India does not want to be hyphenated with Pakistan on the global stage, for good reasons. But its leaders, diplomats and news anchors are all the time talking about the neighbouring country. From municipal elections to the ‘Howdy, Modi’ rally in Houston, Pakistan remains the main talking point of our rulers. This is a far cry from unhyphenating India from Pakistan. India needs to ask itself, considering the manner in which Pakistan has come to occupy our public discourse and drawing room chatter, whether its self-perception or collective goal or ideas of progress is to be understood in relation to our hostile neighbour.
Cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan’s ISI is a serious security concern for India and it must be resisted and pushed back at all diplomatic forums. But to ask any foreign country to intercede and rein in Pakistan on the one hand, and on the other, insist that there cannot be any third party intervention in India-Pakistan relations is disingenuous.
‘Diplomatic isolation’ of Pakistan, that too clever-by-half formulation, is not happening. US President Donald Trump’s bluster against Pakistan during his early days in office was applauded by many pundits as the harbinger of a rupture in the U.S.-Pakistan ties. But that is not how it has turned out, and there is nothing surprising about it. If America wants to leave Afghanistan, it needs Pakistan; if it wants to stay in Afghanistan, it needs Pakistan still. Pakistan is a factor in deal; and no deal. Not only that, with the self-inflicted diplomatic blunder that sent its ties with Iran southwards, the Trump administration now needs Pakistan also to deal with Tehran.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan revealed, with Mr. Trump by his side and listening this week, that his intervention has been sought by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to calm tensions with Iran. We are not even talking about China and Russia here. So, Pakistan will retain strategic leverage just for being there. India cannot wish away Pakistan. Pakistan is reality, sitting next door. ‘Will not talk to Pakistan until terrorism stops’ position can be an end in itself, but it cannot be the means to an end. Unless it is the means to win the next election.
Pakistan is not merely an external enemy for India, any more. It is the label for all dissent against Hindutva nationalism in India, and this week, it was revealed, even overseas. Mainstream Indian media dismissed protests outside Prime Minister Modi’s grand show in Houston as ‘organised by Pakistani groups’ as if that is illegitimate in the U.S., where they are residents and even citizens.
People of Pakistani origin were in the protest, but numerous Indian Americans from multiple walks of life participated. Four of the five Indian American members of Congress also skipped the event, some of them openly expressing concerns about the situation in India. One of them, Pramila Jayapal, who took the oath as a Congresswoman on the Bhagavat Gita, did not attend the Houston rally. She has been a consistent critic of Hindutva politics in India. Reporting in India did not reflect these aspects at all and sought to stamp all protests as anti-national and Pakistan inspired.
‘From Houston to Hyderabad, from Boston to Bengaluru, from Chicago to Shimla, from Los Angeles to Ludhiana,’ anyone raising a question regarding worsening economic situation, harebrained policy ideas, and systematic onslaught on democratic rights in India, is labelled Pakistani. The irony is that such vicious intolerance, and purge of dissent and diversity has been the hallmark of the evolution of Pakistan, and at the roots of its fall to abyss.
Despite its failure, Pakistan cannot be isolated — even if the entire world ignores Pakistan, India has no escape from it as a geographical reality. It is in India’s interest that the rest of the world stays engaged with Pakistan. In its failure, it is a lesson for India. As a place where an exclusivist dream has been realised in good measure, its present could be our dangerous future. Pakistan is a place that we shall not disengage from but that is not the destination that we must march towards. We are doing the inverse.