Dear Pakistani friends, Put yourself in my shoes
I did not want to write this post.
There are enough Indian voices, from Times Now to Hindutva Online, who point fingers at Pakistan. Like M Ziauddin of the Express Tribune newspaper, I think that the two countries need more unpatriots – not people who ‘hate’ their own countries but who question their own nationalist narratives. People who ask: could we be wrong? Asking questions of yourself is difficult, and blaming the other is instant gratification of ego. Questioning yourself has long-term rewards in helping you make peace with yourself.
I am forced to write this piece because I continue to see well-meaning Pakistanis online continue to complain about the Bad Hospitality given by India to the Pakistani women’s cricket team in Cuttack in Orissa. The complainants online have included some of my Pakistani friends whom I know to be liberal, peace-loving and well-meaning, and who have clearly been influenced by some clever propaganda that is deliberately not showing them the full picture.If the controversy escaped you, here is what happened: right-wingers demanded the Pakistani women shouldn’t be playing cricket in India, so the venue was changed from Mumbai to Bhubaneshwar to Cuttack. But even in Cuttack they were at it, so Cuttack hotels were reluctant to put them up and invite right-wing wrath. As a result, the Indians decided to put up the Pakistani women’s cricket team in the guesthouse inside the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack,where the matches are to be held.
Nationalist outrage at such discrimination was, according to this report in the Calcutta Telegraph, initiated by a ‘senior TV anchor’ in Pakistan.
Soon, Pakistani propaganda on Twitter included claiming that the ‘clubhouse’ at the Barabati stadium was not only far from five-star, it was as pathetic as this:
In fact it was more like this (as tweeted by Gaurav Sawant):
Despite these stories and images I still see Pakistanis online complaining. I’m not going to dig out right-wing nutcases from Twitter for you. Let’s look at the editorial in the left-liberal Express Tribune:
This discrimination is undoubtedly unfair and puts our team at a significant disadvantage. The team has been conciliatory about its treatment but the International Cricket Council (ICC) should take note of this.
Instead of appeasing the anti-Pakistan extremists, the Indian government must ensure the safety and comfort of our players. [Link]
My questions for Express Tribune: How does this put your team in a significant disadvantage in playing at the field? Why are you pointing fingers at the ICC and India but not at the Pakistan Cricket Board? After all, it is for the PCB to decide if the security/hospitality situation for its cricketers in India is unsuitable or not. It decided that it was suitable, even before the team left Pakistan. Now if Express Tribune thinks it is unsuitable why is it not asking questions of the PCB? Because that would be asking questions of oneself, and even the Express Tribune, it seems, doesn’t want to give up this opportunity at India-bashing. And as far as the ICC is concerned, they have approved of the accommodation inside the stadium. The ICC has in fact praised the BCCI and the Orissa cricket administration for making the match possible despite the security threats.
The PCB even knew in advance about the stadium accommodation:
Speaking on Wednesday evening, Biswal (a former India U-19 captain, national selector and World Cup-winning manager) added: “The Club House is the Association’s property and is within the Barabati Stadium complex… The facilities in the 17 rooms are absolutely on a par with any four-star hotel…
“There’s more than one swimming pool in the Club House and Pakistan’s women cricketers haven’t complained about anything… We’ve engaged a local caterer and food of their choice is being prepared… They’ve gone on record to say it’s like home for them. For us, that is very pleasing.”
That got confirmed when this newspaper spoke to Nadeem Sarwar, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s general manager (media), in Lahore. He said: “We have no issues at all and had been informed in advance about the accommodation. Our players are happy with the arrangements. That they don’t have to travel daily from another city is a boon.” [Calcutta Telegraph]
So I wondered why the Express Tribune is blaming ICC and India but not their own cricket administration for putting up with ‘discrimination’? I got the answer in another article in the same paper. It’s schadenfreude. Since a militant attack at visiting Sri Lankan crickets, Pakistan has become a no-go place for international cricket. Nadir Hassan is clearly pleased that this incident could bring India similar reputation. He writes in an article titled, “India Needs to Play Fair”:
Try this for a thought experiment. What if we tell international teams that Pakistan is completely safe for visiting teams so long as they never leave the stadium? The suggestion would get us laughed out of the ICC and yet a different standard is being applied to India. In 1996, when Australia and the West Indies refused to play their World Cup matches in Sri Lanka out of fear, the hosts offered to airlift the players into and out of the stadium. That wasn’t enough to get them to play. We should take a similar stand. If the Indians cannot guarantee our players’ safety outside the stadium, how can they ensure it inside? [Link]
Dear Nadir, please at least wait for a militant attack on a cricket team before you jump the gun. Given how we are going, I am sure it will happen one day, at the hands of either the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Abhinav Bharat, and then we can decide whom to blame. Okay?
