Thanks a lot Tharoor Ji!

This column No More Delusions was written by Shashi Tharoor ji for Delhi Chronicle on August 5, 2011 in response to my earlier column for Daily Times on July 25, 2011  We, the Delusional Liberals, which was in turn in response to Tharoor ji’s column Delusional Liberals on July 21, 2011 in Delhi Chronicle. This very write-up by Tharoor ji is actually an honor for me for having such a gorgeous mention of me. Posting it here to preserve it in my archives. In this article, he gave me a coveted Gandhi Cap which I’m going to celebrate for the rest of my life. Thanks a lot Tharoor ji. I’m honored! Here goes the article by hime in entirety, as it appeared in Delhi Chronicle:


No More Delusions

Few articles I’ve written have provoked as much of a storm as my last column in this space (Delusional Liberals, July 21, though the adjective “delusional” was a headline writer’s, not mine).

In that piece, I had expressed concern that some Pakistani commentators’ intolerant response to an article on Pakistan by the Indian writer Aatish Taseer, and the echoing applause of many Pakistani liberals, made me doubt whether we had credible partners for peace amongst the liberal community on the other side of the border. The reactions, particularly in social media forums, were sharp.

Inevitably, I have been subject to the usual bouts of invective and abuse that have so cheapened discourse in the age of the Internet, where the refuge provided by anonymity has encouraged a level of vileness that few would permit themselves to express face-to-face.

But those need not detain us here. Far more interesting and worthy of attention were three columns in the mainstream Pakistani media responding to mine. By broadening and deepening the terms of the debate beyond the Taseer piece, they made my original column worth writing.

The tenor of the three articles (none of whose authors I have ever met or known personally) varied. The most liberal of the trio, Marvi Sirmed, in her column in the Daily Times, began by clarifying that she had actually no disagreement with the central thesis of Aatish Taseer’s article (on the various misdeeds of the Pakistani military establishment), but had rejected the author’s assertion that his father Salman Taseer, the late governor of Pakistani Punjab, “hated” India.

She also objected to Aatish’s claim that Pakistan was the “dream of a poet” (Iqbal), though this was not an issue I had dwelt on in my own piece. And she ended with two impressive points I have no difficulty acknowledging: that I should be more conscious of the diversity of the Pakistani liberal community, and that Ms Sirmed saw herself as a proud Pakistani whose love of her country did not oblige her to hate India.

Marvi Sirmed is the kind of intelligent, broad-minded person most Indians would have no difficulty engaging with, and I tip my (metaphorical) Gandhi cap to her.

Ejaz Haider, whose riposte to Aatish Taseer had sparked my initial piece, was less accommodating of my core argument, seeing it as an exercise in “considered perception-formation and reinforcement”.

By this he seemed to imply that my article was part of a devious Indian conspiracy to affect perceptions of his country negatively; in fact he titled his column “It’s Not Just Mr. Tharoor!”

My fellow conspirators (on the basis of recent articles we had each written) apparently included young Taseer, the Mumbai-born American strategist Ashley Tellis, and the Indian analyst Nitin Pai, who has suggested (as I have done separately) that the US should end its over-generous aid to Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. Ejaz Haider then proceeds to put words in our collective mouths to the tune that we seek “India’s supremacy in the region” and the resolution of disputes only “on India’s terms”. None of us has made so fatuous a suggestion, but the exaggeration was, alas, necessary to demolish our case.

Then Ejaz Haider (who, it must be said, is one of Pakistan’s finest columnists, and whom I have enjoyed reading for years) gets onto firmer ground. He admits there is a military-civilian divide in Pakistan, but argues that most of his country’s conflicts with India have originated under, or at the instigation of, civilian politicians, not military rulers.

In any case, this is “Pakistan’s internal matter” and acknowledging it should not imply any neglect of national security or abdication of Pakistani self-interest. And the clincher: “we don’t need advice from across the border” (especially, he adds gratuitously, from pundits who “crawled on their bellies” during the Emergency, a charge from which all those he’s responding to are in fact exempt).

Ejaz Haider was joined in the pages of Pakistan’s Express Tribune by Feisal Naqvi, who found my arguments “cretinous in the extreme” and “gratuitously smug about India’s lack of strategic ambitions”.

Invective aside, Naqvi’s argument was that while Pakistanis were obsessed with India, “the opposite of India-obsessed is not India-submissive” (which, again putting words into my mouth, I allegedly want them to be). Mr Naqvi also finds, somewhere between the lines of my column, something I never wrote — a rejection of the very legitimacy of Pakistan’s existence.

Pakistani liberals, he asserts, are happy being Pakistani, value their military and have no desire to dismantle it. My article instead “delegitimises” them in the eyes of the Pakistani establishment. (Sigh.)

What’s particularly interesting about these well-written responses is that they rely principally on refuting arguments I haven’t made. Since space limitations prescribe brevity, let me make clear where I stand. I am totally reconciled to Pakistan’s existence as an independent state, and have no desire to reintegrate it into “Akhand Bharat” — indeed, the demographic, social and political evolution of Pakistan since 1947 makes it quite unsuitable for any such reabsorption.

I do understand that Pakistan has to survive in a tough neighbourhood and it needs a capable military. And I do not expect any Pakistani government, military or civilian, to act in anything but Pakistan’s own best interest.

But — and alas, there is a but — I don’t believe it’s in Pakistan’s best interest to be the country whose military consumes the largest percentage of national resources (both GDP and annual budget) of any military in the world. I don’t believe it’s in Pakistan’s best interest to adopt a policy of seeking “strategic depth” by destabilising its neighbours.

I don’t believe it’s in Pakistan’s best interest to try to wrest Kashmir from India by financing or arming violent militancy. I don’t believe it’s in Pakistan’s best interest to be the cradle and crucible of militant Islamist terrorism. I don’t believe it’s in Pakistan’s best interest to be a country where no elected civilian government has ever served a full term. And I do believe that any Pakistani liberal worth the name (take a bow, Marvi Sirmed) should have no difficulty in agreeing with any of these propositions.

Even if they come from an Indian. Ay, there’s the rub…

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram constituency

The headline is the author’s own