Khuda Hafiz Pakistan

by Nirupama Subramanian

Cross Post from

“There is a Pakistani in every Indian; and an Indian in every Pakistani,” President Asif Ali Zardari famously said two years ago. Those words rang in my head with new resonance as I packed my bags and left Pakistan recently after a nearly four-year-long assignment as this newspaper’s Islamabad-based correspondent.

It should have been easy to leave a country that is by word and deed hostile to India, and where the state machinery treats every Indian as a “RAW agent”, spending considerable human and material resources on the surveillance of the only two Indian journalists — from The Hindu and Press Trust India — that are permitted to be based there.

Yet, saying goodbye to Pakistan was much more difficult than I imagined. Like other Indians who have experienced Pakistan first-hand, I gained a vast number of friends for life and multitudes of warm memories. Against this reality, it seems absurdly unbelievable that these two countries are not even talking properly to each other, that I cannot visit my Pakistani friends easily, that they cannot come and see me. Even texting, one of the easiest and cost-efficient ways of keeping in touch these days, is not possible — or erratic, at best — between India and Pakistan.

Huge distance

Walking across the Wagah border into India took me less than five minutes. But as I turned at the gates to wave to a Pakistani friend who had come to see me off, the distance between the two countries seemed huge and daunting.

At home, family and friends greeted me with relief, and asked me how I had managed to survive four years in “a country of terrorists.” Despite the close geographical proximity of the two countries, and the reams written and spoken in India about Pakistan, there seemed little patience for or understanding of the complexities of, an important neighbouring country, the shades of political, social and religious opinion among Pakistanis on such issues as terrorism and extremism.

There is similarly much in the way Pakistanis react to India that can send even the mildest Indian’s blood pressure rising. For instance, even well-educated Pakistanis continue to believe that the Mumbai attacks were staged by RAW to defame Pakistan with the ultimate aim of snatching its nuclear weapons or dismembering the country. Young and old alike will assert that India is behind the wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan because “no Muslim will kill fellow Muslims”, even though they have no explanation for why Shias routinely get killed by Sunni extremists.

I would have heated debates with Pakistanis who consider themselves modern, enlightened, liberal and secular but would suddenly go all Islamic and religious when it came to an issue such as Kashmir, seeming no different from their ultra-conservative compatriots who protest against the clamping down on Islamic militancy in Pakistan as harassment of “brother Muslims.” They could tout jihad in Kashmir as legitimate even while condemning the Taliban who threaten their own modern, liberal lifestyle, despite the knowledge that the distinction between the two kinds of jihad, or the two categories of militants, is at best an illusion.

But at the end of the day, the goodwill I experienced in my daily interactions with ordinary Pakistanis, even during the most heated debates, was overwhelming and more powerful than anything else. Despite the heavy hand of the state in every sphere of life, I found people who were willing to set aside long internalised stereotypes and prejudices about Indians and Hindus to try and understand me and my point of view, and they accepted with good faith that I was trying to do the same. We may not have entirely convinced each other every time but we managed to build little bridges of our own and find our own modus vivendi.

If there is anything I learnt from those personal experiences in Pakistan, it is that these little bridges are the key to peace. And for this reason, peace-making cannot be left to rulers. It is the people on both sides that have to take charge of it. What the people have now is a unique and contradictory chemistry of love and hate, curiosity and suspicion, friendliness and antagonism, admiration and envy, not to speak of nostalgia and convenient memory lapses. Forget about which of these is natural and which deliberately created. What is required for a stable relationship is a rational middle-ground between these emotional extremes.

If we acknowledge that war or even just a simmering long-term enmity is not an option, that middle-ground would be easy to locate. There, on that middle-ground, we need not be the best of friends, but we need not be the worst of enemies either. We can just live as two civilised neighbours.

It is evident that the political leadership of both countries, which includes the military in Pakistan, cannot be entrusted with finding this middle-ground. The political class on both sides has specialised in hyping the emotional in India-Pakistan relations over the rational, finding it a useful instrument for domestic political gain. Blame communally driven politics on the Indian side, and in Pakistan, the tight grip of a military that needs to perpetuate its predominance in national affairs.

Narrow prism of state

Most of the celebrated India-Pakistan people-to-people contact since 2004, including the interaction between the media, film and fashion worlds of the two countries, has tended to be driven by the governments on both sides, or blessed, encouraged or sponsored by the two states in some way. With rare exceptions, such contact has mirrored the official point of view, providing no room for building genuine bridges. No wonder they fell apart so easily in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to a point where goodwill seems almost irretrievable.

