Pakistan and India: Some thoughts

By Slapstik 9 Comments

The immediate catalyst for the post is Omar’s latest post on his discussion on Twitter. I think that most Indians who comment on Pakistan merge what they think Pakistan ought to be (sometimes as imagined by some Pakistanis themselves) with what Pakistan actually is. The problem exists in the converse as well, but more pardonable as India is a much larger country to comprehend even for Indians. There’s no natural osmotic Indian awareness that seeps into Indians to make them part of an Indian hive-mind. It is a hard process of reading, visiting, debating, changing your views etc that many just do not undertake.

Since I am an Indian, I’d like to write down how I personally approach the whole India-Pakistan debate. My views on this issue have evolved greatly from my college days and earlier experiences given my personal background as a Kashmiri Pandit. Note that I have tried to keep my views general and not be drawn into specifics because specifics can carry emotional valence and often we miss the wood for the trees. Secondly this is just a summary of how I think and am writing it in case it may prove useful to others. I am not writing it because I want an Indo-Pak flame war in the comments. Feel free to be critical in the comments but be polite and constructive, as if you are actually in the presence of the person you are speaking to and disagreeing with.

Respect human choices:

Some vaguely defined notion of separate nationhood did find purchase in a critical mass of India’s adult population. So those who disagree with the separate nationhood claim shouldn’t patronize them but respect their views. In other words, the idea of Pakistan is respectable human choice and it really does not matter how this choice was arrived at. Just like Brexit, endless debates on the genesis of the idea (or how it could have been avoided) end up informing more about the debaters than the truth of the matter.

Nations are real:

Human choices have consequences. There’s no such thing as eating your apple and still having it. One of the consequences of creating a separate nation is creating a separate national identity. Now people can go on about how nations are artificial constructs, but that is all stupidly reductive and can be (absurdly) applied to other abstractions like money or energy too. A charged phone only lets some people make calls, and a nation will affect semi-permeable boundaries in physical space which only allow some types of matter in and not others. In other words, a nation is a physically instantiated and measurable object. Its ontology is well motivated and objective.

Problems are good:

Different ideas lead to disagreement and create new problems. Indian reaction to differences in ideas is often of two predominant types which are pitted against each other as opposites, when both are different versions of the same underlying sentiment – to avoid problems.

a) Indian auntie method: pretending there is no real difference and therefore patronizing one party or another to carry on as if no disagreement happened.

b) Indian uncle method: thinking that differences necessarily lead to unsolvable problems (Omar’s essentialisation point) and therefore trying best to suppress differences by creating a culture of conformance, or worse eliminating people who think differently.

Both Indian auntie and uncle methods may appear very different but are features of a deeply risk-averse conservatism that characterizes the typical Indian response to a lot of issues (including Pakistan). Note that the Pakistani auntie and uncle responses are not different, except maybe Pak auntie is much more under the uncle’s thumb. The problem-embracing culture’s way is to admit differences exist, and try to solve the problems that inevitably lead from them. The debate may look rancorous with lots of pointless digressions to an impatient outsider, but it is a feature of (not a weakness in) the system that actually works.

This is where a deeper study of the (Anglophone) West – not in terms of how they influenced us, but an anthropological study of their in situ historical development – will benefit Indians greatly. Of all English-speaking historians of Indian origin one finds in the West, I cannot name a single authority on say the Plantagenets or the Industrial Revolution or pre-American Civil War economy. They are all, invariably, concerned with Colonialism. Not that there’s anything wrong with the study of Colonialism per se, but the sheer skew of the distribution hints to a deeper malaise. Besides, while the Anglophone West is the most transparent to us (thanks to the language), similar studies of East-Asian or European polities may also greatly help in rescuing the Indian perspective from its terrible self-indulgence.

Leading by example:

While cliques are probably not the best way of thinking about international relations, the best way of convincing Pakistanis of which camp their future lies in is to simply continue to exist. It is far easier said than done, but at least the objective is very simply understood and largely within Indian hands. Defence of the realm is a feature of existence obviously, but not as high priority as the mindspace it inhabits. Anyway, Indians aren’t the outliers here and democracy typically incentivises strong border policy irrespective of the government.

Humans are rational actors, even those of us who act on irrational impulses try to rationalise their behaviour. Creating causal models is an innate human need, our evolutionary niche if you will. Irrespective of how deeply one might wish something weren’t there, a century or two of its existence makes even the hardest nut rationalise that fact. Theories will change to fit to facts. Besides the longer India exists in its current shape the bigger its push in the world, simply because to continue to exist means creating a viable system of living for a sixth of humanity. That in itself is an unprecedented existence.

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9 Replies to “Pakistan and India: Some thoughts”

  1. Really appreciated the points made about the need for indians to inquire more deeply into other national histories. Has led to so many missed insights, and moreover tiresome exceptionalism. Also, the choice to become a federal parliamentary republic makes it advisable to understand the context of how certain political institutions evolved in situ as you state, and not treat them in such a deracinated way.

