Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why are we so obsessed with Pakistan....

I wonder why we in India stay so obsessed with Pakistan. Just look at our newspapers. They are full of stories of Osama and Pakistan’s role in it even 3-4 days after his death. Now I do know that Osama’s killing was probably the biggest event of the year, and globally, it’s getting a lot of coverage. There’s also the very “Hollywoodish” feel of drama around the event. But my feeling is that if it wasn’t this story, there would have been something else about Pakistan that we would have dwelt on for many days at a time. I think we are being “small” by focusing so much time, energy, newsprint and airtime on this country which hardly matters in today’s world.

To be sure, Pakistan can be and is a pain in the butt for India. It keeps engaging us in skirmishes on the border; dragging us into embarrassing Kashmir-related discussions at the UN; dictating terms and timelines of the composite dialogue; and so on and so forth. The truth is that India cannot disengage with Pakistan. It’s a neighbor that we have to learn to live with. We have to keep talking with them. We have to keep our army on the borders. We have to know that they will keep sending terrorists to India. We have to keep fighting the terrorists. Period. There is no reason for us to spend any more time on them. The engagement with them should be “routinized” and left to officials in the External Affairs ministry and the Defense to handle. Once in a while, the political establishment may want to look at what’s going on. Nothing more, nothing less.

In all probability, keeping Pakistan going at India is a Chinese strategy. Much akin to how Coke used Thums Up to fighting Pepsi. In doing so, Coke was trying to reduce Pepsi’s battle to one with a local, domestic brand.....leaving the larger mind-space and market open for itself. Pepsi initially fell into this trap....and expended much time and energy trying to discredit Thums Up. Till it realized that it was best to ignore Thums Up and train its guns squarely on Coke. The day it did that, it got its rightful place in the sun. In the larger scheme of things, a Thums Up did not matter in Pepsi’s life, though it kept irritating it in bits and pieces. In the same way, China has outsourced the job of keeping a check on India to Pakistan. And India has fallen into the trap of battling Pakistan. Leaving the larger world to China to grab.

India loves to focus on Pakistan because it gives it a sense of superiority. Our economy is growing at 9%; theirs at 2.5%. We are a secular democracy. They are an Islamic (and fundamentalist) democracy which every now and then loses itself to dictatorship. We have reserves of $300 billion; they have a pittance etc. We use the comparison to re-assure ourselves that we are much better than them. This is an independence era insecurity which we seem to harboring. It’s a form of sibling rivalry which is alright for Pakistan, but not for India. In today’s world, India doesn’t need to compare itself with Pakistan to feel good. It needs to life itself into the league of other strong and emerging nations like the other BRICS group and the Far East (the Asian Tigers). It may be a not-so-exciting comparison, but it will be more meaningful. It will egg us on to do better.

All of us are paranoid about Pakistan. Most notably our media and our principal opposition, the BJP. For the BJP, it’s a way of proving its nationalistic colors. Every time a chance comes to bash Pakistan, it will do so and try and convert it into an Anti-Congress theme. It will also try and give it a Hindu v/s Muslim angle. Its latest is that India should not engage with Pakistan in talks. The immaturity of the BJP comes out when it makes a statement like this. But then we know the double standards that this party has. Their own PM had led talks with Parvez Musharraf when they were in power......but when the other party is ruling, they change their colors. The media is fascinated for mixed reasons. Times Now and CNN IBN are hawkish because they know that Pak bashing will drum up their TRPs. NDTV in general and Barkha in particular have a warm softness towards Pakistan and love to project themselves as doves in the country. Possibly to create a contrast with its two rivals. All of them end up giving undue importance to Pakistan.

We need to move on. We need to look for a place for ourselves which is adjacent to other more worthy countries. We need to engage with China a lot more. We need to battle China in the trade wars. In the war for resources in Africa. We cannot take on China alone. We need to partner with the US to protect our interests in the battle with China. But partnering the US comes at a we all know. So we need to keep our relationships with other groups open as well. In the past, we used the NAM (Non Aligned Movement) to balance our alignment with Russia. Now we need to align with others (like BRICS)....who are not themselves aligned with the US to balance the US. Keeping relations going with Iran and the rest of the Arab world is to be seen in this context. In the past, Egypt used to be a great it doesn’t even matter!

The real truth is that the Pakistan obsession is a form of escapism for India. It’s reflective of our unwillingness to take on the tougher engagement with other worthy global competitors. We know that if it comes to a crunch, we can trump Pakistan. That’s why we keep focusing on it. We’re wasting the time and opportunity the world has given us to come out into the big league. We must ignore Pakistan....and move on to the bigger things that await us.

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