But even now, the first thing that Pakistanis and Indians ask each other is: “We eat the same food, speak the same language, we even look the same, so why can’t we be friends?” The short answer to that is that we cannot be friends as long as we continue looking at each other through the narrow prism of our respective states. Pakistanis must locate the Indian within themselves, and Indians must discover their inner Pakistani. It would help understand each other better, and free us from state-manipulated attitudes. In our own interests, it is up to us, the people, to find ways to do this. For now, Khuda Hafiz Pakistan.



Filed under Afghanistan, Army, culture, Democracy, India, Islamabad, journalism, liberal Pakistan, Media, Pakistan, Society, Terrorism, Yusuf Raza Gillani, Zardari

35 responses to “Khuda Hafiz Pakistan

  1. YLH

    Dear Nipurama,

    I always liked you….

    But where you suggest that anyone with a differing point of view on Kashmir is automatically an Islamist even if they otherwise appear secular and mdoern… is indicative of the mindset with which all Indians approach Pakistan.

  2. Ganpat Ram

    Some Indians never seem to be able to open their eyes and see.

    Paks may “look” like us, but they belong to the Islamic world and are totally hostile to us in ideology. There is no cure for that except making sure India is well defended.

    What is ridiculous about all this brainless nostalgia and feeble-minded yearning to chummy up with the Paks (themselves chummying with Lakshar-e-Tayyba) is that it never seems to apply to the other huge segment of the Indian Muslim who seceded: the Bangladeshis. No-one sheds wistful tears about the good old days in slummy Dhaka.

    Some Indians don’t learn – even the roar of bombs does not wake them up.

  3. YLH

    PS: While I quite see how there is an Indian within every Pakistani… given that Pakistan is a successor state of British India and therefore has a cultural heritage rooted in the Indian subcontinent…. it would be a stretch to argue the converse.

    I for one don’t understand why – in order to be friends- we have to find within ourselves an Indian or a Pakistani if we are Pakistani or an Indian respectively. Do we have to locate within ourselves a little Frenchman to be friends with France?

  4. YLH

    Hai ganpat… must you pollute every thread?

  5. Ganpat Ram


    Com on, Yasser !

    Do you really want a website where the discussion is so bland as to be pointless?

    I make my case trenchantly but I do not use four letter words.

    You surely need someone to make the other side’s argument in a way that will catch attention.

    I have made a goiod point when I observe that the Indian romance about love-hate with Pakistan ignores Bangladesh. Why? Why does no-one Indian say there is a Bangladeshi in me?

  6. vajra

    @Ganpat Ram

    That is because you are a bird of passage.

    The point has been made frequently by those who are in fact entitled to say so.

  7. Ganpat Ram


    Did I ever question anyone’s entitlement to say things?

    Why does that issue come up?

    Is it the inevitable response when it turns out a contributor here has views that are different to just get rid of him?

    Do you just want a circle of sycophants and yes-men?

  8. Ganpat Ram

    Personally, I would be utterly bored if I found myself in a circle of yes-men. I want people who challenge my views.

    I agree with YLH {YLH never said this. Ganpat Ram has a tendency to make up things as he goes along-YLH} that the Indian tendency to say patronisingly to Pakistanis “Oho ! Oho! How cute you guys are……JUST like us!” is more than a little irritating. These Indians need to wake up and realise that Partition happened for a reason, that Hindus and Muslims ARE different, and Muslims wanted to go their own way.

    When Indians get over this silly “Pakistanis are just like us” illusion, there may be a little hope of understanding between these two so different peoples.

  9. vajra

    @Ganpat Ram

    It is the unfortunate custom here, which I personally believe is taken to ridiculous extremes, as in the present case, to answer every question put as fairly and as factually as possible, even though the person providing an answer may suspect that the question has only rhetorical content.

    1. The response was not to a questioning of anyone’s entitlement to say anything. By raising that issue which has not been raised, or thought of, you are adding a red herring to the discussion.
    2. The response was strictly limited to your sweeping assumption:
    I have made a goiod point when I observe that the Indian romance about love-hate with Pakistan ignores Bangladesh. Why? Why does no-one Indian say there is a Bangladeshi in me?

