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General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of the Pakistani Army, and a delegation of Pakistani ministers are in Washington, D.C. this week to begin a “strategic dialogue” with the U.S. Although he holds no civilian office, Kayani is the head of Pakistan’s strongest political institution, its military, and so has the credibility to negotiate on the behalf of the Government of Pakistan. The president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been sidelined, and Pakistan’s foreign policy is now blatantly in military hands. The Pakistani delegation brought with it a 56-page document–a wish list that includes demands for new and cool helicopters, drones, and U.S. financial assistance. Considering the fact that Pakistan has spent so much blood and treasure in the fight against the Taliban along its Afghan border, the aid and weaponry are in many respects overdue. Yes, the country has received billions since 9/11, but what is currently at stake–peace and stability in Afghanistan–has required Islamabad to alter its strategic orientation, which was primarily focused on its eastern neighbour, India. And for this, Washington should be grateful and generous.

But Pakistan has more than money on its mind: it is seeking recognition as a legitimate nuclear power and a civilian nuclear energy deal on par with the deal the Bush administration gave to India in 2008. Some have argued that Pakistan deserves such a deal. That suggestion is, however, irresponsible and ignores fundamental realities in Pakistan.

There are three main concerns about the prospects of such a deal. Firstly, as the Washington trip this week demonstrates, Pakistan’s civilian government has little to no control over the country’s defence and foreign policies. It was the country’s chief general who headed the Pakistani delegation, not its President. Pakistan’s political system is also notoriously unstable, swinging from democracy to dictatorship at a whim. Entrusting Pakistan with a nuclear deal would hand over precious fuel and technology to an unstable government, where the possibility of an unfriendly Islamist government coming to power is always plausible.

Secondly, Pakistan’s nuclear program makes no distinction between the military and the civilian sector. The military reigns supreme and manages the country’s nuclear energy needs. A civilian nuclear agreement would be one only in name. A nuclear deal for Pakistan would mean handing over fuel and technology to the Pakistani military, which would obviously divert away resources towards its nuclear weapons program. Some suggest that oversight over Pakistan’s nuclear facilities would allay such concerns. India famously refused American oversight over its nuclear facilities, and Pakistan–far more paranoid of American regional ambitions–would outright deny any access to its facilities.

Pakistan’s record of nuclear proliferation offers the most convincing argument against any attempts to recognize the country’s legitimacy as a nuclear power. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the former head of Pakistan’s nuclear program, admittedly transferred nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. And he did so with few repercussions: he faced no trial and continues to reside in Islamabad, albeit under house arrest.

Pakistan’s political instability, its military’s enmeshment with the country’s politics and civilian institutions, and its record of nuclear proliferation should disqualify it from receiving recognition as a nuclear power and any assistance from the U.S. The Obama administration would be right to scoff at Pakistan’s suggestions that it deserves to be legitimate nuclear power.

I feel that I have to qualify my previous after reading this:

Sanjay Sharma’s film Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyun will, for the first time in Bollywood history, feature a gay kiss. The plot centres on a struggling model who moves to Mumbai in search of fame, and then begins a relationship with another man. In a country that only decriminalized homosexuality last year, it’s no surprise that the premise has some filmgoers squirming. (In fact, until recently, even heterosexual kisses—or “lip-locks”—were taboo, although that is changing.)

India’s answer to Brokeback mountain. If the producers can pull this off without incident–unlikely–then I’d hail this as a victory for sexual freedom in India. Never, ever would you see this in Pakistan. You know how they say never say never? Well, I’m sayin’ never.

Despite the image of a tolerant, democratic India, the truth of the matter remains that India is a very unfree country. While its secular Constitution is commendable, and the country’s early leadership (Nehru) awe-inspiring, India has failed in protecting minority rights and free speech. To this day, The Satanic Verses is banned. Jaswant Singh’s book criticizing Nehru is banned in Gujarat. And recently, M F Husain, a renowned Indian artist, renounced his Indian citizenship and became a Qatari citizen. For years, Husain was persecuted by Hindu nationalists and his patience finally ran out, leading him to find refuge in the Gulf.

Pankaj Mishra, reviewing William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, wonders “why did Jaswant Singh suddenly become so protective about a syncretic culture [when he tried to defend Jinnah’s legacy] that his own hardline party has done much to undermine?”

Singh was trying to defend a millennia-old pluralist India.

Mishra writes: “The public definition of the “self”, even in liberal nation-states, is parasitic on the existence of an excluded, preferably dangerous, “other”. But few nationalist hatreds in India and Pakistan survive the discovery that the much-demonised “other” is an aspect of one’s own personality, who not only has identical preferences in food, movies, sports, poetry and music, but also a similar worldview: one that can accommodate the eccentric and irregular in life – all that modern societies rigorously organised for production and profit would seem to have discarded over the last two centuries of industrial capitalism.”

