Knock, knock... Don’t knock it

Published: September 29, 2009 - 13:26 Updated: September 29, 2009 - 15:07

"Let them stew in their own mess, we are better off without them." Sounds familiar? I heard such sentiments voiced recently on three instances - and it reminded me of the globally resented American tendency for self-enrichment and self-aggrandisement, never mind the rest of the world.

The first instance was when I was on a 'phono' from Karachi to New Delhi for NewsX  TV. Among the studio guests was G Parthasarthy, whose outlook towards Pakistan reminded me of Vir Sanghvi and Tavleen Singh: 'What's the point of talking to Pakistan?' 'We are not the same people...'

The second instance was when a friend in Karachi startled me by saying that Pakistan should cut off ties from the troubled NWFP and tribal areas so that 'we' can get on with our lives.

The third was a comment from an older colleague recalling similar attitudes among West Pakistanis towards their East Pakistani compatriots in the run up to the cataclysmic events of 1971. After the bloody war that ended with the birth of Bangladesh, a refrain often heard in what was left of Pakistan was, 'Good riddance, we're better off without them'.

Actually, it was Bangladesh that was better off without the conservative, ideologically driven West Pakistani establishment that systematically deprived and exploited East Pakistan. Bangladesh has since greatly improved many of its indicators - education, women's development, health, population growth. In 1971, East Pakistan's 70 million population outnumbered West Pakistan's 60 million. Pakistan's current population of over 166 million outstrips Bangladesh's 156 million.

It is relevant that external factors then kept East Pakistan from developing, as West Pakistan's establishment allocated greater government investment, loans and aid to the country's western wing. Many of Pakistan's problems, or the NWFP's problems, arise from internal administrative, political and bureaucratic bungling and policies. But external factors, like the foreign policies of other countries and their short-sighted lack of support to democracy in Pakistan, have contributed greatly to the mess.

Common among the attitudes mentioned above is their refusal to acknowledge the external factors that allowed these situations to develop. They would rather turn their back on these areas instead of strengthening the struggle for democracy and the fight against obscurantism by those caught in those situations.

I may be better off in Karachi than my human-rights activist friends in Peshawar - too numerous to name - but how can I turn my back on them? Tavleen Singh may be better off in India than people like me in Pakistan, but her hostility will only weaken my fight against the forces that we are struggling against here.

The back-turners prefer to gloss over their own issues, which are not dissimilar to the problem areas they want to disengage from. India has its own version of the 'taliban' - the 'saffron brigade' that threatens women and prevents MF Hussain from returning home. Dowry deaths and female foeticide are widespread. Couples who reach out across the caste barriers risk their lives. Karachi, where my contrarian friend lives, has a larger Pathan population than Peshawar.

How do you develop without introspection and inclusion? And where does the one-upmanship end?

When belligerent tribesmen stoned Jawaharlal Nehru's car during his tour of the NWFP in 1946 - he and other leaders, including Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (the 'Frontier Gandhi') sustained brickbat injuries the second time - he decided that independent India would be better off without this wild, uncontrollable area. This is believed to be a major factor behind his rejection of MA Jinnah's proposal of a federation incorporating the Muslim majority states, governed by a weak Centre. When push came to shove, Congress chose the strong Centre option even at the cost of dismembering India - an option that Jinnah found abhorrent but felt compelled to accept.

Ironically, the Pakistan that Jinnah founded has deprived the provinces of provincial autonomy (a major factor behind many of Pakistan's past and current problems). A strong Centre has ruled Pakistan, riding roughshod over political rights, often through military might.

Meanwhile, the NWFP and tribal areas have been, as Nehru and Patel wanted, a convenient buffer between the 'wild west' and mainland India. Don't knock it.


This story is from print issue of HardNews