Ten Myths About Pakistan

I am halfway through Mohammed Hanif’s debut novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes, an entertaining historical fiction (or is it a fictional history?) that revolves around Pakistan’s ex-dictator general Zia ul Haq in his last days and the fictional characters perpetrating his murder. Meanwhile, I came across this interesting article in TOI where Hanif lists 10 myths that India (supposedly) has about Pakistan. (link)

Those ten myths are listed below along with few brief comments of my own. It’s interesting how Hanif’s brief article about the myths that Indians have about Pakistanis also reveals some of the myths that the Pakistanis have about India (or about what Indians believe).

  1. Pakistan controls the jihadis: Hanif argues that Pakistani army has lost more soldiers at the hands of the jihadis than it ever did fighting India. Well, that might very well be true but not sufficient to disapprove the “myth”. Jihadis don’t have a union. Fighting one group of jihadis (at their North-western border) doesn’t mean they don’t control or support other groups of jihadis (in Kashmir).
  2. Musharraf was in control, Zardari is not: Isn’t a dictator, by definition, more ‘in control’ than a democratically elected leader? I’m not really sure what Hanif is trying to imply here because his comments seem to approve what he’s calling a “myth”. If he’s thinking that Indians prefer Musharraf to Zardari, then he’s mistaken.
  3. Pakistan’s unity: I agree that many Indians underestimate the diversity of Pakistan. The understanding of the vast ethnical and cultural differences between the four main provinces (Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan) of Pakistan remains quite vague in Indian minds.
  4. Pakistan and its loose nukes: Yes, India’s Hindu extremists are a threat to its nuclear assets. But while doing this comparison (Pakistan’s nuclear program is no more under threat than Indian nuclear assets by Hindu extremists, he says) one should keep in mind the differences between a fully functional democracy, that not only survived but continues to thrive for past 61 years, with a political system that was a dysfunctional democracy at its best and a benign dictatorship at its worst.
  5. Pakistan is a failed state: The dysfunctional aspects of Pakistan’s economic, social and political conditions are often exaggerated in Indian media, but I think that the core Idea of Pakistan on which the country was formed (religious unity) is definitely under a great threat and might be loosing its credibility.
  6. It is a deeply religious country: Hanif’s argument is that “religious parties have never won more than a fraction of popular vote” falls short of explaining that Pakistan is not a deeply religious country. Lack of unity doesn’t imply a lack of deep religious faith. The myth, according to him, is that Pakistan is deeply religious, not that Pakistan is united under deeply religious beliefs.
  7. All Pakistanis hate India: To some extent, I agree with this claim. Many Indians, at least based on my personal experience, seem to think this way. Hanif is right in pointing out that except Punjab, which experienced the horrors of the Partition first hand (along with its Indian counterpart), the other provinces of Pakistan don’t subscribe (at least actively) to the anti-Indian sentiment.
  8. Training camps: Hanif doesn’t refute the existence of training sanctuaries in tribal Pakistan but denies their presence in the specific locations often proposed by Indian media. (However, Dhruv Jaishankar argues that it’s not only Indian journalists that have reported terrorist training centers in major urban areas in Pakistan.)
  9. RAW could never do what ISI does: Sure, RAW could do many things similar to what ISI does. But RAW’s role in Indian politics is nothing compared to ISI’s role in Pakistani politics. Hanif fails to mention this vital fact.
  10. Pakistan is poor, India is rich: Many, I would say most, Indians believe that Pakistan is relatively poor than India. I am unable to understand why he thinks this is a myth. In relative terms it is an indisputable fact that India is wealthier.

Afterthought: #7 reminds me of my earlier post (link) about ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ where I mentioned the Thomas Theorem: “If men defined situation as real, they are real in their consequences”.

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