Get rid of false patriotism. India needs voices such as Arundhati Roy and Pakistan needs voices such as Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Patriotism misunderstood
Legal eye

Saturday, December 27, 2008 (The News)
Babar Sattar

The terrorists have succeeded in realizing their objectives in Mumbai. Not just in carrying out the carnage that claimed innocent Indian lives, but also in provoking chest-thumping hysteria within the two nuclear armed neighbours that is obfuscating real issues and impeding their ability to meaningfully cooperate in confronting the threat of terrorism. With the peace constituency within India and Pakistan having shrunk at an alarming rate over the last few weeks, the Mumbai tragedy has dragged the two countries back by at least a decade in terms of their bilateral relationship. The ugly invidious prejudice that runs deep within each nation against the other now lies bare in public eye. And all this has happened despite the realization shared by saner elements in both countries that neighbours cannot be wished away and the linked destinies of the suffering multitudes in both India and Pakistan will not be served well by a war between them or even the politics of war-mongering.

The governments of Pakistan and India are in a catch-22 situation. The Mumbai attack has hurt India’s sense of security as well as its newly found confidence and pride as an aspiring global power. The voices seeking accountability of the perpetrators of terror are probably more than those braying for revenge. But together they have put the Indian government under tremendous pressure to seek reprisals from Pakistan for the alleged involvement of its citizens. The Pakistani government and the civilian political leadership seem genuinely interested in taking to task those within the country whose link to Mumbai can be established through verifiable evidence. But given the history of acrimony between the two countries and how it informs the concept of national honour, the harder India pushes Pakistan publicly the lesser political space and ability the Pakistani government is left with to respond constructively.

One of the casualties of the Mumbai tragedy has been the quest for truth. The speed and ferocity with which media in India and Pakistan assumed on behalf of their respective states the responsibility for proving the other guilty of disseminating lies has been alarming. What has happened to the objectivity and self-restraint of this most vital component of civil society? The worst manifestations of bigotry and hatemongering in each country are being chosen and highlighted as a means to characterize the other. The statements of vengeance seeking politicians in India are regarded in Pakistan as the truly representative voices from India as opposed to the more responsible and tension diffusing statements of the Indian prime minister for example. Likewise, the voices of those in Pakistan who reject any involvement of Pakistanis in Mumbai and view it as an Indian conspiracy to put Pakistan in the dock reverberate across India and overshadow the repeatedly expressed government desire to work with India on establishing facts and taking action on their basis.

The self-styled ‘patriots’ in Pakistan believe that Arundhati Roy’s ‘Monster in the Mirror’ is the depository of the whole truth about Mumbai and India. And likewise hawks in India love to highlight voices critical of Pakistani state policy – such as that of Pervaiz Hoodbhoy – as proof of their view of Pakistan as an evil state. The consistency in the analysis of Roy and Hoodbhoy – in terms of their denunciation of nuclear weapons or their emphasis on the atrocities inflicted on citizens by misconceived state policies – is lost on these new found disciples. Yet those who love Hoodbhoy in India hate Roy, and those who cite Roy with approval in Pakistan castigate Hoodbhoy for being a traitor. And the lack of awareness of such fundamental contradiction in hawkish views only goes to show the deep-seated bias that we are afflicted with. That patriotism cultivates the desire amongst citizens to defend the territorial integrity, sovereignty and honour of their country is a no-brainer. But reasonable people can and should disagree over how national interest is to be defined and what policies must be employed to accomplish the interest of the state.

In the context of Mumbai, Pakistani patriotism must not be reduced to jingoism or indiscriminately contradicting any views or facts emanating from India. Shutting out the urge to uncover facts and forfeiting the courage to look critically into the mirror out of the fear of discovering unflattering realities, even at a time even when the country is being unduly vilified, neither serves the interests of Pakistan nor qualifies as patriotism. Let us vigorously debate and agree/disagree over what policies and actions promote the collective interest of our nation. But neither the sabre-rattling of hawks on either side of our border, nor any misconceived concept of national interest or security should be allowed to mow down our appetite for the truth. There are some mothers who can never find any fault with their kids out of pride. And there are others whose love urges them to censure kids when they falter to enable these children to tell right from wrong and develop a character. We are only hurting ourselves most of all if, when under attack from abroad, we allow patriotism to degenerate into chauvinism or xenophobia.

The main issue between Pakistan and India that has led to the present state of belligerence and is dragging the two countries towards war is what happened in Mumbai: who all are responsible for killing innocent civilians there and to the extent that verifiable facts establish links with groups in Pakistan what steps can we take to bring the perpetrators to justice. We must not confuse manifestations of the whipped up antagonism post-Mumbai and the fighting words uttered in both countries with the cause itself.
Also what are not issues for Pakistan in its interstate relations with India also needs to be highlighted. Whether or not India ill-treats its minorities, especially Muslims, is not our issue. We advocated a solution for the Muslims of Indian sub-continent in the form of Pakistan in full view that the Muslims left behind in India will be an even weaker minority in a Hindu-dominated India. We must reconcile with this reality and understand that the state of Pakistan has no mandate to speak for Indian Muslims. What happened in Gujarat was sad and despicable. But it is a reflection on the Indian federation and a matter for the Indian nation to resolve internally.

The state of Pakistan has the responsibility to promote and maximize the interests and security of the citizens of Pakistan. And as a nation we need more clarity in defining our identity and our national objectives. Faced with challenges straining the cohesion of our own social fabric and the frail state of interethnic relations within Pakistan, we must focus on strengthening our own federation rather than looking abroad and assuming the responsibility of guarding the perceived interests of foreign nationals who share our faith. What is also not an issue between the states of India and Pakistan is the cause of the Malegaon Blast or the Samjhota Express tragedy. These were crimes that were committed in India. And even though some of the casualties in the latter were Pakistani citizens, in terms of state responsibility, they are fundamentally different from the events of Mumbai.

Mumbai is a possible case of non-state actors from one state crossing the international border and unleashing terror in another. Malegaon and Samjhota are relevant only in that they highlight India’s indigenous roots of terrorism and counter the propaganda that Pakistan is the fountainhead of violence in the region. But we must fathom that criminal acts do not give the Pakistani state a cause of action against the state of India. Pakistan and India have a very long history of hostility and mistrust and if we look backward rather than forward we will keep fighting till the cows come home. If the present state of flux is to be prevented from crystallizing into a new cold war between the neighbours, we must keep our focus on Mumbai. And to that end the first imperative step is to share with Pakistan the findings of a transparent, diligent and credible investigation that lays threadbare the facts of this tragedy.

Our overzealous patriots must realize that Ajmal Kasab’s Pakistani identity does not make Pakistani nation or state complicit in the terror attacks. Taking affirmative steps to try and deny/hide his identity could. And India must understand that sharing evidence with Pakistan cannot be contingent upon Pakistan “doing more”. For due process requires such evidence to be the trigger for any enforcement action that the Pakistani government can legitimately undertake.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is a Rhodes scholar and has an LL.M from Harvard Law School. Email:



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