Naya Pakistan: Can a New Pakistan Renew its Old Relations With India?

On 25th July 2018, the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party claimed a landslide victory in Pakistan’s general election. Khan is expected to assume the Prime Minister’s office on 18th August and will be the first world-famous sportsperson to hold such high office in Pakistan. Khan’s victory is regarded as a historic win, putting an end to the decades of dominance by Pakistan’s most established political families. Known as the Kaptaan (captain) to his supporter, Khan has promised his Khiladis (players or supporters) a new Pakistan, or Naya Pakistan, which he envisions as an ideal welfare state. Khan coined the term Naya Pakistan and has used it repeatedly to promise a rejection of the political status-quo and better lives for those who have lost hope in the system. The Pakistani people now wait anxiously for what Naya Pakistan will bring.

Despite using anti-Indian rhetoric and facing a hate-campaign from the Indian media, Khan vowed to start a new era of friendship with India, a country with which Pakistan shares a history of mutual hostility since the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. During the election campaign, the Indian media depicted Khan as an anti-Indian, religious fanatic.In his first victory speech, Khan stated he felt heart-broken forbeing portrayed negatively by the Indian press: ‘I was saddened [by] how Indian media portrayed me as a villain, Naya Pakistan will take two steps towards India if India takes one step towards it.’ Yet politicians still exploit the hostility between Indians and Pakistanis. It remains to be seen whether Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’ will escape old rivalries and establish new relations with  India.

Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf | Creative Commons
Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf | Creative Commons

A Psychosis of Hatred: A Political Gimmick or Reality?

Politicians from both sides have constantly taken advantage of the psychological warfare between these two nuclear-armed neighbours. The roots of this rivalry stem from when these nations lived together for centuries, like family, only to traumatically part ways during Partition. Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party, utilized the public’s anti-Indian sentiments throughout his political career. During election campaigns, he regularly reminded votersthat he had turned Pakistan into a nuclear state in 1998 to ‘achieve parity with India’.

Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s younger brother, also bashed India in the recent elections. Addressing a large crowd, Shahbaz said: ‘if you give a chance to PML-N, we will defeat India on several fronts. We will take revenge from India’. Yet paradoxically during his last term in office (2013-18), Shahbaz wished for quite the opposite: a Pakistan-India rapprochement, similar to that between North and South Korea.

Attacks against India are not limited to politicians from the PML-N. Khan accused Nawaz Sharif of being an Indian stooge, finding a connection between Nawaz’s imprisonment, his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a recent surge in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, saying: ‘I wonder why terrorist activities increase in Pakistan whenever Nawaz is in trouble.’ Khan’s party also raised the slogan against Nawaz ‘Modi ka jo yar ha, ghaddar ha ghaddar ha’ (He who is a friend of Modi, is a traitor).

Similar to the anti-Indian stance in Pakistani politics, Indian politicians also use anti-Pakistan attitudes to sway public opinion, especially Prime Minister Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, Bhartia Janta Party (BJP). Although Modi is a friend of the ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his party is still regarded as anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. Meanwhile, even though Khan accuses Nawaz of being an Indian stooge, he nevertheless proposed a friendship with India even before taking office.

How can one explain these strange double-standards when it comes to the relationship between India and Pakistan? Their love-hate relationship needs to be studied from a psychological perspective and through understanding how the ‘rival-other’ plays an important role in their internal politics.

An episode from the traumatic Parition in 1947 | Creative Commons
An episode from the traumatic Parition in 1947 | © Photo Division, Government of India

Why the Psychological Warfare?

Why do India and Pakistan act so act competitively towards one another? It may be due to how family has always been the most influential and authoritative institution in Indian and Pakistani lives. Unlike western societies, which are more individualistic in nature, the collectivistic fabric of south Asian societies plays an indispensable role in shaping people’s worldview. Those who do not conform to family norms are considered mentally ill. The values and norms learned within family and lineage also extend to other institutions: for example, teachers in south Asian culture are revered as one’s spiritual father, and their students as their sons. Similarly, company bosses are considered big brothers or fathers in both India and Pakistan. Respecting your seniors and expecting obedience from juniors is a norm that holds sway across every sphere of life.

Neighbours are also referred to with familial names. Terms such as aunties, uncles, nephews and nieces that western societies would reserve for blood relations are used for those living close by. Indians and Pakistanis therefore share not only a cultural gene pool and biological ties, but identical kinship structures. Before Partition, such familiar terms created intimate bonds between Hindu and Muslim neighbours.

The symbolic use of family and other kin relations was instrumental during the Indian independence movement in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, culminating in Partition – a territorial, but also psychological divide between people who had lived side by side for more than a millennium. Political leaders used ‘brother’ to show solidarity among different religious communities, and ‘fathers’ was used for political leaders: India’s and Pakistan’s founding fathers, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were called Bapu (father) and Chacha (father’s brother) respectively.

Gandhi and Jinnah in Bombay, September 1944 | © gandhiserve.org
Gandhi and Jinnah in Bombay, September 1944 | © gandhiserve.org

As Partition neared, these metaphors altered bitterly. The Hindus started claiming themselves as ‘sons of the soil’ and regarded Muslims as ‘adopted sons’. Muslims became ‘step brothers’ for their demand for a separate state. Furthermore, the traumatic episode of mass murders, lootings, rapes, abductions, and other monstrosities that took place during Partition played its part in developing permanent suspicion between people on both sides of the border, which was then transmitted onto subsequent generations.

Indian land has always been regarded by its inhabitants as ‘mother’ India, a sacred landscape. Its inhabitants were either ‘real’ (Indian) or ‘step sons’ (Pakistani) of mother India. If we understand India and Pakistan as brothers or cousins, both can be regarded as rival ‘kin’ states who remain obsessed with competing and defeating each other in every walk of life, analogous to a sibling rivalry.

India wishes to assume the status of big brother, which is persistently challenged by Pakistan. Pakistan, being the younger brother, feels that he was wronged at the time of Partition in terms of land and asset distribution. This is why Pakistan still has claims over Kashmir province held by Indians, and considers it as an unfinished business of Partition. Moreover, Pakistan feels grievance that India does not extend the proper care associated with the role of a big brother: Pakistan expects that India, being a big brother, should resolve the Kashmir issue with regards to the wishes of Pakistan, its younger brother.

Both India and Pakistan have developed ‘I am not respected’ and ‘I was wronged’ syndromes. But their common language, political culture, food, Bollywood gossip etc. are factors that should make them friendly neighbours. Indeed, Indians and Pakistanis living abroad have resided in harmony for years. In the UK, for example, Indian and Pakistani communities have become closer owing to their similarities. Here, they find in each other a common ‘other’, since even more pronounced cultural differences exist between them and other ethnic groups.

The limited contact between people on both sides of the Indian-Pakistani border is one of the main factors behind their rivalry, which is then exploited by politicians. Regular interaction between people could de-sensitize the bitter memories of partition. There is a ray of hope that Naya Pakistan will extend an olive branch towards India, and start a fresh era of brotherly relations. Khan is respected and loved by both Pakistanis and Indians for his cricketing charisma, so perhaps he will act as a bridge between both sides. He has invited numerous Indian cricket legends and Bollywood film to attend his oath-taking ceremony, and has stated that he always had good friends in India. It is time that he proves that his party song, Rok sako to rok lo, tabdeeli aai re (Stop if you can, change is on its way) is true by changing the nature of India-Pakistan relations.