For all the nostalgic ‘they-are-like us’ comments, pushed forward by woolly-headed Indian liberals and their Leftist comrades, India and Pakistan represent two contrasting ideologies — the two poles that can’t meet. The heroes of one are invariably the villains of the other, and vice versa writes Utpal Kumar

During his visit to the United Arab Emirate (UAE), an Arab nation with which India led by Narendra Modi has had a robust relationship, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called upon his hosts to bring India back to the negotiating table for “serious and sincere talks”. In an interview with Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV, Sharif said that Pakistan had learned its lesson after three wars with India. Wars “only brought more misery, poverty, and unemployment to the people”, he said.

Interestingly, Sharif’s spokesman later clarified that “talks can only take place after India has reversed its illegal action” of 5 August 2019. “Without India’s revocation of this step, negotiations are not possible,” the statement added.

Now that’s called having the cake and eating it too. Of initiating a peace talk, and then putting preconditions before it! But then this is how Islamabad operates. It talks in many languages at one and the same time. But as past experiences suggest, India needs to be doubly careful when Pakistani politicians and generals talk of peace. For, when Pakistan pushes for talks, then peace is among the last things hovering its mind.

In a way, by immediately clarifying the Pakistan Prime Minister’s statement, Sharif’s spokesperson actually did India a favour. For, such is the nature of world diplomacy that everyone wants to be seen as pro-talks, with a bonus point for those initiating them in the first place. Had the spokesperson not explained the forked nature of the Pakistani offer, India would have been forced to react.

There was a time when Pakistan would disproportionately occupy India’s diplomatic mindspace. Every Prime Minister from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh would be swayed by the prospect of rewriting the India-Pakistan peace saga. Such was the obsessive fascination for talks that there was a pattern: Every new government would push for talks with Pakistan. This would be followed by a terror strike of one hue or the other. The two nations would then talk tough for a few months, followed by a fresh round of dialogue. All through, nothing changes on the ground; even the players remain the same.

India and Pakistan talked for the sake of talks. In a way, talks became an end in themselves. The obsession with “aman ki asha” was such that no one would ask the fundamental question: What has changed that we are talking to each other? No one asked Vajpayee why he was inviting Gen Pervez Musharraf, the chief architect of Kargil, in Agra within a couple years of the Himalayan perfidy in 1999 that led to the violent deaths of so many young Indian soldiers. One kept talking because one thought that’s how diplomacy is done. It never came to one’s mind that not talking was also a diplomatic endeavour. The end result was the perception among the Pakistani establishment that India could be pushed around, hurt, maimed, and even disintegrated — without expecting any retaliation in return.

Uri and Balakot changed all that. By punishing Pakistan for terror originating on its soil, India made its western neighbour accountable for its acts of omission and commission. A new Lakshman Rekha was drawn and the politicians and generals of Pakistan suddenly realised that this particular line cannot be crossed without repercussions. Is it any surprise that most terror strikes took place in Indian cities — from New Delhi and Ahmedabad to Varanasi and Mumbai (forget about Kargil) — at a time when India was most dialogue-friendly with Pakistan?

Instead of wasting its energies on Pakistan, the Modi government focused on improving India’s ties with the Arab and Gulf nations. The result has been nothing short of spectacular. It may baffle many foreign experts, but the Arab and Gulf nations never had such a vibrant relationship with India, as it is now with a supposedly Hindu majoritarian government.

India should realise that there cannot be an easy way out. Pakistan is like an errand child who has been made to believe that being wayward and mischievous works in today’s world. Born out of India in 1947, it is well short of experience as a nation state. And whatever little experience it has, it only has been pampered by the West in the name of fighting terrorism, and placated by India in the hope it doesn’t go rogue and join the dangerous jihadi path. Every concession becomes a further proof that India and the West can be bullied into conceding more.

If Pakistan being a young country was bad enough, its decision to cut itself from its ancient past created a nation of rootless people. Islamic Pakistan, after coming into existence in 1947, decided to deny its own civilisational past. Pakistan became a victim of, to use the words of VS Naipaul in Beyond Belief, “the dreadful mangling of history”, where “too much has to be ignored or angled; there is too much of fantasy”. It is this anti-civilisational mindset that baffled Pakistani historian and columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha to see Islamabad officially declaring Mohammad bin Qasim — the Arab invader who invaded Sindh in 712 CE and killed, maimed and enslaved the very ancestors of today’s Pakistanis — the “first citizen of Pakistan” (Points of Entry: Encounters at the Origin Sites of Pakistan).

So, for all the nostalgic ‘they-are-like us’ comments, pushed forward by woolly-headed Indian liberals and their Leftist comrades, the fact is India and Pakistan represent two contrasting ideologies — the two poles that can’t meet. The heroes of one are invariably the villains of the other, and vice versa. No wonder Pakistan loves naming its missiles after Qasim, Ghori and Ghazni.

Since Independence in 1947, writes Husain Haqqani in Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, “Pakistanis have been told that their country is a ‘citadel of Islam’, that its destiny is to be an Islamic state, and that its army is the ‘sword of Islam’.” The problem is, as Babar Ayaz explains in What’s Wrong With Pakistan?, the “genetic defect” of Pakistan: “Pakistan is today consumed by the religiosity that was whipped as a ‘means’ to achieve a separate homeland.”

What further adds to this perennial struggle between India and Pakistan, sadly, is the Pakistan Army seeing itself not just as the protector of Pakistan’s territorial integrity but also its ideological frontiers. According to C Christine Fair, in Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, the Pakistan Army views its struggle with India in existential terms. “For Pakistan’s men on horseback, not winning, even repeatedly, is not the same thing as losing. But simply giving up and accepting the status quo and India’s supremacy, is, by definition, defeat… Pakistan’s generals would always prefer to take a calculated risk and be defeated than to do nothing at all,” she says.

This mindset explains Pakistan’s incessant support to terrorism in India. This explains why Pakistani generals could take insane gambles, like the one taken by Gen Musharraf in Kargil. This also explains why India must be prepared for a perpetual state of warfare, overt or covert. Pakistani politicians and generals may occasionally talk peace and raise the K-bogey, as Sharif has done this time in the UAE, but the fact remains that for Islamist Pakistan, the real problem is the civilizational idea of India.