Modi victory a wakeup call for Pakistan – by Ayaz Amir


Islamabad diary

For the first thing this victory will do is to draw an unfortunate contrast between India and Pakistan. We may not like Narendra Modi the instigator or abettor of the anti-Muslim riots in Godhra. But it is hard to deny that coming from where he does he will make a strong prime minister. His campaign was sharply focused and as prime minister, as all the signs suggest, he is likely to be clear about his goals and where he wants to take his country. He will be master in his own house.

Compare this with conditions in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif fancies himself a strongman but as the nation has had plenty of opportunity to observe, he is anything but that: confusion and lack of aim the hallmarks of his stewardship – qualities springing to the fore in the last one month in his dealings with the army and his government’s handling of the aftermath of the Geo affair.

In just the first year of his term he presides over not a united but a divided polity – government and army at daggers drawn, the media engaged in a civil war threatening to overwhelm the freedoms won not through any fictitious struggle but bestowed as a gift by a military dictator. It is the forgetting of these basic truths by the media that is largely responsible for its present plight.

Modi is a self-made man, rising through the ranks of the RSS and the BJP to his present position. He is a friend of Indian capitalism but not a capitalist himself. Nawaz Sharif is a product of military patronage and one of the richest leaders in the world, his private fortune running into the uncounted billions.

Modi’s family is not into private business, factories here and abroad or real estate in London and elsewhere. Our ruling family – and it is now a ruling family – is into all these things. The mettle, the mould, the style of the two leaderships is thus different, and the disadvantage lies clearly on the Pakistani side.

Not that Pakistan looms large on the Indian mind or the Indian canvas. Those times have long gone. And Modi’s agenda will be about development and India’s rise as a great power and its place at the world’s high table. India cannot wish Pakistan away, geography not giving it that luxury. But the gap between our two countries has grown and we have seen to it that we lag far behind. And our missiles and bombs make not much of a difference to this larger equation.

So these are bad times for Pakistan, and this contrast between our two countries is likely to grow as a strong, no-nonsense leadership settles down to its task in Delhi and we are led by our Egyptian mummies in Islamabad.

There is another danger a Modi sarkar is likely to pose. It may well intensify our civil-military rivalry. The army, rightly or wrongly, is already distrustful of the Nawaz Sharif government and will look extra carefully at any move it makes towards India.

Because of its mishandling of the Musharraf trial and its mummified responses to the ISI and Geo affairs the government has already been pushed into a corner, the army going through the motions of form and courtesy but that being about the limits of its indulgence. When it comes to India the government’s freedom of action will be further curtailed. The great Indian opening that was so close to this government’s heart will thus be put on hold. And into the ghetto or bunker we have dug for ourselves we will sink deeper.

Unless, that is, we do something about this state our affairs: some compass-reading and some course correction. This is a government with a mandate, as legitimately elected as the Modi government next door. But the Congress government of Manmohan Singh was also elected. Look what a mess it made of things, for which it has been duly punished…proving once more that sans delivery merely being elected is seldom enough.

Manmohan Singh completed the cycle of his misfortune in ten years, Asif Zardari in five years. Nawaz Sharif has telescoped that performance into just a year. India under lacklustre leadership was a tolerable neighbour, something we could afford. Under a dynamic Modi leadership – let not our prejudices colour our judgement on this score – the light cast on us will not be flattering. And our discomfort will grow.

In our discomfort the worst thing will be if we allow any rein to our Hafiz Saeeds and our other Kashmir liberators. We have to put our house in order, reduce the discord affecting our polity and constraining our ability to act in any sphere. But the one thing we can do without is Kashmir adventurism. Let us not resile from our position, as we have done so often in the past. Let China’s Taiwan policy be our guide in this matter, firm and unwavering on the point of principle but avoiding needless posturing and empty rhetoric.

The problem is that to do any of this – putting our house in order, etc – requires, first and foremost, a semblance of leadership, a firm hand on the tiller, far-seeing eyes fixed on the distant horizon. In the shape of our Egyptian mummies we have everything except that. Nawaz Sharif is already a stricken leader, his credibility gone, and his effectiveness as leader lost. Perceptions are hard to replace. Like virginity, once lost they are lost. Just consider this: if he can’t talk to his own army how can he talk to anyone else?

Effectively then, we have a government but a government reduced to varying stages of impotence. And not so much the dogs of war as the dogs of discord have been let loose on it, and it doesn’t know what to do.

All that we are seeing on the national stage began with the government’s thoughtless approach to the Musharraf trial, media mujahids egging on the government and screaming, nay some of them baying, for the fallen dictator’s blood. These media mujahids had first convinced themselves, and then went about convincing everyone else, that with an independent judiciary and a powerful media a new Pakistan had come into being in which the path of military takeovers was blocked forever.

Musharraf’s failure lay in his frontal assault, the direct approach, on the former chief justice. The ISI has learnt its lesson. As in the smartest strategy, its approach in this media affair has been indirect: the approach from the flanks, not so much coming into the field itself as launching its many proxies against its target. And this approach is paying dividends, the media already feeling the squeeze.

But these are small battles and even as we are caught up in them the larger picture is changing, India already under a new leadership and Afghanistan about to get a new one, Narendra Modi on one side, Abdullah Abdullah on the other, such a nutcracker the worst of nightmares of the army general staff.

But this nutcracker will come to nothing if we can master our home-grown and mostly self-created difficulties, if the army wakes up to the new realities and the genie of jihad is put back into the bottles whence it came, and if some vigour-inducing vitamins from God knows where can be injected into our Egyptian mummies. If only we seize the chance India under Narendra Modi could yet goad us into the rediscovery of lost opportunities.

One thing is for sure: the old nostrums, the old rhetoric will just not do. A new Pakistani nationalism, different from everything that has gone before, will have to be invented if we are to meet the new challenges.


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