This schadenfreude also reminded me of some nasty tweets I saw from Pakistanis when the Delhi gang-rape was making international news. Some were using the hash-tag #RapistIndia. When I asked one such person what she had to say about the rape of Hindu girls in Umerkot, she did not reply. At least we are protesting rape; your media is being silence for even reporting it.
The element of schadenfreude in India-Pakistan bickering is an old constant – the more shit happens in one country the better the other feels about oneself. But I find it particularly acute amongst Pakistanis. It goes to such ridiculous extremes that when Manmohan Singh said he was going to address the nation on TV on the issue of FDI in retail, the military-obsessed Ejaz Haider tweeted that the Indian PM was going to tell Indians ‘why the shine’s come off India’. Hello, we got to know the truth about ‘India Shining’ back in 2004 when the BJP-led coalition lost power on that slogan. Besides, the FDI in retail issue was not about whether India is shining! Please at least keep yourself informed and updated about India; it will help you better with your India-bashing.
I digress. Coming back to cricket in Cuttack, Mosharraf Zaidi (until recently an advisor to the Pakistani foreign ministry) is not satisfied with the explanation that the Pakistani team was put up in the stadium premises because of security reasons. He asks on Twitter, “As if hotels cannot be secured?”
So if it’s not security, I wonder what he think is the real reason for the discrimination of not putting up Pakistani cricketers in a hotel like the other international teams. I get the answer of Bina Shah’s article, “Hating Pakistan,” in the Express Tribune: “The housing of the team in the clubhouse instead of a more luxurious hotel is being seen by some as a message to Pakistan: if you misbehave with us, we will treat you equally miserably.”
So it’s not enough for Pakistani pride to be hurt that right-wing Indian groups forced their team to not stay in a five-star hotel. They must go further and imagine greater hurt: India wants to insult us! Why can’t she remember 2010, when just two years after 26/11, the crowds in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium gave an extra-warm welcome to the Pakistani contingent at the Commonwealth Games? Because that would puncture the victimhood narrative, and would not allow the column to be titled “Hating Pakistan”.
For such a narrative, it does not matter that Pakistani cricket team itself is fine with the accommodation, and happy that they haven’t had to encounter a single unwelcoming protest. The Pakistani team manager told the Press Trust of India that the accommodation was a lot like what they get in Pakistan! But since Pakistanis will call an Indian news source propaganda, let me quote again from the Express Tribune:
“We have no problems. In fact, we are feeling more comfortable,” Ayesha told The Express Tribune from Cuttack. “The stadium’s academy where we have been accommodated is similar to the National Cricket Academy in Lahore which has all the facilities. All the facilities are close to us and the girls are happy and relaxed. We have not come here to stay in five-star hotels but to play which is our main focus.”
Ayesha also approved the security arrangements being made for her team’s stay.
“The security arrangements are tight and we are content with it. The security is agreeable to all the members of the team and is not disturbing at all. We are thankful to the International Cricket Council and local officials who are very supportive.”
Meanwhile, the manager added the team is yet to confront a protest by local political parties.
“We have not seen things which we heard before leaving. The people here are cordial to us. We are enjoying our stay and we are hopeful it will go on like that.” [Link]
But that doesn’t wash with Bina Shah. She further writes in that “Hating Pakistan” column:
The manager of the team, Ayesha Ashar, said that the team was happy with the accommodation, a very diplomatic comment, given that the team is in India and has yet to play its matches. Expressing unhappiness with the decision would probably cause them a lot more grief in the headlines and from the right-wing kooks who think sports teams are the same as terrorists.
Her article then becomes a general rant about how India and Pakistan can’t get along because of their competing grievances. She takes it right up to Partition, which makes me go “Hey Bhagwaan!” She writes:
Sometimes it seems as though India has never forgiven Pakistan for wanting to break away and become its own country. How dare you, the unspoken line seems to be, how dare you break the territorial integrity of India, cause the death of millions during Partition, fight wars against us, support terrorists against us? Who do you think you are?
If she had any clue about how Indians see Pakistan, she would know that India doesn’t care about Partition. When even the extreme right talks of an ‘Akhand Bharat’ or ‘Greater India’, it does so only as a provocation. In truth, the Hindutvawaaadi is the biggest supporter of Partition, because that reduced the Muslim demographic. Proof: it is from the BJP that Jinnah’s supporters arise, be it Lal Krishna Advani or Jaswant Singh.
