If Pakistan is to get out of the mess that it is in, the ordinary citizens of that country will have to rise in protest against the state of affairs. They must compel their Army to keep away from political decision-making and force elected regime to govern effectively. At the very onset of this piece, let me make it abundantly clear that I am no Right-wing chest-thumping patriot. I am an apolitical but rational observer. As far as I can remember, I have always eschewed hawkish rhetoric and observed the minutiae of international relations with enduring patience and a degree of pragmatism. I have always deplored bans ranging from movies, books, alcohol and meats. But the recent terror attack in Uri and a recalcitrant neighbour have compelled me to revisit what I staunchly felt. Dealing with the scourge of terrorism emanating from the western border requires a multi-faceted and draconian approach. Hard decisions need to be made before the spectre of terrorism threatens our way of life.
In 2010, when I was working for the Indian Council for Relations on International Economic Affairs (ICRIER), New Delhi, we had organised ‘The Strategic and Economic Capacity Building Programme’, where critical strategic and economic themes for the future were discussed. Participants included researchers, policymakers and mediapersons from Saarc countries. The need to boost cooperation and bolster economic ties was underscored. A wide array of issues – from foreign policy, water, sustainable development and the national interest – were discussed. Lecturers included eminent personalities and experts in their respective domains. The future looked promising and exciting. It really did.
Six years later, the world has changed. The future of Saarc looks bleak and India-Pakistan relations have reached their lowest ebb in over a decade. Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed an unequivocal and stern message to Pakistan during the Brics summit in Goa which has just ended. A visibly crestfallen Nawaz Sharif risks global isolation. Pakistan is at a cusp today. Differences between India and Pakistan have been accentuated. The latter is wobbling precariously on a precipice. Further aiding, abetting terror and vindicating the actions of Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar in fueling insurgency in Kashmir, is a failed strategy. Promoting the cause of purported freedom-fighters in Kashmir is not helping the cause. This will only plunge Pakistan deeper into isolation. Meanwhile, making futile attempts to convince the world that Pakistan is not in cahoots with terrorists, is laughable.
There is the banal argument which is often spearheaded by those supporting the cause of artistes hailing from across the border. Many in India have emphatically expressed their points of view. Cinema and art, in their opinion, must surmount the volatile relations between the South Asian neighbours. Art and cultural exchanges will ease tensions and any attempt to contain such a syncretic exchange will exacerbate the situation. For years, I harboured the same innocuous view. Today, much to my consternation, I appear to have drifted from my moderate opinions. The imperatives of testing bilateral relations and the rapidly changing contours of the political economy in South Asia have altered perceptions.
The rationale for working with Pakistani actors is anchored in pure economics and has nothing to do with their professional abilities. I mean, even Salman Khan can do better. Indian directors and producers stand to gain if their movies are released in Pakistan. That country brings lucrative business for Indian film-makers. Pakistan also stands to gain as its artistes remit money to the country or are simply better off. Enforcing a ban or pursuing a campaign which discourages the practice of hiring Pakistani artistes will hurt the entertainment industry in Pakistan and will engender debates, which will promote the liberal voice in Pakistan. Pakistan is in crying need of urgent democratic reforms to usher in real democracy at the grassroots level and limit the power of the Army and intelligence agencies. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had firmly espoused this view. But the more pertinent question is: How can such change be unleashed? The role of the masses is critical in fostering an understanding that the Army, one of the three proverbial A’s which have been the cornerstone of Pakistan’s policies – Allah, Army and America – must limit its role to protecting Pakistan’s porous borders and not meddle in state policy. Pursuing a cohesive strategy of systematically quarantining Pakistan, will send a strong message to the masses in the country that it’s time to usher in real change. In their editorials, a number of media houses have already begun to question Pakistan’s policies. The middle class in Pakistan can be the harbinger of change.
Terrorism is a multi-dimensional issue. It is a political issue but it is also pre-eminently a social and economic issue. A malaise of this magnitude cannot solely be addressed through diplomatic channels. It requires the Indian state to employ all the resources at its disposal, and, as citizens, we must express a view which is largely consistent with that of the Government.
Historically, Pakistan has nervously vacillated between a military and a democratically elected Government. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has used terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Crony capitalism, poor governance, powerful but dismissive executive, and profound mistrust between the various stakeholders in the Pakistani establishment must end. The middle class and Pakistan’s emerging civil society must rise to the occasion. The state is resisting credible change but is in urgent need for an overhaul. A stern message from India and the global community will only hasten the move to a more democratic country with unfettered party politics, where the voices of the people translate into state policy; and a country where the ideas that permeate mass consciousness are in consonance with those envisioned by Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
(The writer studied political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science)