March 6, 2019

The radicalization of the Indian masses

Indian public burns a Pakistani flag
On February 26, 2019 when India crossed the international border and dropped bombs on a hilltop inside Pakistan, a fundamental shift in how Pakistan India relations work took place. Gone was the status quo of restraint and diplomatic threats that India fomented against Pakistan in the aftermath of every unsavoury incident that took place in India. Suddenly, it was replaced with the idea that India could not only teach Pakistan a lesson but that it could do so brazenly, and without threat of reprisal. Clearly, India assumed its social capital in the international comity was established enough to allow it to pull off the kind of daring raids that say, the USA, might be able to pull off. There was only one problem — Indian aggression is a matter of ego and existentialism in Pakistan. The Pakistani military for 70 years has existed to neuter this threat from India. If it does not react or respond to Indian acts of aggression, then why do we even have it?

So on February 27, 2019 Major General Asif Ghafoor got in front of a podium and told India it was time for Pakistan to give it a surprise. On February 28, 2019, in broad daylight, Pakistani warplanes intruded into Indian airspace, identified six targets and dropped bombs around them. The message was clear: we might not have the courage to take on a US invasion, but an Indian invasion would be met with the full might of the Pakistani military.

Analysts from both sides of the border and across the world will dissect the war cries, doctrines, nuclear thresholds, risk appetites and risk capacities aplenty in the aftermath of this escalation. Already we’re seeing them tell us what Modi thinks, what India wants, where Pakistan went wrong, what the next move from both sides will be. But I’m not interested in any of that. Because all of that fails to take into account the most shocking revelation that has come to light during this unfortunate saga: The extreme jingoism teetering on abject fascism across the Indian diaspora.

I have tried finding a reason for it, but I’ve merely ended up scratching my head. Who knew that Indians have this much hatred for Pakistanis? That normal, middle class Indians are willing to impose collective punishment on the people of Pakistan in the form of a doom and gloom war? That they are willing to let their armed forces butcher Pakistanis for the sake of teaching the state of Pakistan a lesson?

For the longest time I believed that the people of India and Pakistan were largely the same; suffering from the same economic corruption, injustice, inequality, vice, ethnic nationalism and social dogma. I believed that due to a shared history, language and culture, the people of India and Pakistan were sympathetic to each other’s plight. They both wanted normalization in relations between the two countries and that it was the governments and establishments of the two countries that fomented this hysteria on either side of the border. The past ten days have proved me wrong.

You see, if India had decided to pursue the dogged but ultimately unsexy route of pressurizing and isolating Pakistan internationally, people like myself would be further emboldened to hold our government accountable today. Why does the state of Pakistan, after all, not arrest Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed? But with Modi’s blood baying, the Indian media’s fascistic approach to win the ratings war and the Indian populace’s extreme jingoism, what’s ended up happening instead is that people like myself have started to reconsider the existential threat India poses for Pakistan. Suddenly, it’s not so much why does the Pakistani establishment tolerate these snakes, but more how do we defend ourselves against this Indian onslaught. Because an onslaught it has been, and one that refuses to subside.

Despite Imran Khan’s unilateral goodwill gesture to release the captured pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, Modi has refused to deescalate. Their media has spun every humiliation suffered by India into a win. Their people have been radicalized beyond measure. Egged on by a hysterical media beating war drums, a populace that will not back down until it has spilled blood, and an establishment that thinks teaching Pakistan is the only solution to save face from the crushing humiliation of losing two fighter jets and a pilot, Modi is looking to teach Pakistan even more lessons.

But see, none of that would be shocking on its own accord. Modi is not a pacifist. He is known as the Butcher of Gujarat after all. What is shocking is the vitriol and hatred that has been on display since February 14, 2019. While Pakistanis make memes, Indians make prophetic death threats. While Pakistanis turn Adnan Sami into a caricature, Indians resort to the worst kind of trolling imaginable. The sense of camaraderie that I, perhaps mistakenly, felt with my Indian compatriots is now gone. It is now Pakistan versus them, and when it’s come to this, how can I choose them?

This has been a heartbreaking episode. Not because India and Pakistan have almost gone to war; not because Kashmir is on fire and we’re completely choosing to ignore the Kashmiri plight for our own selfish reasons again; not because mothers have lost sons because a tiny man with a large ego took oath as the prime minister of India. All those reasons make this a rage inducing interlude.

It has been heartbreaking because I’ve finally realized, that we’re not the same as them.