But it would be too much to expect Bina Shah to understand India because she does not even understand Pakistan. If she at least understood Pakistan, she would not be an apologist for feudalism.
I digress again. Coming back to cricket in Cuttack, this post may seem to single out the Express Tribune, so let me present to you just one sample from the older and still more influential Dawn, which was more forthright than even ET in instigating Pakistanis. It directly asks its readers:
- Keeping in mind the situation the Pakistani team is faced with in India, should the ICC play a more decisive role?
- Are the ICC and the BCCI setting a precedent for all future matches that Pakistan may be involved in in India?
- Being bound to the hotel (stadium in this case) has been cited by FICA and most international teams as a major concern when talk of touring Pakistan comes up. Will it affect the performance of Sana Mir’s team in any way?
- If travelling around in India is not a safe option for the Pakistan women’s team, is it right for the World Cup to go ahead over there? [Link]
I don’t even want to imagine what the Urdu press is saying.
Let us think of a hypothetical situation. The Pakistani media tells its readers and viewers that in a grave and unprecedented provocation, the Indian army has beheaded a Pakistani soldier and taken the head with them. How do you think these readers and viewers will respond? Do you think they will go to the Facebook page of Aman ki Asha and start asking for peace to break out? Do you think they will want the Indian cricket team invited for a series of one-day matches? Will they ask the government to invite Lata Mangeshkar for a concert? Will the people ask for easing visa restrictions for Indians? An Indo-Pak mushaira in Lahore, perhaps?
Well I hope they would: I would point out how we need more interaction to reduce the hate that causes such events between our armies. But I have no illusion that the Pakistani public would not buy that argument. I have seen only the brave Beena Sarwar say as much:
One can imagine a similar reaction in Pakistan had it been the other way around. Unfortunately, atrocities occur in conflict situations. Rather than knee jerk responses over individual incidents, there’s a need to work towards ending the conflict. Of course, action must be taken against violators, whether they are soldiers or civilians, ‘non-state actors’ or militants. [Link]
The only other Pakistani who can see the Cuttack fiasco in a broader picture is the Twitter celebrity @majorlypor ‘Majorly Profound’. But then Majorly Profound is so profound Pakistanis say he must be Indian!
Am I arguing that the Pakistanis shouldn’t be complaining about the discrimination in Cuttack or the denial of permission to Pakistani diplomats to be at the Jaipur Literature Festival or the cancellation of a Pakistani play in a theatre festival in Delhi and so on? Yes, and here’s why. I think that for all his faults and failures, prime minister Manmohan Singh has handled the media and right-wing pressure with great elan. If the protestors in Cuttack were to vandalise a hotel reception where the Pakistani cricketers were staying,or gather such a mob outside the Pakistanis weren’t able to leave the hotel, or if this necessitated police action against the protestors, that would be far worse for India-Pakistan relations and the fragile bilateral negotiations. The media on both sides would be whipping up tensions, the opposition BJP would call an end to cricketing ties and other forms of people-to-people contact. The government would have to give in to such demands given the public hysteria. If the match was cancelled they would still complain of not wanting peace. I think such having your cake and eating it too is a bit rich considering Pakistan is unwilling to even pretend to do anything about 26/11 and the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
The Express Tribune editorial I cited at the beginning of this piece said the Indian government was appeasing extremists; but if it was doing that, it would have cancelled the women’s cricket world cup. Some Pakistanis would be happy with this so as to write more masochist columns with such titles as “Hating Pakistan”, but I wouldn’t.
Similarly, if that Manto play in Delhi had not been cancelled, TV cameras would have been broadcasting live the protests outside. The Indian government didn’t ask the artists to go home, it merely cancelled the performance and the theatre group performed in another theatre on the invitation of a civil society group rather than a government body. Win-win. While Pakistanis on Twitter complained about how bad the Indians were being, they should have put themselves in Manmohan Singh’s shoes.