    This point is not worth taking up, as Bangladesh certainly has not been ignored. It is not possible to brief any and every passer-by on each and every discussion that has taken place since the blog was initiated.
    3. Is it the inevitable response when it turns out a contributor here has views that are different to just get rid of him?
    First, whom are you referring to? If to yourself, your views come from a stereotypical set of Hindutvavadi venom that has been thrust at us repeatedly. Please look up Tirthankar Mukherjee and G. Vishvas (apparently you have already looked up the latter). There is not much difference in views between yours and theirs. There is not much interest in repeating whatever has been said several times before.
    Second, you are here, blatant and loud as ever. Who got rid of you? When PMA asked “Why PTH?”, you replied this question quite conclusively. Although there are those who are irritated and annoyed with the laissez-faire attitude of Raza Rumi, and Yasser, BCiv and AZW, they are the originators and moderators and it is their writ that runs.
    3. No, nobody wants a circle of sycophants or yes-men. Of the people whose names occur in the comments list, there have been very sharp differences of opinion in the past, and no doubt there will be sharp differences of opinion in the future. It is just that many of us detest Islamist fanatics and Hindutvavadi fanatics alike. It is also true that many of us are active in social and political work that should speak for itself, and are far from being armchair strategists willing to fight to the last Pakistan Army soldier or the Indian Army soldier.

    Regrettably somebody else will have to take up the thread if you have any more fundamental questions which need answering.

  10. vajra

    @Ganpat Ram

    If, by the way, you check with Yasser, whose astringent views seem to agree with you so much, you will get a clear view of who among the Indian commentators regularly contributing keeps sighing for a revision of partition. The answer, of course, is none.

    You have consistently confused an historical interest in the events that led to partition, also to subsequent developments in Pakistan, with a desire to reverse the irreversible fact of Pakistan. This position is held by none of us – Gorki, Luqmaan, Hayyer, and above all, with views most trenchantly opposed, Majumdar.

    When you get your facts clear, on and off the blog, it may be worthwhile discussing things with you. Till then, stop this display of self-pity.

  11. YLH

    Ganpat mian… that is not what I said…. don’t put words in my mouth.

  12. vajra


    Please, Yasser!

    Surely you don’t think anybody will fall for these cheap divisive tricks. You should give your readers a little more credit for knowing what you stand for and what you are capable of saying.

    A caveat: mutual respect does not mean agreement on the issue of Kashmir, on the issue of the role of the Pakistan Army, gallant though they have proved themselves in battle, or on the issue of the better cricket team. Let us agree that Pakistani playback singers are better at the moment; you will have to be content with that magnanimous gesture! 😉

    I shall now make a dignified exit to put on my plate armour.

  13. yasserlatifhamdani

    Dear Vajra…

    You can never be clear enough on these things… history bears witness to it.

  14. Ganpat Ram

    YLH, Vajra:

    There is at least one thing I definitely like about you guys: you have views very different from mine, and hence are entertaining and possibly enlightening to debate with.

    Nothing is more dreary than being stuck with wah-wah yes-men. Toadies are boring.

    You did not say literally what I imputed to you, YLH, but I thought I conveyed your meaning: Indians who do not understand that Pakistanis are a people different from Indians are irritating. Hence your point that you do not need to have a Frenchman in you to be friendly with the French.

    Vajjra has misunderstood the point about Bangladesh I made. I meant to say that in many years of having watched the Indian media I cannot remember even one instance of Indians being sentimental about Bangladesh in the way many of them are about Pakistan, the good ole days in Lahore, “they’re just like us”, etc.

    These Indian Pakistani-fanciers, I’m told by Pakistanis themselves, are quite a trial for Pakistanis. They turn up oozing indiscriminate, tearful “goodwill”, lament hoarsely about the Cabinet Mission Plan having been sabotaged by wicked Nehru who martyred Jinnah who loved whisky and Indian unity, otherwise everything would have been so hunky-dory with one big cosy united Indiaaah….They quote the usual uninspired Urdu verses in Urdu accents even more atrocious than those of their hosts, generally make a spectacle of themselves, gorge on biriyani, and go away thinking that the tears shed by their hosts prove the soft warm heart of Pakistan rather than than the heart-felt relief of the Pakistanis to see their backs.

    It’s quite a farce.

  15. Ganpat Ram


    Just to clarify one point:I can hardly be a Hindutva guy when I support Partition which they oppose, and I further support an India in which Muslims are free to ridicule Hinduism as much as they please.

  16. vajra

    @Ganpat Ram

    Whether your point about Bangladesh was misunderstood or not is best left to those who are familiar with my antecedents or with my views about Bangladesh.

    Your many years of watching the Indian media seems to have been singularly cock-eyed.

    Again, the Pakistanis on this site are the best suited to judge if your saccharine sweet depiction of Indians determined to inflict themselves on Pakistanis, whether those hapless Pakistanis wish to be imposed on or not, is relevant here. You might like to look up the older writings of a commentator who calls himself PMA; be aware that his comments are tart and vinegary, with no sugar-coating.