“Both Gandhi’s syncretism and the loyalty to pan-Indian and local gods that Dalrymple describes seem to reveal that the self in Indian culture – whether individual or collective – is not something clearly defined or enclosed. The sharp disjunctions and separations – between self and others, us and them, the secular and the religious – that define identities in even the most liberal and multicultural Western nation-states rarely occur here. Indeed, this idea of the self makes space for what other more modern societies, which require clean-cut identities, would isolate and stigmatise as the fearful “other” – an irrepressible spirit of accommodation and fellow-feeling that occasionally overcomes even hardline nationalist politicians like Jaswant Singh.”

When Chairman Mao said “let a thousand flowers bloom,” he heralded an era of purges and persecution. When General Musharraf said “let a thousand TV channels bloom”–to create a free press–he augured an era of paranoia, amplified on a national scale on television screens across Pakistan, fueling an already barmy press and populous.

There are now countless news channels, and with them, countless new exponents of conspiracy theories and jingoism. For the past few days, Pakistan’s press has not been reporting or investigating the insurgency their country faces, but is instead focused on a few remarks the Indian army chief, General Kapoor, made during a seminar. The general’s crime? Musings about a contingency military plan to fight a two-front low intensity war with Pakistan and China. In Pakistan, these few remarks are being treated as the blueprint for a hegemonic Indian military strategy. Tellingly, however, no one else in the region cares–even China doesn’t a give a hoot.

It takes an awfully narcissistic mind to construe brainstorming as provocations. Narcissism is defined as “a psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem.” Pakistanis, in this case and in all others, believe that “they”–the Indians, the Americans, the Jews, the boogeyman–are out to get ’em. That’s how a private comment in a seminar fuels the talking head punditry and their irrational banter. Even the liberal English-language Dawn News gave way too much coverage to a pointless issue. InFocus with Kamran Yousaf hosted a panel of four, including nuclear scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy, (retd) Lt. Gen. Masood, Indian (retd) General Banerjee, and international security analyst–and director general of paranoia–Maria Sultan. While Gen. Banerjee explained (and pleaded) that Pakistanis shouldn’t read too much into these statements, a jingoistic Maria Sultan demanded that the Pakistani military respond with some form of mobilization. The host, Kamran Yousaf, kept being provocative–asking why is India being aggressive? How should Pakistan respond?–but never asking if it’s even worth it to care.

This is just one example. A quick flip through the channels reveals you to a world of fulminating self-appointed analysts. Nadeem Paracha’s latest column in Dawn mocks the BMMs, as he calls them. It’s funny and worth a read.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention Priyanka.

Pakistanis are quick to ascribe the religio-nationalist discourse to which they are so accustomed to other countries, especially to Big Bad India. Indian secularism, for all its flaws, is in many ways a reality. Firstly, it has legal and constitutional application. Second, it is a political ideal that is embraced by several Indian political parties, the largest among the ruling Congress Party, and is viewed by many laymen as one of the defining characteristics of their nation. And lastly, although discrimination against Muslims and Christians in certain parts of India is rampant (Gujarat and Orissa being prime examples), India’s minorities play an influential role in the nation’s politics, culture and business. My favourite examples: Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan.

None of the above can be said about Pakistan: It is an Islamic Republic (which by definition implies the oppression of and discrimination against minorities); the President must be a Muslim; and there is one minority in the federal cabinet (and he’s the minister for minority affairs).

As I was doing my morning rounds of checking the front pages of the seven newspapers that I find interesting, looking for a blog topic, one to get me all riled up: Dawn did not disappoint. Jawed Naqvi’s article entitled ‘Is Nationalism a Challenge for India?’ meanders through several topics, including nationalism, religion and violence. But what really got me going was the fact that he was equating Indian nationalism with Hindu nationalism and how people of minority religions (Muslims in particular) in India can never truly belong.

Okay, so I identify as an Indian but I study nationalism as an academic interest and think of myself as quite the internationalist, which was why I was so surprised to realize that I was having quite the visceral reaction to this (supposed) affront to the India, which I was reading as a personal attack on me and people like me. Nationalism has far too many times come to be equated with extremism and loyalty to a group in which all members have the same inborn characteristics. I believe Indian nationalism is of a different breed. Indian nationalism is the direct result of the Indian freedom struggle, starting from the beginning of the late nineteenth century, based on a narrative of self-determination against the colonial power. Hindu nationalism on the other hand is a form of ethnonationalism that relies on religion to define the ingroup-outgroup distinctions. I see Hindu nationalism as having picked up more mainstream support over the last few decades, with the organisation of political parties and movements based on the religious identity. Given the extremely different origins and motivations of these two examples of nationalism, I find it not only offensive but also blatantly incorrect to bandy it about as the same thing.

Trust me, I don’t think that India is nearly as secular as it thinks it is. Its like Christianity in the United States: Come election time, every Presidential candidate has to prove that they are not faithless pagans (like TIME running Belief-O-Meter readings for all the primary candidates of both parties). In India, non-Hindu candidates have to show the many ways that they are tolerant and some even adhere to Hindu customs to seem more accessible to the Hindu majority. There is religious persecution in some areas but for the most part India does follow the ideal of secularism. For one, the right to practice any religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and is protected by the courts. Secularism is one of the founding ideals of India as a modern political entity, championed by Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers as well as a guiding force behind moving India from a disjointed set of peoples to a regional power. India may not be perfect, but I still believe it stands as an anomaly of a successful democracy though every pre-condition for democracies seems to be missing. And as vital to Indian democracy is Indian secularism, enshrining the rights of the individual in the fundamental area of expression, personal choice and practice especially as Western democracies are becoming more and more intolerant of religious expression.

