Monday, October 18, 2004

Pakistan: Watch the movie for the ending.


The comment that intrigued me most came from an imaginative Pakistani reader who compared the India-Pakistan relationship to a bad divorce in which, despite separation, neither of the parties was willing to lead its own life and insisted on knowing what the other was up to. This characterisation literally screamed for a spelling out of the dramatis personae. And going by the other comments received I am inclined to assign the male lead to India and the female lead to Pakistan. In doing that the script gets modified in one essential dimension — contrary to my reader’s depiction, the post-divorce psychological relationship is not symmetric.
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India and Pakistan: politics and psychology
Anjum Altaf

The characterisation of India-Pakistan relations as a bad divorce screamed for a spelling out of the dramatis personae. I am inclined to assign the male lead to India and the female lead to Pakistan. The post-divorce psychological relationship is not symmetric. While the male wants to get on with his new life the South Asian woman sees no future after a divorce

I ended last week (Who Wants Peace? Daily Times, October 10, 2004) with the tentative conclusion that there was no mass support for peace in India or Pakistan. This was based on the lukewarm reception of a recent book (Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan, Strategic Foresight Group, Mumbai, 2004) that should have had much more impact had there been an underlying sentiment for peace for political parties to tap. I mentioned that I would offer an alternative explanation because I felt the conclusion was too facile.

My explanation will have to wait because readers who have sent in long, serious, and passionately felt comments have hijacked this discussion in a more interesting direction. I have pieced together the following analysis using their thoughts and extended it to present a somewhat uncommon perspective on India-Pakistan relations. An uncommon perspective may help unleash the creativity that has been stifled by the straitjacket of the national security paradigm that by now has nothing new to offer.

India-Pakistan relations can be analysed at two levels: the political and the psychological. At the political level, the argument is simple and familiar. A number of readers have claimed that the two states have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and therefore a breakthrough is unlikely unless some dramatic change occurs in either the external environment or the cost-benefit calculus of the key players.

This corresponds to the conflict resolution framework cogently argued by Shaukat Qadir sahib in the columns of this newspaper. And from this institutional perspective it is obvious that those who personalise the conflict and look for breakthroughs stemming from the boldness of one leader or the sincerity of another are missing the point.

However, and this is the useful insight, a political position cannot exist in a vacuum. It cannot be completely out of tune with the underlying psychology of the people. Readers had some novel thoughts on this aspect that resonated with my own quest to understand what lay “at the deepest roots of the emotional being of the Indian and Pakistani voter”.

A Pakistani reader wrote that the fact that voters do not want peace does not mean that they want war — whenever the two countries have been ‘eyeball to eyeball’ the general feeling has been a fear of war breaking out. An Indian reader wrote that the vast majority of Indians would like to ignore Pakistan and would be very happy if there were no dealings at all. Another Indian reader wrote that the urban Indian was uninterested in Pakistan and was indifferent to the nature of the relationship between the two countries as long as the economy continued to grow.

The comment that intrigued me most came from an imaginative Pakistani reader who compared the India-Pakistan relationship to a bad divorce in which, despite separation, neither of the parties was willing to lead its own life and insisted on knowing what the other was up to. This characterisation literally screamed for a spelling out of the dramatis personae. And going by the other comments received I am inclined to assign the male lead to India and the female lead to Pakistan. In doing that the script gets modified in one essential dimension — contrary to my reader’s depiction, the post-divorce psychological relationship is not symmetric.

Here is the synopsis of the Bollywood-Lollywood starrer. The male wants to get on with his new life and is indifferent to the fate of the woman. The South Asian woman, on the other hand, sees no future after a divorce and nurtures a deep bitterness against the former spouse. The last thing she wants is to see him prosperous and happy in a new life; she would prefer to see him suffer even at the cost of her own welfare.

This characterisation helps explain the indifference of the Indian voter and the underlying antagonism of the Pakistani voter. Now add to this the politics. The parents of the woman fear losing control over her if she too finds happiness in a new life; they keep the antagonism alive and reproduce it generation after generation. The parents of the man take advantage of his indifference to do pretty much what suits their interest.

We are in the realm of an imagined reality now but one that is not entirely fantastic. Some aspects of truth resonate in this scenario. And if so, one can see a few of the possible ways in which the story might unfold. It could either drag on, sustained by the illusion of a myriad “new beginnings”. Or, the woman’s family could slip and provoke an unintended conflict that would shatter the indifference on the other side. Or, the man’s family could win its freedom by paying sufficient alimony to break the hold on the woman of her unyielding parents. Or, an outsider could intervene to exacerbate or ameliorate the situation depending on its own interests.

Watch the movie for the ending.

Daily Times 17/10/2004