The 18th century philosopher David Hume wrote that reason is the slave of our passions. Looking at the ongoing debate in India following the raid by US Special Forces that killed Osama bin Laden this month, it seems Hume was spot on.
India’s army chief has already stated that India has the capability to undertake its own version of what the United States did in Pakistan, and much of the media has suggested that India follow in the Americans’ footsteps in pursuit of the alleged masterminds of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai. The rightist opposition, meanwhile, has always thrived on hype, so it was no surprise to hear them demanding tough action against our neighbour.
The concerted attacks on Pakistan by the Indian media make it seem almost like they have the official stamp of approval, although the government has thankfully kept a cooler head, indicating it is still determined to engage Pakistan in talks. This is only right—a functional relationship with Pakistan is a must if India is to feel comfortable with itself as a nation.
Of course it’s a fact that Pakistan is a hub for terrorism in South Asia. But we can’t change this as long as we keep hammering away publicly at officials there. Instead, we should build on co-operation in tackling the scourge of terrorism.
Such engagement is also tied to India’s ambitions to emerge as an international player. No matter how powerful we become economically, no matter how many times US President Barack Obama says that India has ‘emerged,’ no matter whether we’re admitted to top global clubs like the G-8, we will never achieve the international recognition we desire unless we set our regional house in order.
Pakistan is an albatross around India’s neck, and unless we remove it, we won’t be able to take the position at the diplomatic top table that we deserve. Islamabad, for its part, needs to realize that it can’t be a frontline state in somebody else’s war, nor be a proxy for anyone else’s geopolitical ambitions.
Veteran journalist and academic Anatol Lieven suggested in his book Pakistan: A Hard Country that we need to be careful about putting too much public pressure on Pakistan in case it becomes ‘so overwhelming that it undermines or even destroys those governments, by humiliating them in the eyes of their own people.’
Post-Osama, both Pakistan and India have a chance for reflection. Media criticism of our neighbour is all very well, but we must not forget that we do also have to live with it.