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The Muslims of India and Pakistan- two different peoples
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

The discussion was supposed to be enlightened and intelligent. A well-known Pakistani academic who has been desperately trying to make a career out of his opposition to Pakistan's nuclear programme was the guest speaker. He came not only well-prepared but also well-armed, with a documentary produced by him to manifest the appalling plight of poor Pakistanis who can't have enough resource allocation to poverty alleviation because the military budget must have priority above all else.

The question-answer session that followed his discourse nailed him down on his thesis that Pakistan didn't need to emulate India in traversing down the nuclear road. He was vehemently ridiculed for espousing such a 'brazen' line of thinking. Most pooh-poohed him for suggesting that Pakistan's security had not been increased, in real terms, by the 'bomb.' Some suggested he was trying to brainwash the Pakistanis on behalf of the Indians; some outrightly denounced him for being the devil's advocate. India came in for scathing denunciation for coveting to dismember Pakistan yet again, after its alleged complicity in midwifing the birth of Bangladesh from the womb of Pakistan in 1971, in order to fulfill its dream of 'akhand Bharat.' The poor academic, apparently non-plused by the hostility of his audience, was cut to a sorry figure.

This incident in a western capital, in the select company of creme de la creme of the local Pakistani intelligentsia may well have been an isolated case. However, those who know the Pakistani mind and persona would look at it as fitting into a pattern-one that has been evolving inexorably in Pakistan over the last four decades since Pakistan first slipped into the all-enveloping darkness of military rule in 1958.

The problem with the Pakistani mind is that in 54 years of being citizens of a sovereign and independent state , the Pakistanis have never been able to develop a sense of nationalism essential for the evolution of a national psyche and persona. They were in that nascent stage of evolving a concept of belonging to a centre-a defining centre-with an erratic flirtation with democracy when their effort was nipped in infancy by the boots of the military. That hemorrhaged the growth of the Pakistani persona, because its life- supporting system of democracy was quickly snuffed out by hectoring military rulers. In order to make their choke-hold on the people of Pakistan impregnable, and their undemocratic rule beyond challenge, alternative slogans to democracy had to be coined and given currency. Islam came in very handy for this purpose; it was a prescription that couldn't fail. Therefore, the idea of Islamic internationalism being the defining face of a Pakistani was baptized under official patronage. It was argued that since Pakistan had been carved out of India in the name of religion therefore there was no alternative to giving the Pakistani an Islamic complexion and make-over. A supra-national commitment to the ideal of a yet undefinable 'pan-Islamism' was vigorously peddled. Nationalism was consigned to the category of alien-non-Islamic-ideologies fostered by powers hostile to Muslims for the promotion of their own 'heathen' ideals. It was declared incompatible with the larger vision of belonging to one pan-Islamic community-the 'Ummah' in popular parlance. .

Concomitant to that, any feeling of belonging to the larger South Asian or Sub-continental milieu had to be suppressed. Pseudo-intellectuals, in the service of undemocratic rulers, were let loose upon largely ignorant and unlettered masses to exhort to them that South Asian culture was largely Hindu and , as such, did not belong to the Islamic culture which should be germane to Pakistan. For that reason, Urdu language was given a short shrift by the ruling elite because its roots were south Asian, too. In the name of being a Muslim first, and a Pakistani only secondarily and accidentally, Pakistani people were extolled to wean their cultural qibla away from their South Asian roots and veer it towards the Islamic world. None, however, bothered to define what exactly was an Islamic culture and how could it be imbibed by awe-struck Pakistani masses nurtured on vacuous propaganda of Islam being their sole identity.

The paranoia to purge the legacy of a thousand years of belonging to South Asia, culturally and emotionally, spawned two conflicting and divergent trends. One was the extra-territorial and supra-national strand of pan-Islamism, gravitating toward an imaginary centre, and the other was the inward-pulling and parochial sentiment of provincialism, in which there was no place for those who didn't belong to the land mass of Pakistan by linguistic affinity. This officially-sponsored chaos could only result in quickly eroding whatever tenuous fabric of attachment to one Pakistan had been spun during the first ten years of a democratic Pakistan. East Pakistan, arguably more democratic and secular than the rest of Pakistan, was the first to spin out of control and go its separate way. India had to be blamed for it in order to cover the inherent irrationality of the undemocratic and inane political culture that the military rulers had ordained for Pakistan.

The spectre of a blood-thirsty 'enemy,' India, thirsting to do more damage to Pakistan, and undo it completely, was found politically essential as an underpinning to the order fostered by the military in cahoots with the religious orthodoxy. The unresolved dispute on Kashmir only aggravated the myth that India had not, ever, reconciled itself to the idea of an independent Pakistan and would swallow it given half a chance.

That is the mould in which the Pakistani psyche seems to have frozen over the past decades. Even the most intelligent and well-informed academic discussion can quickly generate a lot of hot air, and get bogged down, the moment it enters the red- zone of India's 'perceived intentions' and 'designs' against Pakistan.

