Saurabh Sinha
United Subcontinent? A myth or an agenda for foreign policy …
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

“I don’t think we are just Muslim people , in this same part of land at we were Buddhists , in this same part we were Hindus and in same part we have been Muslims, I associate myself to this land ” says Fouzia Saeed a noted human right activist in a television debate in Pakistan. But why this sudden debate emphasizing on the identity of the people of Pakistan. Well Pakistan is probably going through its lowest moment in the recent history. Fundamentalism, terrorism, religious intolerance is killing Pakistan every passing day. When Bangladesh made a pitch for Aazadi and separated from Pakistan in 1971 the two nation theory was put to rest. People with same religion could not stay as one country just for the sake of religion. As an independent country Bangladesh is today doing better on many fronts than Pakistan and in fact better than India also on few fronts. Whether the two nation theory was flawed or not can be a point of debate and discussion but it has to be noticed that it has failed so miserably when put in practice in Pakistan. However the problems of Pakistan ran deeper than just their belief in two nation theory, it was not just their desire for a separate nation for people following a different religion somewhere the establishment in Pakistan had a deeper hatred for anything and everything which was unfamiliar. So the hatred that started from Hindus, extended to baluchs and then continued to their brothers in Bengal. The result of this belief is a total disconnect of present day Pakistan to their original roots which was Hindu and Indian for a major part of the civilization.

Somewhere Pakistan could not learn to appreciate the fact that they were indeed at the center of the one of the greatest civilization the world has ever seen. They saw that as a Hindu or probably an Indian civilization. While they admired the legends of Gajni or Sikandar seeing them as a fellow Muslim (though Sikandar was not a Muslim) they didn’t realize that these guys had done no welfare to the people living in those parts of the country where they are worshiped today. They in fact looted and plundered those parts of land and that generations must have suffered that pain during those times. It is nothing but a firm belief in this disconnect is the reason I could think of that slowly and steadily the history taught was re-written in Pakistan. What else could explain that the facts were distorted and misrepresented to the extent that today the young generation is so confused about its identity and its roots in Pakistan? The situation has been very well described by a scholar in Pakistan in one of the jokes that’s going around “a child asked his father as what existed before Mohd Bin Kasim came here ? Was it all oceans as he could not imagine anything beyond that and nothing is taught today about the rich past that Pakistan had at some time? So they learn about Akbar but forget about Ashoka, they learn about Sikandar but forget about Indus valley civilization. And it is this disconnect from its identity that has to be resolved if Pakistan has to any time return to the path of growth and progress. The question however is, Is it even possible in anyone’s wild dreams today that Pakistan will be able to resolve these contradictions and look to move ahead?

The End of Road?

While it is true that Pakistan today suffers from one of the worst times in recent era few voices have grown louder criticizing the path of religious fundamentalism and aversion to anything unfamiliar that Pakistan has taken. There is a growing realization in the media and intellectuals in Pakistan that their liberal neighbor India (which they call as Liberal dehshatgardJ) is contributing to the world more than they could do and that it is time that Pakistan own its past and learn to accept the reality as it existed and still be comfortable with their own identity of today. A very strong voice in this regard is of “Hasan Nissar” who has raised his voice against the hijack of the history by the mullahs who have not allowed Pakistan to walk on the path of progress. Many other voices are slowly joining his voice and are raising questions right from the decision to form Pakistan as a separate country, their obsession with Kashmir when they could not hold even Bangladesh and now the unrest in Baluchistan ,the attempt of hardliners to identify themselves with the Arabs when Arabs themselves does not treat Pakistanis equally, role of Pakistan in international terrorism and all that odd uncomfortable questions even on Iqbal and Jinnah many of whom we cannot even discuss in India because then you get branded as a communal force. The media and liberals in Pakistan are today questioning the mullahs and fundamentalists in a way that is unimaginable for anyone to imagine about Pakistan media.

What does all that mean for India?

For a long time poets and writers have imagined the two countries working together to fight the common problems that both the nations face. However my attempt to see them working together is not from rooted in some phantasy I am trying to look at this issue very pragmatically. India for a long time has failed to evolve a proper foreign policy for any of its neighbor and the terrorism from Pakistan has not in any way helped in this situation further. A question arises therefore what should India do at a time when Pakistan in not on the tables to talk and is bogged down by its internal conflicts.

