Updated April 06, 2018


SCARCELY a day goes by in Pakistan that we ordinary mortals are not reminded about the Indian state’s brutalities in Kashmir. This past week saw yet another orgy of violence in which it was reported that more than a dozen unarmed protesters were killed by Indian army fire. By all accounts Kashmir remains the Indian state’s Achilles heel, a blot on the collective conscience of India’s democracy.

Successive generations of Pakistanis have been bred on a narrative that there is something exceptional about the reign of state terror in Kashmir, with only the Israel’s colonial subjugation of Palestine approximating something similar. In both cases, the operative factor is that Muslim lands are being occupied by ‘infidels’, that the honour and dignity of Muslim peoples is being violated.

Yet on closer inspection — and recourse to history — it becomes clear that state terror against dissident populations is the norm rather than the exception. More generally, political alignments amongst the global elite, as well as the resistance of the oppressed, have little to do with religious affiliations per se, even if the state and right-wing forces exploit and politicise cultural difference, thereby reducing space for collective action along expansive lines.

The Saudi crown prince’s admission of Israel’s ‘rights’ confirms what we already know — that Muslim rulers in both the Arab and non-Arab world have been least concerned with the Palestinian cause since the 1973 war.

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Compare this to a bygone era and the consistent positions taken by (non-Muslims) Gandhi and Nehru vis-à-vis Palestine. Both explicitly condemned Israel’s settler colonialism, and in a 1938 letter Gandhi even conceded that the Palestinian national movement retained the right to resist Israel’s violent occupation of Palestinian lands in kind.

Conscious agents of change everywhere challenge injustice.

That was indeed another time, when anti-imperialist principles informed the political instincts of at least some newly independent countries like India. Unfortunately, the Indian state under Nehru had a far more dubious policy towards Kashmir — as well as states in the northeast like Assam and Nagaland — that has, over time, become even more so. But this is not because Indian state policy has historically been driven by a determination by who is Muslim and who is not.

India’s Kashmir problem has more to do with basic questions of self-determination and democracy, and what is changing under Modi is precisely the fact that the already existing authoritarian tendencies of the Indian state are being fused with a toxic dose of Hindutva in a way that would make Nehru and Gandhi turn in their grave.

The history of the modern state everywhere is a deeply contradictory one. India, for instance, is more democratic than Pakistan, but this only means that there is a democratic streak in Indian politics that is more resilient than in Pakistan. Indeed, it is this democratic streak that explains the resistance of some intellectuals and political activists within India to their own state’s suppression of the Kashmiri — and other — people’s democratic aspirations.

It is because conscious agents of change everywhere challenge injustice and oppression within their own societies that gives the world a chance of rising beyond the hate and bigotry espoused by right-wing fanatics, whether they be mobs led by mullahs, Hindu supremacists or Zionist crusaders. Perhaps even more importantly, it is such principled resistance that allows us to expose and then challenge the might of exclusionary nation-states operating without impunity at the service of power and money.

Hawks in Pakistan may talk up the Indian state’s brutalities in Kashmir to give credence to the Pakistani state’s militarism just as the Indian state drums up jingoistic sentiment on that side of the border by reducing Pakistan to an abettor of terrorism. Whichever side of the border one is on, half-truths are embellished to ensure enforced loyalty to the state, the result being that emancipatory causes are stifled by the parochialism of religious, ethnic and other identities.

So let us celebrate those Israelis with a conscience that stand in solidarity with the Palestinian national movement, as well as those Indians that continue to call attention to what is happening in India-held Kashmir, Nagaland, the Maoist corridor and elsewhere. They do so not because they are Muslim, but because they are harkening back to the euphoric days when all colonised peoples stood together.

Where does this leave Pakistanis with a conscience? Can we afford to continue turning a blind eye to the reported excesses of our own establishments against the people that inhabit this land? It is mostly Muslims who suffer from state repression in our own conflict-ridden areas, mostly Muslims who are forcibly disappeared and Muslims like Mehr Abdul Sattar and Baba Jan who are criminalised for struggling for the poor. And even if they weren’t Muslims, would it matter?

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2018