Feisal Naqvi

Schizoid Nation

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2008 at 3:01 am

The people of Pakistan have been treated by their rulers for the past half-century with extreme suspicion, as if opening up the doors of this country to the rest of the world — especially India — would result in a mass exodus.My response: grow up

There are two ways to describe Pakistan for the geographically illiterate: we are either the country on the left of India. Or else, we are the country to the right of Afghanistan.

Unfortunately for us, both descriptions are equally true. We are a country which straddles a geographic and social fault line. On one side of the Indus, we find tribal societies who look westwards, people who think of the Durand Line as a historic betrayal and who are happier ignoring it. On the other side, we find settled agrarian societies which share thousands of years of history with their counterparts across the border in India.

In short, we are a schizoid nation. The problem is that the time has come for us to choose.

Before I explain my choice, let me first deal with the inevitable counter-argument: why pick a side? Are we not a proud nation of 170 million? Can we not be independent?

Well, duh.

Of course, we can be independent in political terms. But political independence and economic independence are two very different things. The United States is a politically independent country. But it is not economically independent. Neither is China. Or any other country we would want to be like.

Simply put, we cannot be economically successful while being cut off from the rest of the world. So far as I know, there is only one country which has fully embraced the idea that it should be entirely self-reliant in economic terms: North Korea. And between 1995 and 1997, up to 3 million North Koreans died as the result of a massive famine.

In short then, economic independence is not an option: the only reasonable choice is economic interdependence.

Ok, you may reply, but why does that require us to look eastwards?

The honest answer is that it does not. It is possible, in theory, for Pakistan to operate its economy in isolation from that of India’s. Indeed, we have been stubbornly trying that for more than sixty years. But there is a difference between stubborn and stupid and we crossed that line some time ago.

Right now, foreign investment into Pakistan has to fly in. Somebody sitting in New York or London or Dubai has to decide that he is going to take his money and risk it in Pakistan. And from wherever he is looking, that hypothetical investor has a vast array of international options available to him, most of which did not feature on the January 2008 cover of the Economist as “The Most Dangerous Place in the World”.

On the other hand, there is already a vast quantity of foreign investment sloshing around India. And if you, the foreigner, are already in Delhi, then extending your reach to Lahore is qualitatively different from building an investment there from scratch. Ditto for Karachi and Mumbai. You already have a ground operation in place: the only question is one of scale.

The issue is not just one of economics though but also of orientation. The people of Pakistan have been treated by their rulers for the past half-century with extreme suspicion, as if opening up the doors of this country to the rest of the world — especially India — would result in a mass exodus.

My response: grow up. Most of the people alive in this country were not alive at the time of Partition. Heck, most of them were not alive in 1971 either. All that they — and I, for that matter — have ever known is this country. We are here by choice and just because our rulers break into a cold sweat at the thought of open trade with India is not a good enough reason for them to mistrust the rest of us.

I realise that given the recent events in Mumbai, this is probably not the most appropriate time to be wishing for deeper links with India. But viewed from my admittedly privileged perch, it often seems as if there are now two kinds of people in Pakistan. There are the people who would be happy at a Rafi Peer performing arts festival. And there are the people who want to blow them up. Speaking as one of the festival-goers, I have a hell of a lot more in common with the people who just got attacked in Mumbai than the people who did the attacking. And I don’t think that our security establishment gets this basic point.

In the middle of all this anger and angst, today’s newspaper offers a ray of hope. At the time of the Mumbai massacre, there were more than 100 pilgrims visiting the Katasraj temple in Chakwal. As bullets began to fly back in India, they received call after call from their relatives, telling them to flee. They stayed, not just because they felt safe but because person after person, Pakistani after Pakistani, came up to them and commiserated with them. Those 108 pilgrims are going back saddened. But they are not going back infuriated with Pakistan. And they all say they want to come back.

Newsflash for the talking heads on TV: the people of Pakistan want peace with India. Get over it.

  1. Thanks Bud! Your article came as breath of fresh air.

    Best wishes

    Munna Bhai
    New Delhi, India

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