    You should at some stage come to realise that the homespun wisdom you bring to bear on this cowering, defenceless blog is really hugely irrelevant; we have got past those initial rituals a long time ago.

  17. vajra

    @Ganpat Ram

    You have a point. In these two characteristics, you are different from the cookie-cutter views of the scum in general.

    Beyond that, there is nothing very positive to be said. Please do not insist on an itemised dhobi-list; it will be boring as well as enfuriating to remember all the muck that you bring to the table.

  18. yasserlatifhamdani

    My point about the Frenchman was that it does not matter if there are similarities and differences… politics can and should be divorced from friendship and personal relationships.

    These gross generalizations you have about TNT, why partition happened etc etc are as naive as those Indians who question the creation of Pakistan on the basis of “we are all the same lets hold hands and sing kumbaye”.

    The fact of the matter is that nation is an imagined concept… one can find similarities and differences between any two groups… Partition happened because Congress was not ready to accomodate a different view of Indianness… no less secular than their own in my view though you may disagree … that the League presented post 1940.

    Pakistan is thus like any nation state a product of history … it may or may not have come into existence… it was neither inevitable nor unjustifiable…. this is my view.

    Now let us move forward on this basis and stop lampooning each other why partition happened or why it shouldn’t have happened…

    So the Cabinet Mission types you’ve mentioned above are actually people building bridges between on a gulf of history. I respect them.

  19. Ganpat Ram


    My thoughts are not so homespun, my friend.

    Have a look at the prominent attack on me posted today by Indrajit Gupta on PTH (about “Polytheism”).

    Such a long diatribe to try and refute an infuriatingly cutting and scandalously persuasive short note I posted disdaining the role of monotheism in history…….

    Try and get someone to take your views so seriously.

  20. Ganpat Ram


    If you love the Indian “goodwill” missions to Pak, you are very different form Pakistanis I know who have told me about them between grimaces, groans and helpess laughter.

    They are particularly hilarious about the ingratiating attempt of these Indian goofs to recite couplets (they are all fairly crackling with couplets) in execrable Urdu – even worse than the Pakistani Urdu that causes so much anguish to the mohajjir Lucknawis and Dilliwallahs.

    Also prominent in the descriptions of these richly comical episodes is the immoderate wolfing by the Indians of biriyani.

  21. Luq

    >There is at least one thing I definitely like about
    >you guys: you have views very different from
    > mine, and hence are entertaining and possibly
    >enlightening to debate with.

    >Nothing is more dreary than being stuck with
    >wah-wah yes-men. Toadies are boring.

    In the light of the above, why do you crib, when a view different from your own is presented ?

    Do you have to contradict yourself with every step you take ?


  22. Luq

    >They are particularly hilarious about the
    >ingratiating attempt of these Indian goofs to
    >recite couplets

    Just like – their laughing themselves to tears – about a few Indians (trolls really) who visit Pakistani blogs and base their arguments on strong foundations made of candy floss.


  23. Ganpat Ram


    I sometimes feel it worthwhile to reply to a post I disagree with.

    Never do I say the guy who posted should be silenced.

    Let him say his piece.

    Is it really so hard to accept the idea of free debate and expression?

    Indian websites like that of “Outlook India” often feature Pakistani posts, and no reasonable person implies they shouldn’t be there, whatever their views.

  24. Hayyer

    Ganpat Ram 6:38 pm.
    “…an infuriatingly cutting and scandalously persuasive short note…”
    Persuading scandalously?
    And cutting infuriatingly?
    Is that in the style of the masters you claim to emulate? Or is your provenance really Grub Street?
    You are neither persuasive not cutting, only persistent, and tiresome.
    If you really want to scandalize readers here you need to do more than flash your ambiguous Hindutva. As for infuriating readers, nothing infuriates more than having nothing to see after a build up.

  25. Ganpat Ram


    Cool down, sir, cool down.

    It’s like I said: monotheist fanaticism short-circuits debate. People blow their fuses instead of arguing calmly. Monotheist texts tend to be angry, I have noted. The Bible’s influence has been unfortunate for the intellect.

    Well, well well !

    At any rate I am the only “nut” on this site who has been taken so seriously that an entire long article has been featured trying to refute me……

    I have made history on this site.

    Indrajit Gupta’s piece on “polytheism” should be read.

    HE thought I had an interesting thesis, unlike the foaming Hayyer.