Strengthen the moderate voices

The answer lies in the developments that are taking place in Pakistan. While there is definitely terrorism originating from Pakistan slowly there is also a realization that it is harming Pakistan more than anyone else. And it is this voice in Pakistan that India should work to strengthen so that any kind of peace process can be taken further in future. But then there is a chance that openly strengthening those voices will take away the credibility of those voices. It is here the actual challenge lies and while it is difficult it is not impossible. The West and US has always strengthened voices across the globe that suit there side of story and we may learn a few lessons from them. These voices should also be given a chance to be heard in India also, the general perception of people of both nations across borders need to be changed for the govt’s to make a decision. The moderates there have lessons for minorities here in India also.

People to people contact

Another important point on any foreign policy is that it should not be made without the people of that country becoming a stakeholder in the whole process. Well this point has been discussed a lot but no one really understands how to increase people to people contact without increasing the threat of a Pakistani spy/terrorist on Indian soil. And it is here we need a strong govt in India which can make our boundaries less porous and terrorism not an issue which can be debated from the prism of vote bank politics. A strong and a no non sense govt in India can help achieve an India which can stay isolated from the turmoil of Pakistan and can then achieve more people to people contact by offering opportunities in areas such as education, tourism and technology. It is here where Bangladesh & Sri Lanka can be used to set as an example. An equally good people to people contact program with other subcontinent nations will slowly tell the Pakistanis the benefits of a good relationship with India.

Terrorist attacks

But what happens if after all this we get a Mumbai like attack originating from Pakistani soil. The answer is to reply them back in their own language. Any attempt with Pakistan will soon or later come to this situation. And here we should be very clear strong limited military action around terrorist camps will be the need of the hour and going through it once or twice will set the conditions clearly in everyone’s mind. If Pakistan blames non-state actors for these situation then India should also stop blaming Pakistan and instead set the platform for carrying out action against the non-state actors blaming them fully for the act.

Lessons for India

The meltdown in Pakistan also has few lessons for every Indian. It tell us as what happens when we walk the path of fundamentalism and develop an intolerance to anything contrary to our views. While a proud feeling for one’s religion, culture and country is fine it should not get confused with hatred for others religion and culture. Defeating a contradictory view by argument is the best way to prove your side of the argument, any other way is an unhealthy path which should be avoided in all situations.

The second lesson is for minorities in India. Following the level of debates in Pakistan it made me wonder if Muslim scholars ever had any such kind of debates in India. It is so laudable that an independent media is asking so many uncomfortable questions in Pakistan to the hardliners which are unimaginable in India. Indian minorities have become a class preserved in time which no one is talking a step to move them to a path of progress. It is extremely sad that while at the time of independence we had Muslim leaders like Maulana Azad who were much ahead of their time but today we have a vacuum in Muslim leadership. And that vacuum has been taken up by bigots such as Owasis. While the moderates in Pakistan are asking to identify themselves as humans here all attempts are being made to push people to extremist positions.

It is therefore the duty of all parties and all educated Muslim class that they start the dialog within the community and the govt of the day must give all platforms to give momentum to such a dialog. While Uniform civil codes raises hackles it is extremely important that if not Uniform civil code then there should be at least an attempt within the Muslim personal laws to make reforms which are in sync with the current times. When a segment of population does not reforms itself, it creates an environment sooner or later where any new reforms will be protested in other parts and religions of the country also. We are seeing at an attempt to do this when so called mainstream political parties play with terminologies on the issue of KHAP panchayats. There is no reason to stay in dark ages just because few thousand men in Taliban decided to keep themselves forever in darkness.

United subcontinent

A strong India dealing with a long term vision is the need of the hour. At this moment things are not ripe to take the talks forward but then this is the perfect moment to build a platform on which a relationship of future can be laid. A united subcontinent is not really that big a myth, a free movement of goods and labor in this part of the world can create a market bigger than China or the US. And the solution to Kashmir lies not in making the boundary irrelevant across the Kashmir valley, Kashmir will more or less remain the same, the solution lies in making irrelevant boundary across the subcontinent. A lot more than billion prayers and a lot more than a trillion dollar market is waiting. Hope someone is listening.