Why India should be helping Pakistan post 26-11.

*Warning: Longish post *

It’s been a month since the Bombay blasts. We’ve had the time to let it sink and now that we have some distance from the incident itself, we are in a better position to really understand the problem. Not try and suggest solutions but first look at the problem.

Everyone’s either advocating military action, skillful diplomacy, better intelligence & homeland security or applying international pressure on Pakistan, among other options. But, if we don’t want another 26/11 to happen, we need to approach the problem totally differently.

For starters, recognize the real problems in Pakistan. From this article
…These topics also fill most news broadcasts and top the headlines in every Pakistani newspaper. Pakistanis talk about these issues on the streets, in the markets, and at the masjids. These issues – the economy, the electricity load sharing, the water shortage, and the political instability – cut across social class, gender, and geography. Hardly anyone talks about extremism. You might catch a mention of extremist actions in the last few minutes of a news broadcast – if you have electricity to watch the news, that is.

And this chilling line from The Hindu about the village from which Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone captured terrorist, hails from – “Some locals have claimed that Faridkot, and another poor village nearby called Tara Singh, are a recruitment hotbed for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group accused of carrying out the Mumbai attack.

This is exactly what is happening in Pakistan. Their economy is in shambles and millions of poor people have no idea where to turn. And then, a LeT leader shows up at their doorstep and promises them some cash if they let their son Ajmal Amir Kasab “work” for them. The young impressionable kids are shown clips of Narendra Modi and how certain parts of India are wallowing in luxury while Pakistan is suffering. And voila! a “terrorist” is born.

The implication for us – As long as Pakistan continues to sink deeper into poverty, there is no possibility of peace in India.

Now, lets look at our own country. 46% of the nation’s income is accounted for by the top one-fifth of its people. How unbelievable is that?? Granted – the top one-fifth made their money through honest means. They pay their taxes. And do some charity work. But is that all? If a small section of the country is absorbing half the wealth, that pretty much leaves the other four-fifths battling for scraps. Or indulging in crime. Or taking up terrorism.

It is true that Pakistan asked for a separate state. And on current evidence, they have clearly failed. But if we let them go down the tube, there will be more 26-11s. Make no mistake about that.

So let me toss a suggestion – how about we HELP Pakistan? Not just lip service or any half-hearted gestures, but actually HELP them. For two reasons:

1) Pure selfishness. We don’t want the LeT recruiting more adolescents by throwing some cash at their parents.
2) Out of a sense of humanity. An old man dying of cold and hunger in Pakistan is no different to one dying on our side of Punjab.

World Public Opinion recently did an extensive survey in Pakistan and believe it or not, the US presence in the region is viewed by a significant majority of Pakistanis as a bigger threat than India. Almost three in four—72 percent—call the US military presence in Asia a critical threat. There has never been a better time to get ourselves on the side of the people of Pakistan.

Again, I know this is radical, but nothing else will work. We have millions of poor Muslims in Pakistan, and just as significantly, millions of poor Muslims in India. Sure, we can bomb certain areas in Pakistan / secure our borders / establish a federal investigative agency etc. But the poor sections of the 300 million Muslims in India are extremely vulnerable to being tapped up by the LeT or Al Qaeda or Jaish-e-Mohammad. Can we “protect” ourselves from all of them? We would be living in a constant state of fear in spite of all the security measures we may implement. If either the US or India bomb Pakistan and generate more anger and disillusionment, those feelings will find an outlet in India, given our proximity and history. The LeT will just find more Kasab’s lining up at their doors.

If India, as a predominantly Hindu state, helps Pakistan out, I don’t see why the Muslim community should carry on with their hatred of Indians. I don’t think this is being too naive. The only reason the LeT or a JeM still exist is because the people they represent are poor (and mostly illiterate) and they can use religion as leverage to exploit the anger / frustration. The rapid growth and proliferation of religious fundamentalism is a direct consequence of the cold exploitation of certain societies in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America by the US, and to a lesser extent, the USSR in the post WW-II period. (This topic deserves a separate post).

An Ajmal Amir Kasab going on a shooting spree is unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is humanity turning a blind eye towards the masses struggling with poverty, disease and illiteracy. In Africa. In South America. In Pakistan. Ajmal Amir Kasab mirrors our own attitude towards him – indifference. The world, and by implication India, were indifferent to his family’s misery, and he will show no remorse in gunning us down. Given his philosophy, firmly entrenched in the belief that Indians don’t care about his people, his acts are justified. In the bigger scheme of things, we’ve all collectively created living conditions where large sections of humanity are forced to live in appalling circumstances, leading to cynicism, anger, frustration and hopelessness – which then manifest in various acts of terrorism around the globe. When we are analyzing terrorism and exploring options to “solve” the problem, it would be a huge mistake to look at some terrorist attack in isolation. When we look a little deeper, it emerges that all attack is a call for help.

