On Wednesday, Jundullah, a Pakistan-based affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the killing of more than forty members of the Ismaili Shia community in Karachi. The underground Sunni extremist group has threatened to carry out more such attacks on Shias and other non-Muslim religious minorities. Since Pakistan has offered rich soil to Islamic extremists, both local and international, for at least three decades, it was not unexpected to see a new nexus between the militant groups in Pakistan and the Islamic State.
Despite Jundullah's acceptance of its involvement in the Karachi massacre, the country's foreign secretary,Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, immediately raised fingers on India and blamed its intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), for its alleged involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan. The foreign secretary's statement was consistent with the stance of the Pakistani army that also recently named the Indian spymasters for the first time in the public for "whipping up terrorism in Pakistan".
Blaming India for bad governance inside Pakistan is as old as the country's creation in 1947. With the passage of time, this practice (of blaming India) has worked so well in the country's politics that the civilian, military and religious leaders all use it to hide their failures and externalize the blame. However, this is approach is tremendously hurting the ordinary people in Pakistan. As extremist violence increases in mainland Pakistan and innocent citizens lose their lives in suicide attacks, bomb blasts, mass shootings and attacks on religious and educational institutions are resulting in the death of hundreds and thousands of people. Despite this, the military, civilian leadership and the clergy have a perturbing nexus to blame the Indians instead of taking action against the domestic terrorist groups that not only blatantly carry out these acts of terror but also immediately call newspaper offices to brazenly accept responsibility for masterminding these attacks. They are confident that nobody is going to come after them.
By not taking action against the homegrown terrorists, dismantling their huge infrastructure and putting the blame on foreign entities, the Pakistani authorities are indeed becoming complicit in the loss of precious human lives. Citizens who are killed in these terrorist attacks will unfortunately not get justice only because someone somewhere in the country's power circles benefits from such instability and blame game. In Pakistan's case, the army, which receives a substantial chunk of the national budget, survives and thrives by perpetuating the Indian threat. The army uses religious leaders and right-wing journalists to promote anti-Indianism. This hatred is systematically inculcated in the minds of the young Pakistanis through hateful textbooks, jingoistic television talks-shows and anti-India literature distributed by Jihadist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Pakistan has done itself an extraordinary disservice by intentionally selling India as an enemy to its people. So much has changed in our world because of the Internet and social media but sadly the breakthrough has not occurred for the people of India and Pakistan to connect with each other. Actual first-hand interactions are such a powerful agent of shattering the status quo that those, who benefit from keeping the people of the two countries away from each other, will never let the gates of public interaction open.
In 2005 when I visited India as an exchange student through a very rare opportunity at the age of twenty-three, I went there with a heavy baggage of prior indoctrination against India and its people. I was certainly not to be blamed for my skepticism and preconceived notions about my host country. After all, I was, like millions of other young Pakistani students, only a product of the official textbooks that preached hatred toward India and the non-Muslims, particularly the Hindus.
Think about a young man meeting the first Hindu in his life at the age of twenty-three. That was me. And then imagine his dilemma if he had been brainwashed, again through the official textbooks, that it was not okay to be friends with the Hindus, shake hands or eat meals with them, worse if it is cooked by the non-Muslims? Of course, India was not as glamorous as Bollywood but neither the country nor its people were as abominable as the Pakistani textbooks and conservative Urdu language newspapers had (mis)informed us. Reluctant but gradual and consistent interactions with the Indian students helped me unlearn many lessons from the Pakistani communal education system and learn new lessons to appreciate and embrace diversity and pluralism.
But how many Pakistani students are lucky to go to India or vice versa? Very very few. Unfortunately, the scholarship that enabled me to go to India had to be disbanded after a few years because students from both sides of the border were never issued visas because of incessant political tensions and diplomatic mistrust. Students from the two countries normally get to meet and know each other in the international universities instead of being able to attend the universities in the region. When one of my classmates from India met me in Harvard, she exclaimed that it was the first time in her life that she had ever met someone from Pakistan. She was stunned that we spoke the same language and enjoyed the identical food. She and I coauthored an op-ed calling for more interactions among the people of the two countries. I believe there needs to be more noise on the part of us, the internationally educated youth of the two countries who have also had the extraordinary opportunity of making friendships and learning from each other inside international classrooms and amid intense yet respectful discussions on politics, religion and other controversial topics.
Pakistan and India should learn from the US-China model. Although Washington and Beijing are fierce competitors in almost all walks of life, the United States has opened the doors of its top universities and colleges for the Chinese students. An American education does not make the Chinese students less patriotic but it certainly helps in broadening these students' understanding of the life in the United States and cultivating true friendships. When these returning students assume top government positions, they certainly will not encourage their government to bomb a country where they made lifelong friendships and obtained valuable degrees.
Kishore Mahbubani,one of Asia's top thinkers, rightly described this partnership between the U.S. and China.
"What is one thing that will surprise the future generations of historians when China will overtake the United States as the world's number one power?" It is American generosity to open the doors of its prestigious educational institutions for the students from all over the world, including China, America's main competitor."
Similarly, if hundreds or thousands of Indian and Pakistani students attend each other's universities every year, we will witness an unbelievable change in the perceptions, attitude, public opinion and even government policies of the two countries within a few years. This has to happen so that the younger generation of the Pakistanis will take over the policy world in Islamabad and refuses to subscribe to the world vision and the mindset that is espoused by the generation of the current foreign secretary.
In 2009, I was invited to speak in a track-II Pakistan-India conference in Singapore. The two-day conference brought together retired top army generals, federal ministers, diplomats, politicians and journalists from both the countries. As the youngest among all the delegates, I was astonished to see former Indian and Pakistani generals and diplomats sitting in the hotel bar, drinking whisky, sharing sexist Urdu/Hindi jokes and then laughing merrily and loudly as if they were high school buddies. They recited romantic poetry from Mirza Ghalib, the legendary Urdu poet from the eighteenth century, and lavishly admired each other's Adabi Zoq or poetic flavor. There was no animosity among these powerful men. They gave each other high fives.
For a moment, I wondered if these guys would ever wage a war against each other. I also found it hard to believe that these generals and diplomats actually hated each other as much as they encouraged the ordinary people in their countries to do so. This is precisely what happens when men in power prevent the people from interacting and shut down all avenues of cultural and academic exchange. This duplicity should stop because more than a billion Indians and Pakistanis deserve better. Our children even deserve better than us.