I was the first to point out, by quoting Barkha Dutt’s 2001 essay on the Kargil war, that beheading between the Indian and Pakistani armies is not unprecedented? In that essay, “Confessions of a War Reporter,” Dutt wrote:
A few months ago, I sat across a table with journalists from Pakistan and elsewhere in the region, and confessed I hadn’t reported that story, at least not while the war was still on. It had been no easy decision, but at that stage the outcome of the war was still uncertain. The country seemed gripped by a collective sense of tension and dread, and let’s face it — most of us were covering a war for the first time in our careers. Many of the decisions we would take over the next few weeks were tormented and uncertain. I asked my friend from Pakistan, listening to my anguish with empathy, what he would have done in my place? He replied, “Honestly, I don’t know.” [Link]
The struggle between nationalism and truth is not that of journalists alone. I wrote two more articles after that first one, one in Kafila and the other in Outlook magazine, pointing out the holes in the Indian media’s warmongering narrative: that the Indian army was not officially confirming and at one point even denying a beheading; that two reports have blamed the Indian army for escalating the tensions at the LoC; that the Indian media is trying hard to portray a localised skirmish as a well-planned attempt by elements within Pakistan to derail the bilateral dialogue; and most of all, that beheadings and mutilation of bodies is not unprecedented on the Line of Control. There have been other reports, which the Indian Army has chosen not to deny, of similar beheadings having taken place at the hands of both armies in 2000, 2003 and 2011. These reports came out in the English print media, which did not get carried away with the hysteria of television.
These articles of mine were received in Pakistan with smug appreciation (like this tweet by Ejaz Haider), which was strange. I thought that revelations that both sides have been chopping of the heads and other body parts of each other would be received with anguish and alarm by everyone in India and Pakistan. Instead of saying, “How horrible! We must stop our armies from committing such barbarity!” the Pakistani response was, “See, we didn’t do it for the first time. We didn’t start the fire.”
Since then, there has been another detailed report that claims that Pakistan has complained to the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan about several incidents of ceasfire violations, killings, a civilian massacre, as also beheading and mutilation of Pakistani soldiers.
Now, you would think the Pakistani media would be angered by such revelations. Surprisingly, there is silence. I asked a Pakistani journalist what explained this silence and he said it was the maturity of the Pakistani media. But if the Pakistani media was so mature regarding India what explains the hysteria over cricket in Cuttack? Why is lack of five-star accommodation a bigger issue for Pakistanis than the beheading of Pakistani soldiers, the gouging out of their eyes and so on? If you are a Pakistani and have an answer, do let me know.
When in 2009 in Sharm-el-Sheikh India conceded to talks with Pakistan despite not getting any concessions regarding India’s concerns about security and terrorism and justice for the 26/11 victims, domestic uproar led by the opposition BJP forced Dr Singh’s government to go slow on the talks. But he managed to pick up momentum in 2010, and historic progress was made in 2011 and 2012. It needs to be noted that the opposition BJP did not oppose the new visa agreement or increasing trade ties. The numbers of Pakistanis coming to India for concerts, seminars, conferences, matches, theatre, art and so on, became a flood. Not a single day passes by without hearing of Pakistanis in town for public events. This is a great achievement given the post-26/11 public outrage and the war hysteria by the Indian media. But since India isn’t getting any concessions on that front from Pakistan, the peace process remains so fragile that I had argued in November that Dr Singh should not even visit Pakistan, keeping the peace process low-profile.
But Ejaz Haider is unhappy that the Indian government has been able to carry on a bilateral dialogue and improve relations with Pakistan despite not making any headway in getting justice for 26/11 victims. He writes in the Express Tribune:
…unlike Pakistan, there is no real political consensus in India on normalising with Pakistan. Regardless of Pakistan’s concessions, and Pakistan has conceded almost everything India has demanded over the years — trade, investment, MFN without reference to disputes — India demands, though it won’t say so for obvious reasons, unconditional capitulation from Pakistan. [Link]
Ejaz Haider’s claims that Pakistan has granted MFN status to India or that there is consensus in Pakistan regarding India is patently false. The Pakistani government has not been able to keep its promise of reciprocating India’s Most Favoured Nation status for trade by 1 January 2013. Why? Is it to appease fringe right-wing groups in Pakistan who hold rallies opposing the MFN status until Kashmir is resolved. Is it because the ruling party does not want to be seen as soft on India before an election? Is it because General Kayani hasn’t said yes?
There is a reason apart from 26/11 or the LoC beheading or general hatred of Pakistan that people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges are being targeted. Voices in India have begun to ask why we don’t hear of Indians going to perform in Pakistan. The answers are known: the security situation in Pakistan and the absence of a large market that would make such a scale of cultural exchange commercially viable. If Pakistanis come to Bollywood for work and fame, it is natural there will be voices who ask about a one-way flow. These voices are foolish and myopic. I wish they understood that a Pakistani musician or actor or writer is not just Pakistani but also a musician, actor or writer. The reason why Pakistani performers are popular amongst Indians is not that they are Pakistanis but that they are great artists. I’d tell them that Pakistan was now the sixth-largest market for Bollywood films.
But what do I tell them when they say it takes two to tango?