In the context of 26-11, India should be responding differently. Especially after 26-11. Our hostile and belligerent stand with respect to Pakistan is understandable but it would only makes things worse. Instead, open up bilateral trade. Make efforts to stabilize and boost their plummeting economy. Provide them with aid – in terms of money, investments in civilian infrastructure, a public education system, hospitals etc. Stop all talk about military action. Resume cricketing ties. Do anything it takes to dissolve their cynicism. It’s of paramount importance that we change the image of India in the minds of Pakistani people. For our own sake. If we really want to put an end to terrorism. If an Ajmal Amir Kasab’s family is not living in abject poverty and can send their son to school, his father would not be “selling” him to militants for a few thousand rupees.

The real criminals are NOT the terrorists. It’s the First World countries and sections of their population that are hoarding the world’s resources. They are the real culprits. Just like the top one-fifth of India who account for almost half her wealth. Their violence is subtle, more passive and hard to detect. Ironically, they are always the ones taking the moral high ground on this issue. The world’s resources are limited and we are all playing a “zero-sum game”. In effect, any profit anybody makes is at the expense of another. This applies at the level of the individual, as well as countries. The more certain sections of the global population continue to hoard wealth and resources, the more they are directly encouraging the rest to take up violence and terrorism. If the GDP in the US, China and India is growing steadily over the last decade, other countries like Pakistan, Iran, Bolivia have to be left behind. This is inevitable. And the people in these countries will start embarking in jihad missions and revolutions. This is inevitable too.

Lastly, I am not advocating Communism. Both capitalism and communism represent extremes in political and economic ideologies. Communism is fine in principle – but the sharing should happen voluntarily. The state should not force / tax citizens out of their possessions. Else, the system won’t work in the long run, as demonstrated by the spectacular falling apart of the Soviet Bloc.

As long as we don’t recognize this and continue to blame the government or our intelligence agencies for not curbing terrorism, we are merely avoiding the real problem – our indifference to the suffering of other human beings. We have all the tools to eradicate the scourge of poverty from the world and yet we opt not to. That’s fine. But lets not get shocked / angered when more trains and buses get blown up in cities across the world. Because they will.

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11 comments

  1. Great post, Arvind. I have been telling a similar ideology to my friends. But the problem is we are in a “democracy crisis” – the decisions our leaders make seem completely disconnected with reality. So the question is how do we make them hear the voice of the common man? Its a problem in US, EU… every where.

    But US / EU are addressing the problem though internet – how do we do in INDIA?

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  2. Hey Vishnu – thanks for your comment. Even if we assume that politicians are listening to the common man, what is the common man’s stance on 26/11? Thats the question, isnt it? I have a feeling the majority of Indians would be opposed to the concept of helping Pakistan in any case. But with other policies, it would be relevant to discuss how politicians can make themselves more accessible to the public and listen to them.

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  3. Economic disparities, in this case did not actually cause the problem. They did help in fuelling the problem further though. Cultural and religious differences which cannot be ironed out are the prime factors for this conflict. You can make all those morons rich but you cannot change the fact that many of them will be morons and hence will be brain washed. Look at the Glasgow attacks. The perpetrators were in no way poor. They were well educated.

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  4. I beg to differ. I would still make the case that poverty, coupled with its cousin illiteracy, are at the root of the problem. There will still be some fanatics and hardliners, but they cant gather any momentum in terms of support from the masses like Jinnah did. No one bites the hand that feeds them. We can leave peacefully with people in spite of cultural and religious differences. Jinnah was an exception. But the majority of his “followers” who demanded a separate Pakistan had no idea what they were getting into. They were swayed by rhetoric and propaganda. Which wouldn’t have been the case had they been educated and above the poverty line.

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  5. Hey! I saw this post here, so I figured I’d just copy the email I sent you before 🙂 I know you’ve already addressed some points I mentioned earlier.. but here goes.. Also, I don’t know you’ve seen this movie – Aamir – but I think you’d find very strong support for what you’ve written.

    As a student of economics, I strongly believe that incentives are the only way to make anything happen. Just like in the corporate world where good performance is (mostly) encouraged by a bonus system and hikes in salaries.

