An open letter to Indians

Published: October 1, 2016
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File photo of Indian army on LoC.

Dear Indians,

As someone whose recent family history is very much a consequence of partition, I am no stranger to the divisiveness of Pak-India politics. Despite a shared history and culture, we stand today as two nuclear armed nations that have fought three wars against each other.

Hatred for the other is fostered in both countries – neither India nor Pakistan is innocent as far as propagating hyper-nationalist aggression is concerned, but this time around, it feels slightly different. This time around, your government, sections of your media, and sections of your civil society (in concert with the government) are behaving in an exceptionally immature and dangerous manner. They are committing themselves to positions that are harmful to regional stability and to the prosperity of both countries.

In short, they’re making a mistake and they’re embarrassing your country. Here’s why:

Kashmir

Both your government, and to a worrying extent your media, are unwilling to accept the grave seriousness, and the indigenous nature of the Kashmir problem. Terrorist or freedom fighter, love him or hate him, Burhan Wani was an inspiring figure for thousands of Kashmiris.

Remove yourself from the politics of it for a second and consider that at face value: a separatist who’s killing drew hundreds of thousands at his funeral, and thousands upon thousands on the streets for months after – that’s indicative of a serious underlying problem that your government is either failing to recognise, or worse, has recognised and is now foolishly trying to quell by force.

They’re pulling the wool over your eyes by blaming the problem on Pakistan, and by labelling dissenters as ‘terrorists’ and the unrest as ‘Pakistan-funded’ they’re playing on your nationalistic sensitivities to divert attention from a very home grown, very Indian problem.

The reason the bodies of dead protesters are being wrapped in Pakistani flags, the reason some Kashmiris support Pakistan against India in cricket matches, the reason that slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ are chanted in Kashmir is not because of some elaborate ISI conspiracy that’s now coming to the fore (as your media would have you believe).

The reason is simple; the people in Kashmir, and especially the younger generation, are sick and tired of a 700,000 strong force that routinely beats, shoots, blinds, rapes and murders them. They’re sick and tired of living under occupation, under a law that is so draconian (Armed Forces Special Powers Acts or AFSPA) that it’s startling to me that anyone in India is surprised by Burhan Wani’s popularity.

Kashmiris don’t raise Pakistani flags because there’s some mysterious ISI handlers coordinating it behind the scenes; they raise them because the world has been silent to their suffering, and because (for better or for worse), Pakistan is the only country that decries these atrocities and places moral support behind their right to determine their own future, especially when so much of their past has been robbed from them.

Any Kashmiri who is my age (24) has essentially been born into, and lived their whole life under the AFSPA and has been witness to unspeakable excesses committed by the Indian Army after the Pundit exodus.

If you have actually read the AFSPA and have heard about how the Indian Army has treated people, then it should come as no surprise why protestors take to the streets every single day, despite knowledge of the fact that they will be shot at with guns that could blind and/or kill them. Peddling the view that the unrest in Kashmir is Pakistan sponsored ‘terrorism’ is a deliberate strategy employed by your government to hide their own repeated failures in the region.

It’s convenient, and it’s easily believed (because Pakistan has a bad track record here) but in this instance, it’s simply inaccurate. The indigenous nature of recent unrest in Kashmir is blindingly (morbid pun not intended) self-evident, and a direct consequence of the centre’s inability to reconcile with a rightfully aggrieved population.

Please stop buying into the lie that the recent unrest in Kashmir is Pakistan’s doing because it’s short changing the Kashmiri people’s opportunity to highlight their plight. It’s making them guilty by association – when they’re really not.

Uri

The attack on Uri had barely wound down when your government/media started hurling accusations at Pakistan. This is not only dangerous, it’s pretty unprofessional from a journalistic point of view. What evidence? What markings? Food wrappers? Really? Is this the standard that ‘the world’s biggest democracy’ holds its press to?

Your media/armchair strategists then took it one step further – they started talking about a ‘befitting response’ and ‘the whole jaw for a tooth’, ‘hot pursuit’ and ‘surgical strikes’ and other nonsense to that effect. All of this before any kind of formal investigation into the incident had even taken shape.

Please make no mistakes: this is equal parts stupid, dangerous, and delusional. Pakistan is a sovereign nation – any encroachment or direct attack on Pakistan will be considered (rightly so) as an act of war. Your ‘befitting response’ will beget its own ‘befitting response’ and before you know it, a chain of events get set off that culminate in nuclear war.

And for what? Some political point scoring? So Narendra Modi can look like the tough guy he purported himself to be? So war-mongering Indian news anchors (who are honestly some of the most amusingly aggressive people I have ever come across) can finally be satisfied? I can almost hear them shouting ‘khoon ka badla khoon’ (blood is avenged by blood) or something equally Bollywood right now.

Please, my Indian friends, do not be swayed by these embarrassments to the profession of investigative journalism. They’re mouthpieces of your government and their post Uri behaviour is telling of a level of aggression syndicated by your government that was/is independent of what happened in Uri – an aggression that is pre-planned and in-line with your PM’s decision to support terrorism in Balochistan. The kind of aggression that Pakistan has always feared and always prepared for.

Nuclear war is no joke, neither is it some distant, far-off possibility in our fragile sub-continental context. Nuclear war is mutually assured destruction (MAD) of the worst kind. Nobody wants that. Not even you Mr Goswami. Come to think of it you don’t look like you’d be very comfortable in any confrontation outside of a shouting match, let alone a nuclear war.

