Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022

Changing Mindsets?

So can the perceptions and mindsets in the two countries about each other change? What accounts for such a deep-rooted distrust? Is Musharraf sincere in his "enlightened moderation"?

Changing Mindsets?
Changing Mindsets?

(Observations made at a seminar—on Stabilizing the India-Pakistan peace process—organised at New Delhi on December 11, 2006, under the auspices of the Pakistan Studies Programme, South Asian Studies Division, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and the India International Centre, New Delhi ) 

Perceptions and mindsets have to be examined at three levels—individuals, society and the state institutions. Under state institutions, one could include the ruling class, the civilian bureaucracy, the armed forces and the intelligence community. 

General observations 

In India, negative perceptions about Pakistan are more widespread at all the three levels in the urban areas, but in smaller towns and rural areas the negative perceptions are not that evident. Even in the urban areas, the negative perceptions are stronger in north India than in south India. In contrast, in Pakistan, the negative perceptions about India are stronger in the small towns and in the rural areas than in the urban cities. People in the urban cities tend to be more positive towards India. 

In India, one cannot characterise the different linguistic and ethnic groups on the basis of their perceptions about Pakistan. In Pakistan, one can, on the basis of their perceptions about India. I would categorise the Sindhis, the Mohajirs and the Balochs as largely positive towards India, the Pashtuns, the Seraikis of Southern Punjab and the Shias and the Ismailis of the Northern Areas as somewhat positive, and the Punjabis of Central and Northern Punjab, the people of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), who are largely Punjabi-speaking, and the tribals of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as largely negative. In Sindh and Balochistan, one finds that positive perceptions of India are widely prevalent in the urban as well as the rural areas. 

The rural areas of Central and Northern Punjab and the POK, some of the rural areas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the entire FATA, where the negative perceptions about India are the strongest, are also the main recruiting ground for the Pakistan Army. The Army gets about 75 per cent of its recruits in various ranks from these areas. Thus, the negative perceptions of the people of these areas about India get automatically transferred to the Army when the people of these areas join the Army in large numbers. 

These areas, where the negative perceptions about India are the strongest, are also the areas where the influence of religious orthodoxy and clerics is the strongest. Religious orthodoxy and the influence of the clerics on the minds of the people aggravate the innate negative perceptions of the people of these areas. As a result, one finds that these areas, which send the largest number of recruits to the Pakistan Army for defending Pakistan against India, also send the largest number of volunteers to the jihadi terrorist organisations for waging a jihad against India and the Hindus. 

According to a study made by Ms Rubina Saigol, Country Director, Action Aid, Pakistan, last year, about 8,000 Pakistani Punjabis, about 3,000 from the North-West Frontier Province and about 500 from Sindh are estimated to have died in the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. As against this, only 112 Balochs have died in Jihad, mostly in Afghanistan. That is, of the 11,500 Pakistani jihadis, who are estimated by a reputed Pakistani analyst to have died while waging a jihad in India since 1989, 11,000, that is, 95 per cent, came from this negative belt. 

The largest number of soldiers of the Pakistan Army, who died in the various wars against India, and the largest number of Pakistani jihadis, who died while waging a jihad against India and the Hindus, came from these areas. The nexus between the Army and Allah, of which one often talks, has its roots in this belt. It is not unusual to find in many families of this negative belt, a son who has joined the army and another, who has joined a jihadi terrorist organisation. 

Defining characteristics of the negative perceptions in the two countries

Firstly, a condescending/contemptuous attitude towards each other. This is reflected in the Pakistani beliefs that Islam brought civilisation to the Indian sub-continent, that Islam is superior to Hinduism as a religion, that one Pakistani soldier is equal to two Indian soldiers etc and in their harping on the fact that the Muslims ruled over the Hindus once upon a time. This is equally reflected in the Indian beliefs that Pakistan is a failed or a failing state, that Pakistan is a state where medieval ideas still hold sway, that Pakistanis cannot govern themselves, that Pakistan is getting rapidly Talibanised etc. 

Secondly, a deep distrust towards each other. Pakistanis feel that the Hindus are a devious people, who cannot be trusted, and many people in India nurse similar feelings towards Pakistan. 

Thirdly, a deep hostility towards each other. Each suspects the other of wanting to destabilise it. 

Reasons for these negative perceptions

These reasons are partly innate and partly historic. The innate reasons arise from the traditional distrust of the Hindus and the Muslims of each other. The historic reasons could be attributed to the still lingering memories of the Partition of India in 1947, which was preceded and accompanied by large-scale communal riots, in which the Hindus-Sikhs on the one side and the Muslims on the other killed hundreds of thousands of each other. In these riots, the Hindus suffered the worst in Sindh, Pakistani Punjab and the then East Bengal, the Sikhs suffered the worst in Pakistani Punjab and the Muslims suffered the worst in our present states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and West Bengal. 

Lingering memories of atrocities and sufferings create negative mindsets. In India, the impact of the lingering memories has been the strongest among the Hindus uprooted from Sindh and East Bengal and in Pakistan the impact has been the strongest on the minds of the Punjabi Muslims. That is why, in India, any anti-Pakistan cause finds ready adherents from those who were uprooted from Sindh and East Bengal and in Pakistan, any anti-India cause finds ready adherents from those uprooted from our Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. 

Interestingly, the Punjabi Hindus and the Sikhs, who migrated to India from Pakistan, and the Mohajirs, who migrated to Sindh from India, have by and large got over the bitterness arising from the Partition memories and no longer nurse the same kind of negative perceptions of the country from which they had to migrate. 

