territory at the heart of their dispute.
But it lost momentum when then-Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf ran into political trouble at home.
Then, last November, a team of militants sailed in from Pakistan and attacked India's commercial capital, Mumbai. After nearly three days of sieges and gunfights, they had killed more than 160 people.
Gopalapuram Parthasarathy, a former Indian senior diplomat who served in Pakistan, says the Mumbai attacks were a turning point.
"Deep down, there is a sense within the country that we can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan until they act decisively against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, and more importantly close down what we call the infrastructure of terrorism," Parthasarathy says.
A few days after the Mumbai attack, thousands of Indians took to the streets to protest.
Prahlad Kakkar, a leading advertising executive in Mumbai, was among them. Kakkar says the crowd was angrier with India's politicians, for failing to protect the country, than with Pakistan.
He still feels that way. "We should look within ourselves to see what the problems are, not look at Islamabad. Islamabad is not a superpower," Kakkar says.
But Kakkar believes Indian attitudes toward Pakistan have since hardened.
"Today, I don't think there's any sympathy for Pakistan in India, whether it's among the Hindus or the Muslims, to be very honest. Because they are so alarmed by what's happening in Pakistan. They just see the state sliding into chaos," Kakkar says.
After the Mumbai attacks, India's government froze the peace negotiations, officially known as "the composite dialogue."
Terrorism And Regional Alliances
India has since signaled its willingness for the dialogue to resume, but only if Pakistan takes effective action against the Mumbai attackers and other militant organizations on Pakistani soil.
Parthasarathy says Pakistan's current campaign to root out the Taliban is not enough.
"The Pakistan military has targeted only those radical Islamic groups which have challenged the writ of the state, but are still retaining as their own instruments groups that are targeting Afghanistan or India," he says.
Afghanistan is a big source of friction. India is spending more than $1 billon a year there, much of it on infrastructure projects.
That alarms Pakistan, which fears that India is extending its influence to its western border.
Meanwhile, India has accused Pakistani intelligence of a role in one of two deadly attacks on its embassy there.
Some in India are opposed to renewing peace talks with Pakistan on any terms.
"The composite dialogue has no potential for resolving these problems," says Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
"Any of the problems between India and Pakistan can only be resolved by an alteration of the equation of power between the two countries. It is power politics that will decide these things. Nothing on the table can be negotiated," Sahni says.
More than 60 years after partition, India and Pakistan are still struggling to find a way to live peacefully side by side.
Santosh Madhok is still haunted by the memory of her terrible train journey. But she believes the time has come for India to look to the future, not the past.
"Well, it's better to forget, because one can do nothing about it now," she says. "So it is better to forget and forgive."
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