Duty of the intellectual

The reciprocated expulsions of Indian and Pakistani diplomats from each other´s capitals in February followed months of key political developments in both countries. Pakistan has returned to some form of formal democracy, however flawed, and the religious right in India has made more worrying gains at the ballot box. But it seems that nothing has changed in the countries' steadily deteriorating ties.

Given this state of affairs, where invective and distrust characterise bilateral relations, it is worth pausing for a moment to remind those in power in both countries that they will only do as well as their relationship with the other country. The India and Pakistan of today have been shaped more by their mutual relationship than any other single factor. This relationship has been sour at best, and hateful at worst. But it is this relationship that will determine to what extent any force in Indian or Pakistani politics – be it the military, the religious right, or maybe even the people – is successful.

Contemplating differences
There is no doubting that the post-partition histories of India and Pakistan are different. India associated itself with state socialism for much of its early existence, developing closer ties with the Soviet Union, while Pakistan has tagged along with the United States for the most part, even if Islamabad has been much more fickle in its political leanings. External and internal factors have contributed to India's relatively robust electoral democracy, while external and internal factors have also contributed to Pakistan's love affair with military dictatorship.

Today in India, the urban middle class is expanding rapidly. Indian society is more open than Pakistani society, in spite of the fact that religious parochialism has gained much ground in India's electoral sphere. India's economy faces far fewer structural problems than does Pakistan's, and is far less dependent on foreign money or dictation. India is also more consumerist, a perfect market for multinational capital, and therefore in some ways much more closely knit to the capitalist world economy.

Within the two countries, states and provinces differ from one another greatly, whether in terms of development, cultural diversity, or tolerance. There is no intrinsic reason that explains the mistrust, rivalry, and even animosity prevailing between the two countries. Differences of any kind should not necessarily equate to intense hatred, especially when one considers that many of the nations with whom India and Pakistan are each friendly are far more different than Indians and Pakistanis will ever be.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of Indians and Pakistanis remain on the margins, unable to get much of a look-in. Sustained elections in India have made a difference, but as the invisible hand of the market strengthens its grip on the world, much graver threats face democratic ideals and principles everywhere than at any previous time. Electoral democracy of the kind currently practiced has hastened the onslaught of monopoly capitalism rather than temper it.

And so working-class Indians and working-class Pakistanis have much to contemplate. The realities of power politics are such that neither the Indian nor the Pakistani establishment has ever genuinely tried to resolve the conflict between the two countries. Similarly, outside powers, including the US, are the least bit concerned about ordinary Indians and Pakistanis, and base their decisions to intervene in the region – in whatever form – on their own narrow self-interest. Little should be expected of those who perpetuate the conflict and marginalisation of far too many people.

Hatred detached from history
Much of the problem derives from either a lack or complete absence of accurate information among the people of the two countries. There is no comparable means of countering the heaps of propaganda that is spewed by both countries' official apparatuses, and therefore no way of debunking the many myths that are so conveniently transformed into immutable truths. What is called track II or track III diplomacy, or people-to-people contact, is simply not enough. Neither are token demonstrations, nor candlelight vigils. These are all symbolic actions that are necessary, but hardly sufficient. After all, such efforts have not led to a resumption of train or bus travel across the border, or facilitated the resumption of even minimum levels of diplomacy. Those desiring genuine change must emphasise a comprehensive political vision that underscores that the peace dividend can only be reaped when a holistic alternative paradigm is articulated and worked towards.

At this time in history, it is incredibly difficult to build this vision. There has been de-politicisation at a global level as market-driven parliamentary democracy becomes more and more static. This is where the role of the intellectual becomes very important. It is important to recognise that a society develops very much along the lines of what intellectuals think. In Pakistan, intellectuals have been very willing to cater their views to the establishment. They have been ever willing to concede to the ideas that are propagated by official channels.

In India the situation may not necessarily be much better. Indeed, as far as the issue of Kashmir goes, Indian intellectuals have always tended to be on the condescending side, including the more enlightened of the lot. Nevertheless, the habit of framing their ideas within at least a functionally democratic order has ensured that the Indian intellectual has tended to maintain more lasting principles – yet another relative comparison of course.

The role of the intellectual must be seen in the context of the distorted histories that now sit in the collective mindset of the Indian and Pakistani populations. Naturally, challenging these distorted histories is daunting, and often involves risk. In the current global climate, both the Indian and Pakistani establishments have found it all too easy to downplay ideas that constitute a threat to the status quo. Because intellectual resistance is erratic, both states' elites have even been able to get away with more repressive and arbitrary actions than in the past. The state-sponsored pogrom in Gujarat and the farcical general election in Pakistan stand out as two examples.

But this is why there is an even greater need than at earlier times to regenerate principled opposition to ideas that are manifestly regressive. There is a need to link the realities of India-Pakistan relations to the global capitalist order, and particularly the unilateralism of the United States. There is a need to understand how global capital is dictating to a far too dangerous extent the interaction between human beings. Ultimately, there is a need to recognise the long-run implications of historical events. In particular, after the fall of the Soviet bloc, the capitalist system, unchecked, has wreaked havoc around the world. Intellectuals must stand opposed to this ongoing demolition job.

Indians and Pakistanis who have access to the information that their fellow citizens do not must be intellectually honest. They must tell one and all the truth about the India-Pakistan conflict. They must point out that it is irrational, unaffordable, and ultimately, immoral. It is sustained because it serves a purpose for a small group of people, and not because it reflects an accurate view of how the world works. It therefore must be corrected once and for all. A subsistence farmer in India and his counterpart in Pakistan are kept on the margins by the same oppressive forces. The last person that either should be counting as the enemy is the poor farmer on the other side of the border. But as many people as possible have to say this, again, and again, and again, and only then will the rhetoric of the past 55 years start wearing off.

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Himal Southasian