Keeping it rational: in response to Tanishk Saha's article.
Albert Camus once stated that ‘the morning after a historical crisis, you feel sick and sad as after a heavy night. But there is no aspirin for historical hangovers’. Quite apt, especially so in the context of being at university and the ever perpetual conflict on the Indian Subcontinent between India and Pakistan. Ultimately this is a conflict rooted in centuries of ever so slight differences in cultural and national identity that inch-by-inch have reached breaking-point. Tanishk wrote a fantastic article on why both nations and peoples should act more rationally and that we ought to recognise ourselves as humans above our petty national squabbles. All laudable aims that I can actually align myself with, however, for this historical hangover the aspirin is not a metaphysical exploration of our shared humanity but rather a careful and forceful examination of the role of the Pakistani state at encouraging, abetting and fermenting Islamist violence across the border into both India and Afghanistan. Once one understands the context, it becomes far more difficult to just reduce this conflict to a philosophical exploration; indeed, as much as I love philosophy, the geopolitical implications of this power struggle are huge.
It is totally undeniable that the Pakistani state sponsors terrorism. The Brookings Institute from the United States has stated that Pakistan is the biggest state sponsor of terror after Iran. This is hilarious because Iran literally funds the most active organisation in the world: Hezbollah. For those that claim that we ought to treat the Pakistani state as if it were a benign actor with aims as legitimate as that of the United Kingdom or France this presents a conundrum. Indeed, we could continue to engage with the Pakistani state on the level of a perfectly legitimate country or we could treat it like we treat Iran and other state-sponsors of terror. I think given the scale and veracity of Pakistan’s terrorist network we ought to treat it as much of a threat to international security as Iran, especially given it’s possession of nuclear weapons. The Pakistani state has been indirectly responsible for the murder of hundreds of Indian and Afghan civilians in terror attacks across the subcontinent. It continues to flaunt and show total disregard to international pressure by continuing to harbour terrorist training camps and it’s intelligence agency the ISI continually maintains close contact with organisations such as JeM, The Afghan Taliban (including the Haqqani Network which has been responsible for the deaths of numerous NATO soldiers), Al-Qaeda, LeT and many other Islamist organisations that use indiscriminate terror as a method of destabilizing both Afghanistan and the Kashmir Valley. The grand scale of Pakistan’s machinations provide a fairly solid plank to make it exempt from any philosophising. I find it difficult to treat the Pakistani state as if it were a moral agent worth defending; the Pakistani people on the other hand I have a whole deal of sympathy for, which I will address later.
For the West, we must also be wary of the greater geopolitical game being played in the Kashmir Valley and upon the Indian Subcontinent. I am of the opinion that the West is engaged in an existential conflict for influence in the region against the Chinese State. China is undoubtedly using Pakistan as a proxy in it’s battle for regional supremacy against India. By treating Pakistan as a neutral, benign actor ignores the role it has to play in perpetuating Chinese influence in the region. Indeed, economically Pakistan is already at the heart of the Belt and Road Project that will eventually cut India and other Western allies off vital trading routes. Pakistan is also ceding control of vital water resources in the Kashmir Valley such as Aksai-Chin in an effort to limit India’s ability to extract natural resources to feed its ever growing population. It is essential that we see the bigger picture here and instead of treating the Pakistani state as a neutral power in its battles against India, we ought to treat it as a Sino-Pakistani axis further seeking to limit India in the region which has a slew of repercussions for India and other Western allies in the region such as Japan and pretty-much all of Southeast Asia.
The one area I can agree with Tanishk on wholeheartedly is the need for a greater sense of humanity and our shared identity as human beings. Indeed, there are some causes worth dying for but certainly no ideals worth killing for. This ought to affirm the covenant between two nations that Tanishk rather haphazardly describes as a relationship between siblings. It it totally admirable and in-fact desirable, however, for this metaphor to truly work one has to separate the Pakistani people themselves from the Pakistani state. I have sympathy for the people and a great deal of compassion for the struggle they put themselves through. Here is a nation, here are a peoples that picked themselves up in the wake of the horrors of partition and instantly attempted to create an identity for itself and for a while at-least, it seemed to be powering past it’s neighbour with a faster growing economy and more dynamic geopolitical role. I feel a great deal of compassion for the everyday Pakistani who is forced to live under a shadow quasi-democratic state where the military controls and stamps over civil liberties and exerts undeniable pressure upon institutional independence. If there is one thing this article ought to bring about is the understanding that for as radical and reckless the Pakistani state maybe, it is in no-way representative of the desire of ordinary Pakistani’s to create a 21st Century nation not shrouded by religious bigotry and intolerance. It’s a shame that the burning desire of peoples to be free is stamped out far too often by religion, the state and foreign actors. On this, I’m sure both me and Tanishk can agree.
What is to be done of this historical hangover? It is clear to me that increasing pressure must be placed upon the Pakistani state to not only condemn but to dismantle all state funding of terrorism. This will inevitably fail but there needs to be international condemnation and a recognition that there can be no toleration for funding and supporting Islamist terrorism. There also needs to be support for Pakistani dissident groups and individuals such as the eminently brave Asia Bibi to fight back against the backward intolerance and bigotry imposed upon a nation of 200 million by an Islamist elite that care not for the prosperity or freedom of its people. Before long with strong political action by the West and local partners and an igniting of the spirit of rebellion, our historical hangover can disappear once and for all.