    I broadly agree with your points. The rich are to blame for the situation we are in. We have not only allowed ineffective administration, we’ve found a way to continue to live our ways by bypassing the administration, thereby providing no incentives for improvement. Just the fact that I can live my life without tackling a 61 year old system head on is incentive enough for me to grease a few palms and get my work done.

    The real problem in this country and Pakistan is definitely one of poverty. But I beg to differ on the ways to tackle the problem. “Sharing the wealth” is a concept that already exists here. We do have progressive taxation in place so as to take more from those who have more and distribute it – not directly in the form of cash – but through social and rehabilitation programs. The intention of the system is to put the money into the community, for its betterment.

    Now another major problem in this country is political apathy. Actually, it has gone a step beyond apathy and indifference – it’s now one of disdain of politics. No self-respecting individual will ever join politics and those that do, appear to be unsuccessful. For this reason, the taxes collected are utilized not for upliftment of poor, but for making politicians richer. People join politics not because they want to govern, but because they want money, status and power. And we as community have let them. We cannot possibly expect the poor and uneducated to be able to choose leaders that will actually help them. It is up to people like us to keep elected officials in check.

    In a perfect world, the rich would be helping the poor directly, but this isn’t one, and it doesn’t have to be one either. The mechanisms are already in place, it’s just a question of enforcement of rules.

    Obviously the major reason for our problems with neighbours across all our borders, except maybe China, is that we are growing and progressing economically while they are bleeding. But before we help others, we need to help ourselves first. I think it’s unfair to blame our success for the terrorist attacks, however true it may be. Pakistan and Bangladesh are unfortunately paying for the mistakes of their forefathers who thought that they would be better off if separated from India. Important to say that I don’t believe “helping” our neighbours involves the same kind of “help” the US is providing to Afghanistan against the Taliban or are providing to Iraq.

    God helps those who help themselves. Unfortunately our government doesn’t help anyone except itself.

    Sanjana

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  6. @ Sanjana – Instead of replying to your comment in this section, I’ll try and devote another post to engage some of the points you have raised. Haven’t had a chance to watch ‘Aamir’ yet – will rent it sometime.

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  7. Do you actually think that if there is no poverty ie everybody has food, clothes and shelter, then the world will be peaceful ? The guy who owns a Giny & Jony (a brand that I wear :)) shirt will envy the guy wearing the Gucci shirt. If there are 10 guys who wear Giny & Jony shirt, 4 of them may be satisfied with it, 4 would not be but would work honestly to be able to afford a Gucci. But there would be 2 who would want to wear a Gucci but for lack of talent/patience, take inappropriate paths. As you mentioned, this is a zero sum game. So when 6 Gini & Jony customers oust 6 Gucci owners (who get relegated to Gini & Jony) these guys can’t stand the sudden change. And 2 out of these 6 guys may be pushed to extreme means to regain their positions. And thus continues this vicious cycle.

    Let us take Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both countries don’t have people dying of hunger or cold ? Saudi with its oil wealth is economically superior. Yet, Hamas draws significant moral, political (unofficial) and personnel support from Saudi.

    Granted, that the number of people who get into these things might reduce if all of them are well fed and clothed. But the few who still do embrace terrorism, will be well educated and strongly bound by ideology. Imagine the damage that can be inflicted by a few cunning terrorists bound strongly by ideology, when compared to a greater number of dumb terrorists who are in it just for money.

    The root cause of all these problems is not poverty. It is competition. Pakistan’s (and for that matter all of mankind’s) hunger cannot be satiated with just food. There is always the desire to be better and superior than the other. And competition can only be destroyed when all but one remains.

    The Solution : Advaitha ?
    Advaitha says that there is only one.
    ‘Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahmam’
    When man realizes that there is only one and that he/she is a part of it, then there can be no desire, competition, enemity etc.

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  8. I suggest we have windmills and solar power panels all over the wastelands, and get Pakistanis and Afghanistanis to work on it… and sell that power to neighboring countries.

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  9. I’d agree to some extent with V’s message. It looks like everything will end when there’s complete social, religious, economic and all other types of equality across the world, which is unrealistic. Till then the best we could hope for is for a mature society that can rise above (or even embrace) the differences that exist in society. There will always be class wars, but as long as they’re not linked to religion or caste, it’ll solve most of our problems.

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  10. @Ramana – Windmills in the wastelands? Sounds like a Quixotic mission to me 😉

    @Sanjana – If Advaita is the answer, then so be it. The essence of Advaita is to focus on oneself before trying to solve the world’s problems. Something worth thinking about. Are we, as individuals, at peace before we set out to settle disputes in the world? It’ll be a talking point in the post I am working on.

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