October 19, 2013 by vishfulthinking
As a student of cancer biology, I know a thing or two about how a human cell can alter itself to become cancerous simply because of a few micro-environmental changes that inflame a region of the tissue. Such inflamed regions highlight the genetic fault-lines of a particularly vulnerable cell and drives it towards a cascade of unwanted mutations leading to the destruction of the tissue. Geopolitics has become my hobby for the last couple of years, and I do find a similarity between the behavior of nations and the behavior of human cells. This piece of writing is by no means a condescending view-point by an Indian about Pakistan but a largely objective, microscopic view of my next door neighbor that intrigues me as much as any interesting biological phenomenon.
Pakistan is that strange place that stands as the 6th largest nation in terms of population and yet collects less tax than Guatemala, now find Guatemala on the map, find out its population and get surprised! Pakistan is also the country that has received the most American aid in the last ten years, even greater than that of Israel. Although, the aid was given to capture and neutralize the extremist leaders of the world, the number one target was captured 700 meters away from their army’s post allegedly caught totally unaware of the entire episode for many years. It occured in a city that used to be a cantonment for the East India company, named after some army general called Abbott and hence the name, Abbottabad. Pakistan is also a strange nation due to its flawed electoral system, a national government can be elected if they get a majority in just one province, the province of Pakistani Punjab. This province simply has the majority of seats! That is like winning a national election simply by winning Texas! Crazy! Pakistan is also that strange nation that has both its borders, western border with Afghanistan and a part of its eastern border with India, unrecognized by both these nations. It is a country that cannot stop itself from twisting and tweaking history in its textbooks to teach its young impressionable minds the three glorious victories it has had with India at the battle front, although it has lost each one of them. It is a country that banned the inflow of Indian Bollywood movies in the 1960s in a fit of rage and hate only to find its own indigenous movie industry spearheaded with renowned actors like Mohammad Ali, Waheed Murad and Sultan Rahi retire and bow out of their movie business, because apart from the cliched subjects of “Gundagiri” and “Gandasa culture”, their storytellers had nothing new to offer to the ever-growing conservative mindset that gripped the minds of its public due to an ideological exhaustion. An exhaustion caused due to a never-ending cycle of a civilian government followed by a military-dictator rule that has affected its public discourse tremendously for the last 60 odd years.
A brief glimpse of its media discourse posted on YouTube (believe me, I have seen a lot of videos with great patience and interest) tells the extent to which the country is confused and perplexed of its own identity, of its own culture, of its own history and most importantly of its present and future. The natural reflex action to this void created by a perplexed state of mind is pure aggression, aggression that has made Pakistan the fastest nuclear proliferating country in the world. This reminds me of a joke by Louis CK, one should never buy a yacht when one has just enough money to buy a yacht. One should buy a house in New York, a car, a limousine, a Harley Davidson, and then probably a yacht. Otherwise, one will find oneself barely managing to live in a New York rented apartment trying to maintain a yacht!
As Bruce Riedel, rightly points out in his magnificent book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, the 1999 Kargil war started off with the traditional Pakistani aggression and with the confidence of an added layer of nuclear deterrence that would stop India from responding with all its might. The strategy worked to a great extent but thanks to India’s strong foreign diplomacy and of course its obvious strengths in traditional warfare, the war had no chance of a happy ending to the Pakistani side. It wasn’t a happy ending to the India side as well, because no war can ever be.
The newly elected Sharif government has created history in Pakistan by being the only civilian government to succeed a previously elected civilian government (of course, you know how? They just won Punjab!). The Sharif government is not new, It was in power during the Kargil war of 1999 and was brought down by a military coup only to be taken over by a military rule (you know the regular cycle of exchange of governments). Therefore, it is obvious that this new Sharif government has learned its lesson of how to manage the power of its military, that is by not really indulging with it. The latest ceasefire violations by Pakistan on the Indian border, the most in the last decade echos the age old cry that emanates from the Pakistani public discourse, to be at war with India is its constitutional position and the safest way to be in power in the political scene of Pakistan. Strangely enough, the latest Pakistani movie, (they make about 10-20 movies in 2-3 years) its costliest till date, entitled ‘Waar’ is waging a full fledged battle against the Bollywood movies, ‘Chennai Express’ and ‘Boss’ which is a good sign for the presumably dead Pakistani movie industry.
So coming back, until this Sharif government is in power, India cannot expect any sort of a fruitful, peaceful, diplomatic dialogue with Pakistan, definitely not without the disturbing background noise of cross-border skirmishes.
Borrowing from the wisdom of MJ Akbar, a brilliant Indian journalist, the idea of India is stronger than an average Indian but the idea of Pakistan seems to be weaker than an average Pakistani. If this is true, the only way India and Pakistan can have a peaceful future is for India to make itself clear that, it doesn’t intend to monopolize and dominate Pakistan culturally through its TV dramas and Bollywood movies, it doesn’t intend to block the rivers of Indian Punjab in to Pakistan, it doesn’t need any part of Pakistani land and the problem of Kashmir can be resolved by building on the mechanism suggested by Musharraf-Vajpayee think-tank, i.e. to recognize the present occupied borders politically but ease the trade and bidirectional economic and cultural transactions to such an extent that the actual borders don’t matter to the people.
If the South-Asian community wants the economic prosperity of the European Union and the cultural riches of its own ancient past, then, the elimination of trust deficit between India and Pakistan is the stepping stone. To cater to the building of a stable Pakistan that isn’t paranoid of its large neighbor in the form of India will be India’s most significant foreign policy mission. This mission will also go a long way in cooling down the inflamed worldview of the extremists. By converting this trust deficit in to faith surplus, the public discourse in Pakistan can change for the better, it can find its soul in its high Islamic values while it befriends its eternal brother, the secular peace-loving India. This thought is not new but it is the only solution. It is not a quick fix but the only real fix. This is not a cop-out for both the raging armies but the only diplomatic end-game.
A paradigm shift in treating cancer is just sprouting in the basic research laboratories of the world. Drugs and treatments that nullify inflammation, methodologies that convert the raging tumor micro-environment to a soothing environment, that allows the cancer cells to revert back to its original state of a normal functioning cell of a healthy tissue, is not just a scientific fiction anymore. A cure may not be in sight but it is always hiding in a corner!