The creation of Pakistan was not a decision by the majority, said Hussain Haqqani via video, while Shashi Tharoor commented on border conflicts, TCA Raghavan on the importance of engagement, Neeraj Kumar on the ISI and Hindol Sengupta on losing friends to Pak violence. Taslima Nasrin talked about her traumatic memory from the 1971 war, which she faced at the age of nine on Day 3 at Penguin’s Spring Fever festival in New Delhi.
Day 3 of Spring Fever was packed not only in terms of audience but also in the sense of anticipation for the much talked about session, Pakistan is in the eye of the beholder. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, public intellectual and writer, TCA Raghavan—retired IFS and his last posting was in Pakistan as the High Commissioner, Hindol Sengupta- author of Being Hindu, Neeraj Kumar—former Commissioner of Police and author of Dial D for Don, and a surprise for all, Taslima Nasrin—an award winning writer, women and human rights activist, and author of Lajja and later this year, she will be releasing the 7th part of her autobiography titled Exile. Moderating the session was Rishi Suri, editor at the largest and oldest Urdu daily, ‘Daily Milap.’
Hussain Haqqani couldn’t be present at the session because he applied for the visa late and didn’t get it in time as it takes “very long for a Pakistani to get an Indian visa,” he said in the video that was played. Haqqani, even though miles away, made sure that his perspective wasn’t absent from the session whose name is correct that any country is in the eye of the beholder.
Pakistan is a new country, Haqqani said, and didn’t exist before being created by the British. It was not a decision by the majority, not even that of Muslims, as only 15% voted for the Muslim League. The reality, he said, is that at this time, only 6-7% Pakistanis in the country are old enough to remember the partition.
Pakistan’s militarism is a result of the difficult relationship between India and Pakistan. Mosque and Military have shaped the idea of Pakistan. The country is young, 100 million are below the age of 22 and are young and talented people whose potential is yet to unleash. It is important to come to terms for Pakistan that progress is important and that modus operandi with India is important. People of Pakistan are like that of any other country; young and talented. It is up to the world to see Pakistan as that of poets, of artists, of small and battled liberals, of landed aristocracy or that of an establishment. People of Pakistan need to understand that the criticism of the policy are not questioning the right of the people of Pakistan to live in peace. Pakistan needs to recognize its own diversity and also focus on the friendly relationship between India and Pakistan and that it shouldn’t live by the slogan, ‘Pakistan in Danger’ – it should ensure close ties with whom it has shared land historically.
Shashi Tharoor continued the conversation and said that he beholds Pakistan with a heart of dove but a mind of a hawk. He said that the core issue with Pakistan is not Kashmir but the nature of the Pakistan state. Paraphrasing Voltaire, he said that Pakistan army has a state, not otherwise. “You join the army to run the country,” he added. He went on to say that the military is involved in everything in Pakistan – from petrol pumps, exports and imports to universities- Pakistani army has the highest portion in the country’s GDP. This is justified by conflicts on borders. Wherever India has tried to make peace, that has been reciprocated with an attack. “There is nothing we want from Pakistan but peace,” Tharoor said but they seem to want Kashmir and they will continue to do so. But Tharoor also gave suggestions to develop better relationship between the citizens of the country. He suggested that we need to be unilaterally generous about visas.
“I’m yet to meet a Pakistani who doesn’t fall in love with India when they visit,” said Shashi Tharoor, adding that people-to-people contact has to increase.
He also suggested that trade between the two countries should open up – even with military owned companies. “Permanent hostility is a mood, not policy.” He also said that we should play more cricket with them.
TCA Raghavan said that we underestimate Pakistan, which is a country where people have a strong sense of themselves and change will come about from how they imagine their future. But it is important that we remain engaged with Pakistan. Many of the issues we face today with Pakistan are contemporary, than from 1947. It began from the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the setback to democracy at the time of the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Pakistan itself has suffered one of the most traumatic times during 2007-14. They lost their most enigmatic leader and so on. Pakistan needs to reassess foreign policies, even though the internal discussions can be influenced. Internet is a great enabler, and even though things are changing at speed of a glacier, we need to deflate our sense of capacity. We should go ahead with the suggestions that the panel discussed, but Pakistan also needs to do it from within. Just talking won’t solve anything in Pakistan; it has to reduce the role of army on its own.
Taslima Nasrin talked about her traumatic memory from the 1971 war where the Pakistan Army looted her own house and tortured her father in the courtyard, and she faced all this at the tender age of 9. She feared being taken away by the army to their camp and being raped like the other 200,000 women of her country. And since, she has always grown up with a fear of Pakistani people but in the many conferences she has attended around the world, she has met Pakistanis like her and they are trying really hard to make Pakistan a better place. If you base a country on religion, it will become fundamentalist. Pakistan is not a true democracy in that sense.
Taslima mentioned that since the 80s, Bangladesh has become more like Pakistan. Bloggers are being killed and government is not taking any action. 1971 has proved that Muslim immunity is a myth, that the two-nation theory is wrong.
“I hope that nationalists and enlightened people in Pakistan try to make it a better country.” Nasrin also said that no law based on religion can ever offer equality, on being asked about gender parity and identity. “All religions are against women, and for gender parity, we need to remove religious laws.”
Neeraj Kumar brought to the panel the policeman’s perspective who has investigated several cases where the origin of the trouble was in Pakistan’s soil, whether it was the role of ISI or the establishment in the 1993 blasts, or the attack on the Indian parliament. He said that there has been a pattern, a running thread between all these attacks, which is the ultimate goal behind them, to make India bleed from a thousand wounds.
Pakistani intelligence agencies have a clear-cut goal and India has always been on a reacting end, said Neeraj Kumar. They will strike when peaceful dialogue is on; they don’t want good citizen to citizen relationship between the two countries. He hoped for a better relationship and mentioned that Tharoor’s approach of a soft power is correct to increase interaction.
“They have outstanding serials, especially serials on Zindagi channel that my wife watches,” he said on a lighter note. Rishi aptly added, “We can do with more Fawad Khans.”
Hindol Sengupta, the youngest on the panel and also one of the few journalists who has been to Pakistan half a dozen times, added that he sees his friends in Pakistan as different from the state that is Pakistan. He also notes that the mood about Pakistan changes as one goes south from Delhi and further. He says is not a part of Aman ki Asha and recognizes the slippery slope between Aman Ki Asha and Aman ka Nasha. He says that peace is important but at what price? Sengupta mentioned the friends that he has lost to the violence in Pakistan—like Saveen Mahmood, Salman Taseer—and has learnt a lesson from these untimely deaths. He also mentioned that Pakistan has a rare hope today, quoting an author, referring to the national holidays for all religions in Pakistan. His point being that there is a need to engage with Pakistan, but we should not forget where the line lies. “We must have peace but never lose the ability to do to them what they to do us,” he concluded. On being asked about Kashmir, Hindol also pointed out that there are vested interests there and that mainstream media does not show the full truth. He brought to light that J&K Bank is a Fortune500 company that media doesn’t talk about. J&K is seeing the resurgence of normalcy and grassroot-level entrepreneurship. He also showed his dislike towards the special Armed Forces Act and emphasized on seeing a situation holistically.