  2. In the other thread, @Vikram made a pertinent remark on why does Indian statistics outscale Pakistani ones by a factor of 10s or even 100s (stock market mcap, bank assets, IPL valuation, port tonnage etc).

    In Taleb-speak, Hindustan is Extremistan and Pakistan is Mediocrestan. Simply put, Indian philosophy has evolved, over hundreds (even thousands) of years of trial and error, answers to questions of excess, scarcity, distribution, production in all modes of human activities.

    Your analysis denies the importance of historical and environmental conditions that make the Indian mind what it is today. That’s the reason why India is non-linear in its scalability while Pakistan is not.

    The lion bred in captivity is glossier, healthier and safer than a wild one. Is the zoo not artificial?

    Pakistan does not exhibit static stability. It achieves this by being in constant opposition to the Indic and Pakhtunic camps. How long will this continue? Totally depends on the zookeeper.

    1. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a joke or not (if not, then it’s Dunning-Kruger at play lol). “That’s the reason why India is non-linear in its scalability while Pakistan is not.” What does this even mean? Elaborate maybe?

      1. If you look at the standard India Pakistan comparisons (even here on BP), it’s very reductive. Looking at per capita income is hiding the convexity. Examples –

        BSE mcap is between 40-60 times that of Karachi exchange on any given day.

        Cumulative olympic medals for India is 3 times for that of Pakistan. (Ratio for last Olympics is infinite).

        Indian billion dollar unicorns exist, compared to none for Pak.

        So India scales up tremendously in all modes of human activity compared to Pakistan even after accounting for differences in population and land area. I can give you many more examples.

        Social commentators ignore all of this and go for simpleton rides – Indians have only 30% more GDP per capita etc.. The name of the game is convexity.

  3. // Respect human choices //

    Questioning of choices should not be conflated with disrespecting of choices & it is necessary to question to understand human nature {I.e. What affects what & how}.

    // Problems are good //

    There is a third method which is mentioned but has been attributed to West which is wrong because West did not had to conform to norms created elsewhere instead it engaged with it’s problems without external pressure which is exactly what has been missing in all ‘Post-colonial’ societies as they had to refer & conform to norms which were set based on Western world’s experiences.

    Third method is to take the differences seriously. What i mean by this is to not either down play them or exaggerate them instead highlight them, look at the historical trajectories which has created those differences etc.

    // Of all English-speaking historians of Indian origin one finds in the West, I cannot name a single authority on say the Plantagenets or the Industrial Revolution or pre-American Civil War economy. They are all, invariably, concerned with Colonialism. Not that there’s anything wrong with the study of Colonialism per se, but the sheer skew of the distribution hints to a deeper malaise. //

    Interesting but at the same time i don’t think that it would change anything in the broader scheme of things.

    // Theories will change to fit to facts. //

    Word but facts also gets sorted to fit the theories.

    1. facts also gets sorted to fit the theories

      No. Theories about facts get sorted to fit prior theories (biases).

      Facts are objective, and I am saying that the longer India exists the harder it will be to jump through the rationalisation hoops to twist them. As in one would have to be a proper conspiracy-theorist to sustain a deeply anti-Indian worldview, which seem semi-respectable right now in Pakistan.

      1. // facts also gets sorted to fit the theories //

        By this i meant selective use of data & facts to fit biased theories or theories are created to highlight certain facts to make claims about objectivity & neutrality of the theories. Basically facts {Biased in data collection & usage} as well as theories both can be biased.

        // Facts are objective //

        Not all of them are {even though it should have been like that but since many facts are claimed to exist in non-scientific fields e.g. Social Science, Political Science, Philosophy etc. no not all facts are objective esp. if they can not be consistently reproduced & if the methodology is not consistent}

        Here is an explanation regarding claims of facts being Objective –
        Read the post which starts with – “As a starting point, I can tell you that, generally:”
        https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/8384/what-exactly-do-objective-and-subjective-mean-in-contemporary-philosophy

        // I am saying that the longer India exists the harder it will be to jump through the rationalisation hoops to twist them. As in one would have to be a proper conspiracy-theorist to sustain a deeply anti-Indian worldview, which seem semi-respectable right now in Pakistan. //

        I am not so sure esp. since the fault rests with Pakistan’s foundations which basically demands them to be Anti-Hindu if not Anti-Indian.

  4. said something similar in broken illusions and enlightenment.. Agree on auntie/uncle mindset. There is no difference, we are all the same vs There is no hope, lets go to war now.

  5. “Of all English-speaking historians of Indian origin one finds in the West, I cannot name a single authority on say the Plantagenets or the Industrial Revolution or pre-American Civil War economy. They are all, invariably, concerned with Colonialism”

    Appreciate you bringing this up and hope more people think about it.

    For my part, I’ve started to stay away from flame wars and instead reading histories of other cultures.
    (Going through Razib’s recommendations one by one during the lockdown)

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