In 2006, while serving in a UN mission In Burundi, I happened to make good acquaintance with few Indian military officers. Though, UN is an international organization, with a common agenda of all troop-contributing countries, curiosity triggered some level of friendship among us, the two well known adversaries. In one of the informal meetings, I casually inquired as to why alcohol was issued as a part of standard rations in the Indian military regiments. The reply from an Indian Army Major was an eye opener, “If we don’t get him (the soldier) drunk, how will we make him fight on the border?” I instantly compared our perspective where the only propellant needed was an energetic ‘Allah o Akbar’.
The above incident reflects the importance of belief system of an individual, society, nation or a race. Belief system can be rooted in religion, colour, geography, sect, ethnicity, language, philosophy, politics, ideology or a combo of any of these. The belief system is shaped by a number of influencers ranging from history to everyday incidents. This is that invisible force that drives us in our physical or virtual responses. The belief system” and “narrative” have very strong interdependency and is responsible for the actions or reactions from an individual to a nation or state.
The reply from an Indian Army Major was an eye opener, “If we don’t get him (the soldier) drunk, how will we make him fight on the border?”
The above quoted incident, clearly reflects a classic example of belief system in Sub-Continent from which various narratives emerge and are effectively in place till to date. These narratives shrouded in belief systems of Muslims and Hindus (two major religious entities of Sub-Continent) started to shape up well before 1947 and resulted in the creation of India and Pakistan as two independent and sovereign states. While for many Hindus, division of Bharat Mata was a religious sin committed by Gandhi, who paid it with his life when was shot by a Hindu radical Nathuram Vinayak Godse, for Muslims it was freedom from British and Hindu rule simultaneously to practice their religion in peace and freedom from fear of being over powered by better educated and financially strong Hindu majority.
The two belief systems had potent narratives which were to set the stage for extreme hate and animosity among the two nations for the next 70 years . For Hindus, Bharat-Mata is a four armed goddess clad in saffron coloured robe personifying Indian land as mother. The goddess symbolized Hindu struggle for Indian nationalist movement which started to sprout in 1920s against British. This also translated in giving a religious tinge to the movement which was resented by Muslims who had ruled over Bharat land for almost 1000 years. The year 1947 divided Bharat, the mother, hence, stemmed from it millions of brutal killings, rapes, mass burning of properties that took place during migration of two people. Indian government stepped up her assault on fragile Pakistan by various steps, including denying share of resources allocated at partition and hostile takeover of Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagrarh and Manavadar during later years. These acts generated an existential threat which formed basis of Pakistan’s security paradigm and its foreign policies. The two narratives entered clarity from opaqueness in the coming years, supported by the doctrines of ‘Akhand Bharat: the division of the motherland must be reversed’ versus ‘A fort of Islam holding back the infidels’ and ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya; La Ilaha Illallah‘ vs Bharat Mata coupled with Hindutva, which define the complexity of the Pakistan-India equation.
For Hindus, Bharat-Mata is a four armed goddess clad in saffron coloured robe personifying Indian land as mother
The 70 years saw both nations fighting three major wars and numerous conflicts, with the recent erupting just a few weeks ago. The kinetic efforts were supplemented by both in various capacities and effectiveness by proxies, international pacts, alliances, coercion, sports, diplomacy, economy and virtually everything and anything. The wearing of camouflage caps by the Indian cricket team in a match against Australia in the aftermath of the Indo-Pak conflict is a good example of how deep-rooted the narratives are.
All Indian actions emerge from the core concept of reversing division of Bharat Mata, while all reactions of Pakistan get energized from religion. While Indians believe Pakistan is an unnatural state, Pakistanis believe in Ghazwa-e-Hind, a holy war with India prophesied in Islam. While Indians desire of regional hegemony by making Pakistan a client state translates in all aggressive military doctrines (Brasstacks, Cold Start and Pro-Active Operations), Pakistan relates to the miraculous victory in Badar despite being heavily outnumbered by infidels. While Indians claim Kashmir as an integral part, Pakistan calls it an unfinished agenda of the partition. While Indians call Kashmiris as terrorists, Pakistan terms them freedom fighters. While Indians call the 1965 war an effort to thwart Pakistani incursion in Kashmir, Pakistan calls it a successful denial to the Indian objective of capturing it. While Indians take pride in 1971 separation of East Pakistan as a victory, Pakistan terms it a conspiracy hatched through Indian proxies. While Pakistanis label TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), BLA (Baloch Liberation Army), PTM (Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement) Indian-Afghan proxies, Indians term them as human rights movements. While Bollywood churns out almost all the movies in Urdu, Indians prefer to call it Hindi movies (as Urdu has association with Muslims, once written in a different dialect it becomes Hindi). From Basmati rice to Himalayan salt, from Mangoes to Bananas, from cinema to TV serials, from sarees to khussas, from terrific batsmen to amazing bowlers, from sub-continent to all corners of the world, we find Pakistan-India narrative coming in to play.
