How Indians should understand Pakistan

Amit Ranjan is a Research Scholar in South Asian Studies division of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His other posts can be seen here. He can be reached at

Amit Ranjan

One of the major questions of time is: do Indian and Pakistani scholars understand each others’ societies and politics? The answer is ‘no’ because majority of them-budding and established-are prisoners of ‘constructed image’ about each other. Those images have been constructed by partition generation and by the regional outsiders.  Well my job is to look at Indian scholars take on Pakistan leaving the other side to Pakistani scholars. Standing far away from self-proclaimed Indian experts on Pakistan, my PhD supervisor Prof Uma Singh, a genuine Indian expert on Pakistan, always emphasizes to see Pakistan through the eyes of Pakistanis and not through Indians who have written about Pakistan with “veil of ignorance”.

Majority of Indian scholars have a perception that Pakistan is a failed state where writ of terrorist groups run at large. To their knowledge this is only half glass of the full story. The Pakistani civil-society is very vibrant and it is challenging the terror-groups diktats. Pakistani media is the most vibrant in South Asia. The discussion and debates in both print and electronic media is of great interest. They are challenging the corrupt institutions on day-to-day basis. Journalists in their attempt to cover the stories and writing articles against the bedeviled forces have been imprisoned and also have lost their precious lives. Yes, there are also biased media groups which express the views of Pakistani establishment by spreading venom against India. They must be ignored because it’s just wastage of time and ink. This group exists across the border. Also, they are in majority but remember a school lesson that though majority makes opinion its minority which creates history.

It is not that everything in Pakistan must be appreciated, but things have to be seen with objectivity and not through mere nationalistic laden ideology. T V Paul has written that the scholars while doing their study must shed their nationalist ideology and think about things objectively. Even Kanti P Bajpai, a renowned Indian expert in international politics, has mentioned that the major problem with Indian scholars is that they lack interest in theories, due to which they fail to develop analytical skill. This is quite clear whenever Indian journalists and scholars writes on Pakistan. It’s not the case with everyone but yes, majority do have this sort of problem.

Recently in an interactive session with Prof Mohammad Wasim from LUMS, a group of students at JNU protested his idea on return of religion. They were of view that Pakistan has become more Islamist while India has not become more Hinduised. This proves their analytical ignorance because post 9/11 world has given oxygen to the religious rightwing groups. These groups have been able to generate fear-psychosis among the people that if they do not emerge militantly, Islamic groups will take over them. So, they needed to be supported. It’s a general trend and has nothing to do with any religion per se.

Train to Pakistan, Delhi Railway Station, 1947/ Image: Margaret Bourke-White

In that interactive session when Prof Wasim asked to someone which was the first capital of Pakistan. To utter surprise, the audience was at lost. Some were looking at others with blank eyes, while others shamelessly said Lahore and a few like myself were just thinking about future of area study and international politics in India. Remorsefully, all of them are working on Pakistan and are going to be one or in other capacity an expert on Pakistan in India. This problem has been mentioned by Prof Mattoo in almost all his articles and seminars. He asserts that though people in India are studying and teaching about politics of their neighbours but they do not know the language or political process and also about political leaders. The case is similar with Indian-bashers in Pakistan. Few months back I was reading an article on Maoist Movement in India by a Pakistani scholar. His facts about the movement were wrong and even in his analysis he has exaggerated the things in such a way that it seems that Maoist are just on verge to acquiring nuclear bomb and use it against India. Reality is miles away from it.

The best thing which I believe for any scholar is to know why before knowing what is happening. This epistemological method is simply missing with majority of Pakistan watchers in India. Due to which Pakistan-watchers have turned into Pakistan-bashers. For these Pakistan-bashers, Pakistan has fragile democracy, military rules over ever walk of life, terrorist groups are leading policy-makers, the links between ISI and terror groups and henceforth. Yes, these things are there and are true but these are parts of ‘what’ and the answer to all these lies in ‘why’. The moment one know ‘why’ picture will become clear and it will make one to understand Pakistan with crystal clear eyes.

Indians have to come out of constructed images and engage in what Derrida said deconstruct the pre-existing notions of knowledge. Unless we do not deconstruct the pre-conceived notions of Pakistan we are not going to reach at any conclusive resolution of bilateral problems. For a good scholarly work on India and Pakistan we need to think objectively without being chauvinist or nationalist in approach. They have to understand the fact that they have responsibilities towards their profession and people, which they have to fulfil. They can do so only by not being stooge of establishment.

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