The odd man out, for the Pakistani, in this India-Pakistan stereotype has always been the Indian Muslim. Up until the debacle in East Pakistan, and the rise of Punjabi parochialism in the left-over Pakistan, there was almost a universal consensus in the Pakistani minds that the Indian Muslim, en bloc, was, in his heart, with Pakistan. The most mundane and commonly cited argument in support of this claim was the Indian Muslim's sentimental attachment to the Pakistan Cricket team's exploits against India. It was said that the Indian Muslims rooted for their Pakistan Cricket heroes because their hearts were glued to Pakistan. Irrespective of whether this sentiment was overblown or exaggerated, the Indian Muslim was perceived as oppressed in a Hindu-dominated India. That the Indian Muslim still rooted for the Pakistani players was regarded as an act of defiance by him to the majority's oppression.

But more than any other thing, the Indian Muslim's perceived sentimentality for Pakistan was seen as vindication of the concept of Pakistan. The destiny of Muslims of India, whether in Pakistan or in India itself, was separate from that of Hindus', so went the argument across much of Pakistan. Therefore, it was gratifying to the Pakistani to be smug in his belief that even though the Indian Muslim toiled it out in the ` inhospitable` environs of India, his heart pulsated in rhythm with Pakistan.

The sundering of united Pakistan, and the birth of Bangladesh, changed all that. It must have convinced the Indian Muslim, if there was ever a lingering hope in him about Pakistan being the promised land, of the fatuity of his dream. But the after-effects of Bangladesh had had a far more profound effect on the Pakistani psyche. It drove the last nail into the coffin of Pakistani nationalism, if ever such a thing was taken seriously in the realm of Pakistan. The void caused was quickly filled with the unleashing of two potentially destructive forces: the rise of Punjabi chauvinism anchored in an inveterate hatred of India (which was instantly held responsible for the demise of united Pakistan.) and the ascendancy of Islamic fundamentalism. A Pakistani layman, unaware of all the political intrigues and machinations of its lusting politicians and Bonaprtist generals that had foreshadowed the truncation of the country, accepted as gospel truth the exhortations from pulpits of mosques and public platforms that Pakistan's survival and security could only be ensured by an unswerving commitment to religious orthodoxy. Painting of India as an irreconcilable enemy was central to this strategy. Pakistan's political-religious - social epicentre had to be veered westward, towards Arabia and beyond, and turned completely away from South Asia-its natural and historical bastion. A militant militarism was essential to cushion it. The rise of Ziaul Haq, who mentally belonged to the Middle Ages, and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets made Pakistan's anti-South Asia tilt irreversible. The rest, as they say, is history.

The vastly different political and cultural experiences of the Pakistanis and the Muslims of India over the past five decades-and especially in the last thirty years-have, no doubt, shaped two very different personas despite their historically belonging to the same faith.

Pakistan has been consumed , in the last quarter century, by a religious fundamentalism which is completely alien to the Muslims of India. To a Pakistani weaned on a destructive jehadi militancy now considered archetypal of the Pakistani Muslim, the Indian Muslim is soft because he has been 'contaminated' by close interaction with the 'heathen' Hindu. To the Pakistani hard core jehadi, Indian Muslims have become too nationalistic and India-centred, as against the Pakistani archetypal of a Muslim fundamentalist first and foremost, and a Pakistani merely by accident of geography. No wonder these jehadis have taken up the lion's share in waging the 'jehad` in Kashmir, and largely sidelined the native Kashmiri fighters, because they don't trust the locals to be fired by the 'genuine' spirit of waging a 'holy war,' something that they regard as divinely ordained for them.

The chasm in the inner complexion of their personalities is widening by the day between the Pakistanis and the Muslims of India, as it should, because of their diametrically different experiences. The Indian Muslim has been tethered, for all these five decades, to the concept of democracy and secularism in its fullest sense. The Pakistani, by contrast, has been raised on militarism which sees democracy as an aberration at best. Even Cricket has ceased to be the glue holding the two disjointed peoples together. One would often hear a Pakistani expressing disgust that Sachin Tendulkar is a hero as much to an Indian Muslim as to an Indian Hindu. The Pakistani mind, dulled in its senses due to a relentless barrage of religious sermons castigating nationalism for being hostile to Islam, cannot simply understand, much less appreciate, that a shared democratic and secular experience cuts across religious divide as much as any.

The Indian Muslim, to his abiding credit, did not see salvation or survival for himself and his socio-religious values by escaping into religious fundamentalism, even in the face of a robust Hindu militancy of the RSS and BJP-type. It could only be because of his shared democratic experience with the Hindu majority that he instinctively adopted a course of moderation in religion, thus minimizing the possibility of a powerful Hindu fundamentalist backlash which would have resulted without fail if the Indian Muslim too had embarked on the path of religious anarchy, akin to what is so much in vogue across the border in Pakistan. And much as the jehadis and their militant ilk may remonstrate, the Indian Muslim has not, to an iota, compromised or diluted his basic religious values by being moderate and non-fanatical.

Which then begs the obvious question: will it ever be possible for the twains to meet? The current odds are heavily against such a possibility and time, the ultimate equalizer, is only likely to add to the distance between the two peoples. Two travellers journeying in opposite directions do not meet at a point, not until one of them changes course and turns right behind. Given the current level of religious frenzy in Pakistan, it is inconceivable that the Pakistani would give any thought to correcting his course. By the same token, it would be suicidal for the Indian Muslim to reconsider his secular moorings and a firm commitment to Islam's pristine moderation.

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