Now, that’s Indian nationalism.

As Priyanka mentions below, today is the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and several Indian English-language dailies devoted columns and articles to the independence leader. Pakistan’s English newspapers have largely ignored the significance of the day, with no utterance of the occasion in their news nor in their opinion columns.

Now, many would point out that wasn’t Gandhi India’s national leader, and so why should Pakistan care? The obvious fact is that Gandhi’s movement not only led to the freedom of modern India but also of Pakistan. For decades, Pakistan’s school syllabi and public thinkers have discarded his contributions to independence as well as Pakistan’s millenia-old Hindu and Subcontinental roots. This is part of a systematic islamization of the country, which has deprived the country of non-violent ideologies and a plural historical identity–and has allowed sectarianism and religious extremism to flourish.


Obama State Dinner

I seem to be on a roll with these food related posts. Nonetheless, the honour of the first State Dinner of any new administration is a big deal. And for President Obama, this gesture of goodwill goes to India. So other than the novelty of wine pairings with each course and hearing Hail to the Chief, what is the big deal about State Dinners?

Well, there is the symbolism. No matter how much we try and ignore it, symbolism matters to both countries. For the United States, it shows that it takes the developing world seriously (especially when the country in question has nuclear weapons and 1.2 billion consumers) and that it wants to build on ties with India. The symbolism is particularly telling when considering that Obama has yet to visit the country, though Hillary had been dispatched into the Delhi heat for high-level talks as well as hand-delivering the For India, being the first country to have a State Dinner held in its honour is akin to being invited to the adult table- the US signalling that it sees India as a partner, an useful ally that needs to be respected and taken seriously.

This dinner could not come at a better time for India, who has been feeling a little overshadowed by the attention lavished on its rival in the subcontinent by the States. Some much needed face-to-face time between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama at the State Dinner would allow both leaders to more freely discuss pertinent issues such as counter-terrorism, nuclear proliferation as well as the building of nuclear power plants. It would also allow the two to build on ideas floated during the G20 summit concerning economic liberalisation, an area in which both stand to gain. Perhaps even Pakistan may be on the menu for discussion, especially since the fate of Pakistan is so heavily intertwined with the destinies of both India and Pakistan.

It’s about time that these giants feast for greater cooperation.


The recent attempt at back-channel diplomacy over dinner between the External Affairs Ministers of both India and Pakistan failed to actually do anything, stumbling over differing opinions about prosecution of suspects with the 26/11 Mumbai (yes, I’m giving in to the Marathi nationalists but it will always be Bombay in my heart) attacks. So I decided to put forward my own ideas for a meal that could lead to some resolution between these two countries born from the British Raj:

Amuse-bouche: Relationship with the United States

To whet the palate, it would be good to start with common ground: the United States. Both countries have vested interest, albeit one that is security based while the other is primarily economic, in keeping a strong relationship with the USA and since the States would like nothing better for India and Pakistan to play nice, it is vital that they at least pretend to make an effort.  Of course, since this could easily turn sour due to the competitiveness in being the privileged state (in terms of having the ear of the President) in South Asia, it would be best to move on to the next course.

Entrée: Cross-border Terrorism

Has always been a favourite item on the menu but now, with the interestingly named 26/11 attacks, have become front and centre again. Usually confined to the northern regions, the Indian government was visibly startled when the violence drifted southward. Furthermore, Indian concerns over the instability of its neighbour in light of Afghani terrorism seeping into Pakistan through their porous north-western border and the involvement of the ISI in promoting these extra-national groups have made the situation more tense. Nonetheless, in the case of the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has definitely extended the olive branch in terms of prosecuting low level leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba but for India, this is merely garnish if the government does not go after the leader of the group, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.

Main course: Kashmir

Any lasting peace between the two have to deal with the sticky situation of Kashmir. This aged issue has not lost any of its spice, over sixty years without any real progress. The crux of the animosity between the subcontinent rivals, not dealing with Kashmir would be akin to trying to convince the world that there is peace in the Middle East without talking about ownership of Jerusalem. Getting India and Pakistan to commit to any kind of agreement will be difficult but will be further compounded by the involvement of that uninvited guest, China.

Dessert: Economic cooperation

With security would come more economic cooperation, to the sweet sweet taste of over $1 billion to be gained in cross-border trade and international FDI. For Pakistan, this would stabilize the shaky economy that is still stuck in the 1970s. For India, it would be one more notch on its ongoing climb to topple China as the economy du jour.

And like any memorable meal, the timing is key. Too much time between courses and it would be highly likely that both guests would leave the (diplomatic) table.