Brothers at war

Published August 15, 2020

ALL too often, when relatives fight, it’s over money and property, not about people. And while religious and political grievances might be tossed around, it’s mostly as an afterthought.

So it is with the interminable Pakistan-India conflict: Kashmir is ostensibly about the right of the people to decide whether they want to join India or Pakistan through a UN-supervised plebiscite. The problem here is that a large number of the young rebels dying for the cause want independence, and not union with either of their neighbours.

The recent map issued by the Pakistan government has ignored this reality, as had India’s own political map released in October and the abrogation last year of Section 370 of the Indian constitution that guaranteed Kashmir’s special status. Is either government concerned about what the Kashmiris want? Or do they only care for the land and the rivers that flow through it? In fact, there is very little consensus between different Kashmiri groups and politicians about their aims and goals.

This is not unlike brothers squabbling over inheritance. Often, courts are dragged into these legal battles that tend to go on for generations, enriching lawyers and wasting the time of judges.

India made a serious PR error by abrogating Kashmir’s special status in 2019, a move that gave the issue far greater publicity than it had received in the past. The matter has taken a back seat because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The reality is that the world has grown tired of the conflict, given all the other problems that are shaking the world. So when Islamabad accuses Riyadh of not doing much to help resolve the problem, there isn’t much the kingdom can do.

The tit-for-tat continues as the world moves on.

When one brother is far stronger and richer, obviously the other relatives are going to side with him. Justice and historical rights mean little when compared with oil exports and global political clout. This is something our leaders have failed to understand. As India’s wealth, military power and international standing grew, our image as a hotbed of jihadist activity was criticised.

So when one brother is ostracised while the other one prospers, to expect even close relatives and friends to rally around is naïve. But to end this unending conflict, the stronger brother might make concessions. As I think Gen Musharraf once remarked, ‘India is a big country with a small heart.’

Indians immediately point towards the Mumbai attack and other terrorist actions in India said to be planned by militants using Pakistani soil. Also, the fact that Indians aren’t allowed to use Pakistani roads to export goods to Afghanistan is a constant irritant. This is indeed an own goal.

And so it continues, this game of tit-for-tat, while the rest of the world moves on. But we should also consider the historical baggage the two countries carry, and which hinders any move towards peace-making. Indian Hindus, after centuries of being ruled by Muslims and then by the British, are now free to carve out their own future. And as the Hindutva movement grows more popular under Narendra Modi, they have shown that Indian history under the Muslims is something they wish to erase.

Pakistani Muslims, on the other hand, see themselves as conquerors and rulers of South Asia. This misplaced sense of superiority, subconsciously at least, feeds into all our interactions with India. Many South Asian Muslims feel that as they were once the ruling class, they deserve preferential treatment. However, the reality is that a large number of them are descendants of Hindus.

The reasons are far more complex than the current Indian narrative of forced conversions. High-caste Hindus married their daughters to Muslim rulers in order to obtain positions in courts, while traders wanted to be in the good books of the new civil servants. And of course, low-caste Hindus converted to escape their miserable existence; but to this day, whether they converted to Islam or Christianity, they mostly remain locked into their lowly status.

Converts often want to demonstrate their zeal by appearing even more holy than the original followers of the faith. Thus, Hindu nationalists bear a hard-edged attitude towards non-Hindus that is new to their religion. And Muslims try and outdo Arabs in their knowledge of, and belief in, Islam. While there are virtually no Hindus in other parts of the world, there are plenty of Muslims of different ethnicities to laugh at us for our religious excesses.

So the two brothers seem to be divided by both historical baggage and a power imbalance of growing proportions. In theory, something can be done about the latter. But the former appears to be intractable. No amount of legal arguments before the UN or the OIC will break this deadlock. Only common sense and a recognition of reality can help.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2020



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