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Constructing the enemy

Updated March 16, 2019

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The writer is a PhD student in urban/regional planning at the University of Illinois.
The writer is a PhD student in urban/regional planning at the University of Illinois.

THEY claimed to have invaded the sovereign territory of an enemy country. They had dropped bombs, they said, and hit a terrorist camp that involved no military or civilian targets. In the days that followed, we retaliated: we intruded enemy-controlled territory, chose to strike near enemy targets, and took an enemy combatant prisoner after downing his fighter jet.

No truth is more apparent than our enmity as modern nation states. Indeed, India and Pakistan have followed a largely cyclical process of escalation and de-escalation. Before nukes came into play, we went to full-scale war thrice. In the years since, we have had countless skirmishes. Most of these conflicts have stayed within areas internationally recognised as disputed, and therefore stopped short of the absolute destruction that all-out nuclear war can bring.

Also read: What happens when you’re both Indian and Pakistani

The creation of the enemy is central to this story of hostilities and conflict. For this article, I will focus on two elements of this enmity: the nation-state enmity, involving India and Pakistan at the level of the state, and the communal enmity, rooted in the two-nation theory and dependent on creating distinct Indian-Hindu and Pakistani-Muslim communal identities. The Abhinandan saga and Fayya­zul Hasan Chohan’s frequent foot-in-mouth mom­ents mean that both merit some serious reflection.

For ordinary Pakistanis, what is this ‘India’ and how do we identify our enemy?

Let’s start with the nation state. First, the obvious: India is our sworn enemy. It is involved in fermenting unrest, promoting violence and militancy, and trying to break Pakistan through multiple strategies and generational warfare. It is belligerent on the borders, especially the Line of Control, and frequently targets military and civilian targets on the Pakistani side. India is also consuming our share of water from the Indus river system. To counter them and keep our national honour and integrity intact, we must teach India a lesson.

But for ordinary Pakistanis, what is this ‘India’ and how do we identify our enemy? Perhaps more importantly, how are we supposed to behave when in close contact with an enemy?

For the military, the rules are relatively straightforward. Professional ethics and the Geneva Conventions define combatants and non-combatants and prescribe ways to deal with injured enemy combatants as well as access to and safety of humanitarian organisations like the Red Crescent. This professionalisation of enemy treatment was demonstrated when Abhinandan was captured: military personnel whisked him away from a charged mob, provided first aid, maintained a hospitable environment, and ensured the prisoner was not physically tortured. They asked him questions, several of which he refused to answer, and even served him some fantastic chai. All of this before he was released, upright, on his feet, and well dressed, within days.

But what of civilians? The mob reaction that Abhinandan first witnessed, before Pakistan Army troops rescued him, should cause us to step back and reflect deeply. Granted, Abhinandan is an enemy soldier and Kashmiri locals are understandably irked by years of ceasefire violations and constant unrest they create. But when his jet was shot down and he was visibly injured, did we require the locals to continue to treat him as a combatant and beat him up?

And then, what of non-combatant enemies? Never in my life have I witnessed ordinary Pakistanis abuse or humiliate Indian visitors. In fact, the feeling is often one of pride in having them visit us. What does that mean about how we see ordinary Indians; are they not our enemies? Or are the Indians we meet in Pakistan the ‘good ones’? This also begs another question: if we must teach India a lesson, are the ‘good’ Indians legitimate collateral damage in that battle?

This leads to the second, communal dimension of our enmity. Muslims and non-Muslims could not live together under a Hindu regime because they were fundamentally different — this is why we fought for and pried a separate homeland from the hands of colonial and Hindu forces who controlled the Indian subcontinent. But what does the same mean today, when there are more than 180 million Muslims in India and more than 4m Hindus in Pakistan?

The two-nation theory would lose its validity if it was meant to be constricted in time. Does it still apply today, when Muslims have a separate state? If so, how should we expect Muslims to be treated in India, and how should we treat non-Muslims (especially Hindus) in Pakistan?

The question of combatants and non-combatants, especially families, is especially troubling here. Of more than a billion Hindus in India, only a fraction includes active combatants against the state of Pakistan. Similarly, only a small fraction supports communal agendas that seek to target Muslims. In our construction of the enemy, are women, children, the elderly, and other non-combatants who have no wish to fight clubbed with Hindu militias and the state military?

Even more critically, we should introspect how the communal construction of enemies shapes our treatment of non-Muslim (specifically Hindu) Pakistanis. It is shameful that a provincial minister would use religion, instead of the state, to denigrate the enemy. The horror is amplified when we imply that Pakistani Hindus must demonstrate their allegiance to the country more vigorously than Muslim Pakistanis. The standards that we hold for Indian ministers and treatment of Muslims in India applies with greater vigour to our own ministers and our own populations before we apply them to the enemy.

Perhaps most telling in this entire saga is the question Abhinandan reportedly asked after he landed: am I in India or in Pakistan? The civilian population of the enemy was indistinguishable from his own, even to a trained enemy combatant. Maybe we should question the historical circumstances that led to the creation of our enmity, and in doing so try to identify who is actually responsible for leaving us in this position.

The writer is a PhD student in urban/regional planning at the University of Illinois.

faizaanq@gmail.com

Twitter: @faizaanq

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019