Balochistan

Your PM has taken a position of open, overt, unapologetic interference in Balochistan and your government is now offering asylum to a man who is directly responsible for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers. Think about this for a second – this would be like Pakistan publicly declaring its official intent to fund and arm members of the Khalistan movement and then start offering them citizenship and hosting them on our talk shows.

In Pakistan, we’re all aware of the fact that India has been funding terrorism in Balochistan, but when it becomes the official and declared policy of your PM it becomes a very serious problem. It’s akin to the difference between a situation in which you know your neighbour’s dog s***s on your lawn and you hate him for it, to a situation in which your neighbour makes it his Facebook status that his dog does in fact take s***s on your lawn, and that he intends on allowing this s***ting to continue unabatedly. The former, one can live with (albeit grudgingly) – the latter has consequences.

Water

Your government is now taking a position where it is signalling that it either intends on violating the terms, or unilaterally pulling out of the Indus Water Treaty. The Indus Water Treaty has been in place through the 1965, 1971, and Kargil wars. It’s sacrosanct because it is a shared resource that millions of people depend on for their livelihood. Cutting off water supply, or choking the water supply coming into Pakistan in violation of a treaty would be considered no less than an act of war, as it signals intent to do mass damage to both life and property. Such a move would be dumb as it leaves Pakistan with no choice but to react out of self-defence.

It’s also a dangerous game to be playing since China could easily get involved (they’re upstream of you) and beat Modi at his own nasty game. Water is a vital resource without which crops will die and people will go hungry, which would lead to serious destabilisation. A destabilised Pakistan is not good for India, especially when the destabilisation can be clearly attributed to Indian policy.

The international community may view India as a rising star, but this rising star status is likely to be dampened if your PM keeps behaving like a nutter. He’s overreaching and will find himself out of his depth, causing serious loss of face on his part. The prospect of this loss of face might even persuade him to double down on his current strategy, which would of course be the recipe for a perfect storm.

Consider that Modi’s policy of diplomatic ‘isolation’ is already falling flat on its face: Pakistan is holding its first ever joint military exercise with Russia since 1947, just got the US to signal that it doesn’t support India’s position on Balochistan, and got China to chime in that it would stand behind Pakistan in any cases of foreign aggression.

So, isolation? Not really.

Try again Modi, or better yet, calm yourself and come back down to reality.

The ‘terrorism’ hypocrisy

Your government and your media propagate a view that Pakistan is some sort of rogue state that functions solely to export terrorism. What they don’t tell you or what you choose to ignore is that Pakistan is a much greater victim of terrorism than India – we have lost over 8000 soldiers and 80,000 civilians in the fight against terrorism just in the past 12 years. We’ve taken on jihadi outfits left, right and centre – even ones that we had a hand in creating.

For your every Pathankot, we’ve had 10 Pathankot’s. For your every Mumbai attack, we’ve had five Mumbai attacks. Our cities have been plagued by suicide bombers and fear, and your government has been complicit in some of this terror. It has funded anti-state militants in Balochistan as your PM all but admitted to, has sought to destabilise Karachi through Altaf Hussain and has also used consulates in Afghanistan to fund the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) through RAW. When your media launches a tirade against Pakistan as a sponsor of terror, they fail to point out that your own government has actively pursued a policy of sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan.

Whether you agree with this policy (you might well think that it’s a justified tit-for-tat response to perceived interference in Kashmir) is irrelevant – rather what’s important to understand is that Pakistanis these days operate (rightly so) under the assumption that the Indian government is doing everything it can to actively destabilise the country through nefarious means.

For all the Indian friends I have made over the years as a student in the US, I’ve never met a single one that hasn’t expressed a desire for peace and cooperation between our two countries. Granted, I’ve had extremely heated debates, but regardless of our disagreements over specific issues we’ve always netted out on the shared belief that the future of our region should hold less, and not more, of what we’ve become accustomed to our entire lives. This knowledge is what motivates me to write this out – the knowledge that there’s a divide between most Indians and Indian government policy, and that there are reasonable people on both sides of the border that should be actively engaging with one another.

If you have not already, I implore you to open your eyes to the reality in Kashmir – the reality of crimes committed against a civilian populace, the reality of rapes and shotguns, of mass graves and curfews. The reality that what’s now happening is somewhere between civil disobedience and an intifada and that the fault is primarily your government/army’s.

There are hawks on both sides of the border – people who benefit from aggressive posturing and the possibility of war. These are the same people who are doing a disservice to the majority of their countrymen who are just regular people that want to live peaceful, prosperous lives.

I think it’s also important to point out the amount of amusement Pakistanis treat the scrambling of your politicians and Director General of Military Operations with. In an attempt to divert attention from Kashmir and placate the hawks in India, your government/army is now telling you fairy tales of how paratroopers crossed into Pakistan, killed a bunch of terrorists, and then somehow flew back unharmed, in what they’re calling a ‘surgical strike’.

Make no mistake – these are such lofty fabrications that people in the Pakistan Army don’t know what to make of it; they’re somewhere between amused and confused considering that if there was a surgical strike, it was so damn surgical that there are no signs of it whatsoever. What has been established is that at least eight of your soldiers have been killed and one has been captured.

So, surgical strike? More like surgical blunder.

I hope that after reading this you will leave with at least some sense of perspective – some sense of how the other side sees the moves your government is making, and some sense of how this is likely to play out if left unchecked. You’re better than Modi, Ajit Doval, and the RSS, India. Don’t let them monopolise your country’s future and stop letting them embarrass you as a country.

Best,

Ibrahim Pataudi (a regular Pakistani citizen)

Ibrahim.Pataudi

Ibrahim Pataudi

The author is the director of business development at TapFwd, a startup based in San Francisco.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.