  26. vajra

    @Ganpat Ram

    After reading it, I doubt that the author of the piece had any such thoughts. The whole piece seems to be devoted to the correction of errors made by you – errors of ignorance, errors of interpretation, and errors of presentation, where half-truths and innuendoes have taken the place of fact.

  27. I dont really know much about Nirupama Subramanium but I think she comes across as remarkable naive in this piece. As YLH pointed out, she fails to divorce geo-political issues from personal relationships. As an example, think of two friends working for two companies competing for the same market (say Pepsi and Coke), will they try and argue that their personal relationship should make the companies less ‘hostile’ towards each other.

    Based on her experience with the liberal sections of Pakistani society about Kashmir, my conclusion would have been that the prospects for peace are quite remote. It actually perturbs me quite a bit that she speaks so glowingly about people who do not seem to have nay qualms about violating her country’s sovereignty.

  28. hoss

    “I would have heated debates with Pakistanis who consider themselves modern, enlightened, liberal and secular but would suddenly go all Islamic and religious when it came to an issue such as Kashmir, seeming no different from their ultra-conservative compatriots who protest against the clamping down on Islamic militancy in Pakistan as harassment of “brother Muslims.” They could tout jihad in Kashmir as legitimate even while condemning the Taliban who threaten their own modern, liberal lifestyle, despite the knowledge that the distinction between the two kinds of jihad, or the two categories of militants, is at best an illusion.”

    She has aptly described the Islamabad based Civil and Military Bureaucracy class in Pakistan.
    This view is also popular in urban Punjab where the perceived Muslim victim-hood mentality prevails over all other thoughts.

  29. Muhammad Saleh

    It is not necessary to search for an Indian in a Pakistani and a Pakistani in an Indian to be friends. We can be friends. The problem is that the survival of our armies ONLY depends on a hate phenomenon. If there is no hate, there will be no need for large armies. That IS the core issue.
    We ARE different as far as our religion is concerned, but we had been peacefully living together for hundreds of years, so what had changed…….. I think it is obvious.

  30. Ranger

    Indians and Pakistanis should be friends just like Indians and Brazilians should be friends and Pakistanis and Belgians should be friends. No more and no less. Lets be like normal people. Of course, for that to happen, Pakistanis can help by not sending terrorists to India and killing Indian people. Is that asking for too much ?

  31. Ranger

    I am sure of one thing. The day Pakistanis stop sending terrorists to India and stop eying Indian territory, Indians will have as much interest in Pakistan as they have in Maldives or Venezuela. The reason most Indians are obsessed with Pakistan for the same reason one would be obsessed with poisonous snakes while venturing into a jungle. Snakes kill. Pakistanis kill.

    Of course, there will always be some wagah-border- candle-lighting peaceniks-freakniks like Kuldeep Nayyer old and senile Punjoo types who will continue to obsess over Pakistan. They are closer to Pakistan than they are to their own countrymen from say Tamil Nadu or Orissa. Some Indian muslims will continue to love Pakistan more than India. But then some mentalities cannot be changed.

    As for the rest, they view Pakistan through the lens of terrorism , not as a long departed brother of partition. They will move on.

  32. Ganpat Ram


    Pakistan should adopt a POSITIVE idea of itself, as Israel has done.

    The Israelis make a POSITIVE case for their state. They do say that they had to establish it because of ruthless anti-semitism, but they do not confine themselves to that. They go on to emphasise that the ideal of a Jewish state, where Jews could live Jewish lives undisturbed by gentile pressure, is a great good in itself, even if anti-semitism were absent.

    The Israelis concentrate on this constructive outlook.

    Pakistanis by contrast, are content to blame the setting up their state on the horrible Hindus. If only the mean Hindus had given Jinnah all he asked, Pakistan would not be necessary, they wail.

    This is a very negative outlook. I see it in you.

    Please be positive, like the Israelis. Just say: “WE like Islam and want Pakistan to pursue it, Hindus or no Hindus.”


  33. Maestro96

    I am so sick and tired of hearing from Indians overseas of how much they wish that ‘partition never happened.’ I am tired of such nostalgic BS. We might be in a mess but we are much better off than we could have been otherwise.

  34. Maestro96

    @Ganpat – I totally agree with you on the self-perception thing. Our society has been decimated by the menace of Islo-Fascism introduce by Zia ul Haq. Pakistan does not need Indian enmity to define itself. I think this is an image cultivated by the establishment of Pakistan. Pakistan’s great struggle is with itself in flushing out the religious minded bigotry. India comes later.

  35. Ganpat Ram


    It’s great for me to find my ideas ring a bell with Pakistanis.

    I wish you guys all the luck. You will need it…..Not that India is any better off.