The two narratives entered clarity from opaqueness in the coming years, supported by the doctrines of ‘Akhand Bharat: the division of the motherland must be reversed’ versus ‘A fort of Islam holding back the infidels’
Similar patterns of narratives were seen in the recent conflict too. While Pakistanis relate to Shahadat (An Exclusively Islamic concept that relates to getting martyred in line of Allah’s duty), India imported it and associated it with getting martyred for the sacred land. While India claimed 300 casualties in Pakistani Kashmir, Pakistan claimed two Indian fighter jets downed. Indians celebrated Wing Commander Abhinandan, while Pakistanis mocked him. Hence, it is all about conflicting narratives which have spread to almost all spheres of society and have now become an inseparable part of lives on both sides of the border.
In the previous decades, many organizations emerged at public and private level across both sides of the border. They aimed at promoting people to people contact, economic inter-dependency and breaking taboos by highlighting the commonalities, however none could break free from the gravity of the existing narratives.
All Indian actions emerge from the core concept of reversing division of Bharat Mata, while all reactions of Pakistan get energized from religion
Pakistan-India relationship is marred by narratives which are correct, partially correct, false or fake from both perspectives. The irony is not only the existence of the narratives, but the fact that they hold the two nations hostage. During the last 70 years, there were few occasions where conflict resolution could have taken a positive step, but the fear of public reaction, due to these engraved narratives became a hurdle in allowing the leadership of both states to take bold decisions. No government in India or Pakistan can survive even if suspected to be considering a position drifting from the existing belief systems or narratives. Though, both the narratives do have some truth in them and are supported by the history too, the present acts and future plans feed them with venom of mistrust, anger, frustration and a feel of revenge. Snow ball effect is at serious play in the Sub-continent.
Moreover, the issue is not mere presence of any specific narrative, but complexity of a counter narratives within the narratives, e.g. An Indian Muslim will be lynched to death for eating beef while India is among the top five exporters of beef in the world, on other side a Pakistani non-Muslim cannot assume the Presidency despite equality claims for all Pakistani nationals. A secular Indian image is tarnished when their Muslim celebrities are denied buying properties in Mumbai, while Pakistan being a Muslim state is put to test when its minority citizens are converted forcibly. When such contradictions exist, the narrative game has to be upped and staunchly fed to masses. This also explains that irrespective of validity and truthfulness of each narrative, the strength of its impact on both societies is cemented strongly and resolution of an odd conflict may not dissolve the presence of the belief system.
A quick analysis of the history, barring the life of prophets, reveals that most of the conflicts had power, politics, greed, geography, ego or economy at their hearts. The only two conflicts which have refused to submerge in time are Arab-Israel (now more of Palestine-Israel) and Pakistan-India showdowns. Both of these differ from others as faith is their focal driving force. Faith, an intangible factor, also gives the two conflicts a touch of eternity.
Resolution of an odd conflict may not dissolve the presence of the belief system
While wonders of realpolitik cannot be denied, in pure context of sub-continent, can it succeed is the bigger question. With societies so much engulfed by belief systems and narratives, with conflicts ranging from Siachen, Kashmir, water distribution to Sir Creek, where two entities compete at every level from grass root to strategic, conflict resolution is never an easy path. However, even if achieved, will the deep-rooted hate spanning decades and religious tangents can be addressed, is any body’s guess. Keeping in view, the eternal nature of conflicting narratives and the clash that exist in full spectrum of the national fiber, it can be safely assumed that at least in near future, Pakistan and India will not be able to unlock their horns, at least till the time Pakistanis do not stop consuming beef, the meat of the most worshipped animal in India.
About The Author
Col. Amjad Mahmood (Rtd) holds a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies from National Defence University, Islamabad. He is a pilot by profession and has varied interests including politics, music, sports and strategy. He tweets @Flyingtastic
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.