Shelve the Old Music Please!

This piece originally appeared in Daily Times as my weekly OpEd BAAGHI on Monday August 1, 2011

When your favourite songs are labelled under ‘old music’, it reminds one of changing times and trends. From the vintage black telephone sets transfigured into sleek smartphones, to big noisy typewriters metamorphosed into iPads, everything has changed.

Guest-lists at the White House have changed dramatically from President Reagan hosting the mujahideen with flowing beards to President Obama hosting ISI officials to ponder how to kill these mujahideen, who are now terrorists. ‘Communist threat’ in meeting agendas has been replaced by ‘right-wing threat’. Everything has changed except the Pakistani military establishment’s timeworn security paradigm and phobias centred on India.

Despite this changed panorama, we are refusing to move at its pace or even to adapt to the transformation. Stuck with the concept of ummah, we still think religion can be made the sole common ground in the international arena with interests peculiar to every nation-state. Our state-defined interest remains that of saving our borders from an ‘enemy’ that has never attacked us, a country we have attacked three times in 63 years, an economy that is too big for us to compete with under the present circumstances and a people we have waged proxy wars against.

If it is just India, here is something that should ring an alarm bell: India has finally cut a deal to pay Iran’s oil bills via Turkey. Hello? It is India thawing with your Muslim brothers! Or vice versa? If you are thinking the US will come to your rescue and raise eyebrows at India-Iran cosying up to each other, why would it oblige you? The US gets its flag burnt in our streets every day. Our corps commanders issue valiant public statements to vow that they could do without the US. We oust the Americans from our country. Surprisingly, the arrangement of India’s payment to Iran through Turkey was in fact proposed initially by the US itself.

It is, therefore, not just our souring relations with the US that are pushing it towards more balancing actions in the region. There is more to it. India matters. India gives the US jobs and a market. India has emerged as a responsible nation that is not causing trouble in the world, not even in Pakistan. At least that is the perception India has created for itself. India has emerged as a stable, viable and trustworthy partner that has no underlying agenda of destroying the US or the west or of its own ideological expansion. Despite having a Muslim population now equalling the entire population of Pakistan, India could never be traced as the source of Islamic terrorism.

“Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine,” said Madeleine Albright once, alluding to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, terrorism, extremism, corruption and poverty. She was probably being kind, as she did not mention how it has become a migraine for even itself.

The migraine story does not, however, start from 9/11 or with the Afghan ‘jihad’. It did not start with the India-centric security policy and the entire defence and strategic paradigm gifted to Pakistan’s military establishment by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The quest for global expansion, influence and unity among Muslims beyond cultural and geographic boundaries dates back to the Khilafat Movement, or maybe even before that. Supported by senior Indian leaders, the Khilafat Movement led the Muslims of the subcontinent closer to the message of Ikhwanul Muslimeen — the ummah. India was saved due to its state-endorsed pluralism and secularism while Pakistan could not survive state-patronised insanity. We calculated religion to be the most effective tool to tackle ‘Hindu India’ and to bond with ‘Muslim brothers’ for strategic edge.

Pursuance of national interest by every state goes much beyond religious or ideological considerations in the real world. A normal state would not say no to economic ties with any viable country just based on their religious preferences. The world’s sole superpower considers itself dependent on others in economic and security fields despite its technological superiority. China and India decide to grow their trade relations despite a hostile historical baggage. India pursues economic ties with the US despite ideological differences. Where is the logic of intransigence from an underdeveloped resource-starved country?

China became India’s largest trade partner in 2008 with around $ 51.8 billion in bilateral trade — a 43 percent leap in trade volume from the previous year. Sino-Indian bilateral trade exceeded the target in 2010, thanks to rising Indian imports of Chinese machinery. The 2010-11 figures show that Chinese exports to India have already touched a record $ 40.8 billion. In addition to machinery and IT, Indian pharmaceutical companies are accelerating some $ 2 billion in China from its healthcare reforms, informs The Economic Times.

Similarly, Iran is all set to continue crude oil exports to India after the two countries worked out the payment method through Turkey, new rupee accounts and barter deals. The barters might include Indian exports like steel, food and electronic goods, reports The Financial Times. If this happens, it would be the first time after the Iran-Iraq War back in the 1980s that Iran would be entering into such barter deals. According to one report, the annual trade between India and Iran is estimated at $ 12 billion with India purchasing about 400,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil.

Not only are Iran and Turkey ‘betraying’ Islamic brotherhood and China ‘deceiving’ a friendship higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the ocean, Brutus — the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — is also in on it. According to a report by the Press Trust of India, Saudi Arabia has already agreed to sell three million barrels of extra crude oil to India to offset a possible energy crisis. Just when handsome petrodollars are being poured into financing terrorism in Pakistan in the name of Islamic supremacy in hypothetical Khorasan (which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, some Central Asian States and parts of India), Brutus is shaking hands with Caesar, so to speak.

India conducted a nuclear test much before us but what makes it more acceptable is its constant efforts to improve its human development indicators, its serious commitment to non-proliferation, its democratic mechanism of checks and balances, accountability of its defence sector that to-date remains subservient to its people’s will through their representatives. Most of all, India stands out because of its commitment to pluralism, its recognition of new opportunities to improve relations with world powers due to economic considerations, its renewed focus on internal development, less prickly attitude to the outside world and responsible nuclear behaviour that comes from its complete refusal to impose its own system on the entire world.

Before the readers dismiss it as a eulogy of India, please consider what havoc we have played with our own people, our own country by not doing what India has been doing. And today, India remains much more respected and trusted than us when not even our closest allies are ready to trust us, including our ‘Muslim brothers’. Even if the central focus of our existence is to tackle India (really?), should we not re-assess our policies urgently? Or do we want our people to keep suffering for shortage of just everything that life demands and inflation of a useless collective religious zeal, which pushes extremist ideologies deep down our system?

Suffering is not a seasonal pursuit in Pakistan. It seems permanent, obscure, dark, infinite and undying. When every moment brings a new embarrassment, anguish, travail onto us, a new migraine to others, and our Generals still talk of hollow and ambiguous ‘honour’, one is obliged to think that Pakistan is a General away from peace, prosperity and honour. Time to shelve old, not-so-melodious music.