In India, the Hindu nationalist elements draw considerable support in the areas where the Hindu refugees from Sindh and East Bengal have settled down. The original refugees as well as their descendents still nurse negative feelings towards Pakistan. Similarly, in Pakistan, the Islamic fundamentalist elements draw considerable support in the areas where the Muslim refugees from Indian Punjab, Haryana and Delhi have settled down. The original Muslim refugees as well as their descendents still nurse negative perceptions about India. 

The negative perceptions about Pakistan are the weakest in south India because there are hardly any Hindus in the South with lingering painful memories of the Partition. 

Certain post-partition historic reasons have also contributed to strengthening these negative perceptions. As examples, one could mention, inter alia, the Pakistani belief that India and the Hindus cheated it of J&K, Hyderabad and Junagadh, the wars and conflicts over the Kashmir issue and the role of India in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 and the Indian conviction that Pakistan has been behind many of the insurgencies and terrorist movements in the Indian territory. 

In India, while sections of the political class may exploit the negative perceptions in the minds of the people regarding Pakistan for partisan political purposes, state institutions such as the civilian bureaucracy, the Armed Forces and the intelligence community do not. No attempt is made by the state institutions to keep alive the negative perceptions and strengthen them. They do draw attention to the negative perceptions in Pakistan about India and to the negative mindsets of the Pakistan Army and to the activities of the jihadi terrorists and the threats which they pose to national security, but they do this in order to safeguard our national security and not for widening the divide between the peoples of the two countries. 

In contrast, in Pakistan, the state institutions—particularly the Army and the Inter-Services intelligence (ISI), which is controlled by the Army—act in tandem with the religious fundamentalist organisations and the jihadi terrorist organisations for keeping alive the negative perceptions about India and for exploiting them to serve the Army's internal and external agenda. The Army's internal agenda is to exploit the fundamentalist and jihadi elements for marginalising the influence of the mainstream political parties as Gen.Pervez Musharraf did during the elections of 2002 in the NWFP and Balochistan and as he is reportedly planning to do in the elections due next year. Its external agenda is to exploit these elements for waging a proxy war against India in order to achieve its strategic objective relating to the annexation of J&K. 

The misinterpretation of the concept of jihad as justifying acts of violence against the external enemies of Islam and the glorification of acts of terrorism and suicide terrorism as martyrdom in the cause of Islam were a consequence of the exploitation and calculated exacerbation of the negative mindsets of religious extremist elements by the Army for serving its agenda against India. The Army of jihadi terrorists thus created in Pakistan's anti-India belt for use against India was also used against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s at the suggestion of the American and Saudi intelligence and with the funds and arms and ammunition provided by them. 

This resulted in their concept of jihad, which was till then India-centric, acquiring initially a regional dimension and then, when Osama bin Laden came to Afghanistan in 1996, a global dimension. What was initially projected before 1980 as a jihad against India to acquire J &K, became a jihad against the USSR too in order to drive it out of Afghanistan. Subsequently, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden and Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the ISI-created Taliban, it metamorphosed into a global jihad not only against all those perceived as enemies of Islam, but even against Muslims who were perceived as collaborating with these enemies of Islam. The formation by Al Qaeda and 12 other jihadi organisations of the Ummah—five of them from Pakistan's jihadi belt— of the International Islamic Front (IIF) For Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People in 1998 marked the beginning of this global jihad. 

This global jihad for the first time brought international focus on to this Army-Allah belt in Pakistan. The report of the US National Commission, which enquired into the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, contains over 200 references to the role of jihadi elements in Pakistan. It contains only one reference to India. The London blasts of July 2005 in which three suicide bombers of Pakistani origin were involved and the arrests of over 10 people—all but one of them of Pakistani origin— by the London Police in August, 2006, on a charge of planning to blow up a number of US-bound planes, brought out that all the suspected terrorists or their parents came to the UK from this jihadi belt between Central Punjab and the FATA. 

Consequently, Musharraf has been under growing international pressure to rid this area of its negative mindsets and perceptions by exercising a greater state control over the madrasas, to reform their working and syllabus, to introduce modern, non-religious education and to dismantle the jihadi terrorist infrastructure. He himself has realised that the past actions of the Army and the ISI in encouraging and exploiting these negative perceptions and mindsets against India have resulted in Pakistan becoming the spawning ground of a variety of Frankenstein's monsters and that if he did not control, if not eliminate, them, they could pose a threat to Pakistan's own security and prosperity. 

He has already initiated a number of measures for a better control over the madrasas and started a campaign against negative ideologies in the name of enlightened moderation. The implementation has been unsatisfactory due to a dilemma faced by him. He is convinced of the need to reduce their influence, but at the same time he needs them to keep the political parties of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto and Mr.Nawaz Sharif out of, and to sustain himself in, power. He is similarly convinced of the need to rid their minds of their grandiose ideas of a global jihad and to persuade them to downsize their agenda and keep their focus restricted to India and Afghanistan. However, having acted on the global scale since the formation of the IIF in 1998, they are not prepared to be less ambitious. 

Can Pakistan's perceptions and mindsets towards India change? Not in the short and medium terms. Before they start changing, its state institutions and its religious class have to be convinced of the need for such a change. There are no indications of any such change of conviction. All the talk of enlightened moderation is meant to mitigate concerns in the rest of the world about Pakistan. It does not as yet indicate an attempt to encourage a change of the mindset vis-a-vis India. 

This is not an argument against the promotion of confidence-building measures, people-to-people contacts etc. It is an argument to keep our feet firmly on the ground, to keep our eyes and ears open, not to mistake wishful-thinking for sound analysis and not to lapse into bhai-bhai reveries.

We have to be patient. We can afford to be patient. Time and reason are on India's side. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai


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