Irfan Husain —
Published 2 days ago
I SAW a groundhog this morning, scampering across the lawn in St Andrews, New Brunswick, where I’m staying these days. The sight of the shy little animal reminded me of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day.
In the film, TV reporter Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) finds himself in a small town repeating the same actions day after day. Caught in a time loop, only he is aware of the phenomenon while the rest of the town think they are living perfectly normal lives.
The story is a perfect metaphor for India and Pakistan. Every few years, Kashmir erupts into violence; protests are brutally put down by Indian security forces; politicians on both sides make belligerent noises; pious references to UN resolutions are made in Pakistan; Indians remind us about what we are doing in Balochistan; and we forget about Kashmir as soon as the violence abates.
We forget about Kashmir as soon as the violence abates.
Although little has changed on the surface, the tectonic plates below are grinding against each other, and every few years, this pressure is released. But beyond the blood and treasure wasted, the nature and direction of Pakistan and India have shifted in ways that would have pained their founding fathers.
Pakistan was born with a massive identity crisis it still hasn’t resolved. Jinnah had a blueprint for a modern, secular state, but this was shoved aside after his death soon after the birth of Pakistan. The religious right, led by Maududi’s Jamaat-i-Islami, was relentless in pushing the new state towards a theocracy. Weak and divided politicians succumbed to this pressure. And while Ayub Khan’s military government slowed down this slide, reactionary forces took advantage of Bhutto’s political weakness in 1977 to open the door for Zia.
All this while, religious nationalists had been trying to break the links with our South Asian heritage, pretending that we were somehow Arab. This suited Zia’s purposes, and, fuelled by Saudi petrodollars, a rigid, intolerant Wahhabi culture came to dominate the public discourse.
These parallel trends were propelled partly by the conflict with India. To the military establishment and its junior partners in the clergy, defence against a much bigger adversary demanded unity that could only come from faith. But which faith? As we have seen, sectarian conflict has led to mayhem and instability.
India had no such confusion about its identity at its emergence as an independent state. Nehru and his Congress colleagues were clear they wanted a secular state, and this was duly incorporated in the constitution at the very beginning. Socialist ideals also coloured Nehru’s vision for his country.
But over time, the continuing face-off with Pakistan, and specially the religious cloak it now wears, has eroded India’s secularism. Faced with attacks and bellicose religious rhetoric, a growing number of Hindus, led and inspired by the militant Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have taken the country far from Nehru’s dream of a secular, modern and socialist India.
Indeed, so virulent is this Hindutva ideology that people have been killed simply for eating beef. And despite the constitutional protection given to Dalits, they continue to be killed, raped and marginalised with impunity. Although India’s economic progress has been impressive in the last couple of decades, hundreds of millions of Indians remain impoverished and powerless.
Despite the squandered lives, money and opportunities, the contours of a sensible solution have been before us for years. It is obvious that the present Line of Control is something that all parties to the dispute will have to accept sooner or later. India needs to grant Kashmiris greater autonomy, while Pakistan has to give up its dream of seizing the valley.
And before readers quote me UN resolutions, let me just say that in 1948, the Security Council made a referendum contextual to the withdrawal of Pakistani forces from Kashmir, followed by a “thinning” of Indian troops. India at that time claimed that since Pakistan did not pull out its army, so the deal was off.
In any case, the choice for Kashmiris was limited to choosing between accession to India or Pakistan. Independence was not an option, and to this day, Pakistan has clung to this narrow choice. So when young Kashmiris demonstrate, fight and die for azadi, this is not something Pakistan supports.
It used to be a truism to say that the Pakistan military needed to keep the Kashmir conflict alive to justify its bloated budget, and its grip on political power. This might have been a motive earlier, but with the ongoing war against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, as well as the internal security role it has assumed, the army no longer needs Kashmir to get a disproportionate share of national resources. Which civilian ruler today would deny the generals what they want?
For its part, the Indian establishment has consistently blocked peace efforts initiated by Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf. And so here we are in a time loop on Groundhog Day.