Similarities and influences with Pakistan

Indian regional languages distribution

The 10th Anniversary of 9/11 came and went and everyone has on their minds the big question of terrorism. India is no stranger to terrorism, though we started calling it so mostly post 9/11. Till then, blasts were blasts and the perpetrators were militants. Then, we found a parallel with what we suffered in what the world was willing to fight – terrorism. I suspect part of our wide adoption of the word terrorism lies in the validation we felt in our suffering at the hands of covert elements and the blind eye the world turned to it till. There is an aura of “we have suffered this exact thing for a long time”.

India’s disbelief that Pakistan could sponsor terrorists and become an ally in fighting them is also reasonably vindicated in the decade that followed. How we experienced Pakistan is largely understood by the world now, and we are able to make more obvious overtures for reconciliation now that the overtures don’t mean denial.

On another note, I want to look at the effect of radicalization and extremism in Pakistan on India. What the radicalization did to Pakistan is evident. Less evident is how it led to subtle radicalization in India. If the majority religion in Pakistan is Islam, the majority in India are Hindus.

While the overt influence that we see in Pakistan – officially changing narratives in history books, encouraging calls to arms in the name of religion etc are missing in India, the outrage over the Pakistani attitude has led to several less visible thoughts along the same lines. Visibly they may be in direct opposition, but they follow the same way of thought.

This is natural. This is automatic. If I say apple, you may say orange or red or fruit, but it is unlikely you will say desert or something totally unrelated. That is a process of coherent response. Our response is relevant to the stimulus if it is to be rational. If we don’t like, we may do or say the opposite, but we play the same game unless we make conscious choices to disengage. We validate a dysfunctional premise of mistaken actions by countering actions.

Some ways I see it playing out here:

  • Focus on Muslims as potential terrorist agents. While it is true that covert agendas have tried to recruit Muslims, we play the same game when we investigate Muslims, or we defend them – both. If we don’t agree with military alliances in the name of religion, we need to stop thinking from a religious perspective or at the very least narrrow the scope so much that we avoid that same broad match. Frankly, while it may be useful for terrorists to recruit in the name of religion, it is more difficult to investigate people based on religion rather than suspicious behaviour, because while influence can be exerted at a religious place, monitoring will have to happen in the wild.
  • Carte blanche to agents with “our” agenda. Terrorists summarily execute people who don’t fit in with their agendas. To counter terrorists, we created anti-terror squads with similar carte blanche or made laws like the AFSPA. Both were difficult to control for a fundamental similarity – a belief that a certain kind of “good” people will kill only “bad” people – without the recognition of those people as individuals with their own ideas of loyalty, integrity or even who was wrong. Pakistan did it on a massive scale and has almost lost the country to them, India did it on a more cautious scale (also as a retaliation rather than initiative) and suffered fake encounters and police brutality overall. Both these plagues are difficult to control. Both these plagues continue on an assumption that they are “necessary”. Terrorists are necessary for Pakistan’s “strategic depth”, and our extra legal powers of killing them are necessary for our “security”.
  • The “good” protector guys. Atrocities by a certain kind of people getting a blind eye. These are usually the custodians of the “National Agenda”. Their actions are immune from punishment because of one of three reasons. First – they “protect” against the bogeyman. If the bogeyman for the Pakistan Army is India, the bogeyman for the Indian Armed forces is terrorists. Because these guys “protect” the country, they cannot be called to account. Second – they are too powerful. It is an open secret that people can’t do a damn thing against the Pakistan Army. India has a veneer of civilian control over Armed Forces – at least on a policy and decision making and salaries level. But the ground reality is untested. The control may exist, it may get thrown off – we tread carefully and avoid confrontations. The local public on the other hand has a healthy fear of their protectors and their potential to destroy their well being – and not just in areas with insurgency. Many wrongs by Armed Forces go unchallenged because they are fighting terrorists. Third – the voice of the majority and extra-curricular pressure. Challenging these protectors will quickly get one dubbed anti-national, targetted for verbal victimization, etc by a large number of people who believe in their heroism.
  • The role of the Army. Here there are opposite extremes. The Pakistan Army and ISI pretty much rule the country. They have thrown over governments, they have directly vetoed government statements… the works. The Indian Army on the other hand is firmly under the civilian thumb – at least on an official level. It got neglected for several years in terms of weapons upgrades, it is very low key in terms of a National presence, even top generals will rarely communicate to the media (and thus the public) directly about anything on policy or decisions. The few times they do, it is a big sensation and very marked deviation. The smallest disagreement, even if it isn’t a conclusive refusal hits news instantly and reinforcing news articles will hit about the hierarchy in India. One would think that there is no similarity. But there is. There is a very serious fundamental similarity – the assumption that the Armed forces are a threat to the country’s autonomy in India is similar to the reality in Pakistan – but it actually has no factual basis in India. The understanding of the nature of Armies seems to be influenced. They either take over, or they need to be kept severely in check. This is in spite of the fact that our Armed Forces have showed no actual inclination to do any such thing and in fact seem in agreement with the power distribution. This is in spite of the fact that lower attention to needs of the forces will be counterproductive to national interest. This is a largely unconscious thing, but the manifestations are visible. It is also interesting to note how the stronger the presence of the Army in National decision making became in Pakistan, the more low key it became in India.
  • Other similarities are obvious – religious extremism on the rise. Majoritarian justifications of injustices against minorities, and a strong opposition to minority supporting initiatives. This domination of national space on the basis of religion may have been more visible during the times of communal conflicts, but it is actually stronger now. It looks peaceful because there is no need to fight. There IS no fight for the most time. A fight needs a strong opposing force to exist in order to happen. The riots were hideous, but that force was at least present. Now, while a large number of minorities are reconciled to the National vision, the few that are not are small, explosive pockets with no ability to overtly take on the majority. Pakistan is far ahead of us on this road, and the extremists are actually in a war with the state for running it over entirely.
  • Both countries live under the illusion that extremists are a minority. In fact, extremism is on the rise in both. It is less visible in India, because there is a diversity of extremists, but make no mistake, there are actually very, very few people who are tolerant in both countries. Even liberals are what can only be described as “extremist fundamentalist liberals” who have extremist fundamentalist prejudices about non-liberals – paradoxical as it seems. Most of the people have concrete alliances of beliefs they have made and there is little space for tolerance or negotiation. This is risky for both countries. More visibly for Pakistan, but India has more to lose.
  • There are victims who are known victims who rarely get any assistance or acknowledgment – be it tribals or Kashmiris or people in the north east, or the Baloch or Pashtuns or Pok Kashmiris.

This may seem like a strange article, because it speaks of none of the obvious differences, or visible factors. What I am trying to do here is bring up the dynamics in the society and the processes influencing our thoughts.

There are many common patterns that trigger parallel versions across the border. We are born of one region. These Jekyll and Hyde games both countries play only help to blur the picture in unhelpful ways.

So what can be done? Responding rather than reacting. If we don’t like something, there is no need to react to it no matter what the provocation. Some think that reacting to provocation is needed as a show of strength or whatever, but there is no strength in dancing to another’s tune. We can explore all the options we have and choose ones that will be most useful rather than doing tit-for-tats like an unending game of table tennis.

Even better, if we can really understand how these influences work, we can use them to initiate transformation. Borders are for lands, not thoughts. If we can understand how our actions invoke relevant responses, we can invite change through what we do. Some very different patterns for interaction with Pakistan that disengage from previous dysfunctional patterns are described in “Hold your missiles“. There can be more. There can be others.

More importantly, we can initiate transformations within the country to disengage from compulsive extremism and dysfunctional mistrusts. While I don’t think these are some kind of Pakistani copyrighted rule, learning to avoid reactive behavior will help tone down a lot of reactive anger as well. We can deal with more transparency and tolerance.

I do think it will take dedicated minds to lead this change. Ideally social scientists, but politicians, media, civil leaders or any influences with high EQ could work too.

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