If we have not been able to totally reverse the negative effects of the Kargil days, we are very nearly there
Regardless of what happened in Kargil many years ago, one thing can be said with absolute certainty. It was a PR disaster. Only months before the limited war, General Jehangir Karamat had resigned as the army chief and it was widely believed that he was asked to step aside. You can easily imagine that the force he commanded must be uncomfortable with the development. Dissenting voices were being ostracised. A newspaper and two leading intellectuals were feeling the heat. That’s when the Kargil war materialised. Gradually, silently, we lost support in Western capitals and lost Washington to India.
Between Kargil and the 9/11 attacks, everything that happened in Pakistan was proof of how isolated the country was. A military coup, our support for the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, which also sheltered Osama bin Laden, our struggling economy, the growing threat of radicalisation at home, everything proved that whatever soft power we had, was gone. After 9/11, Pakistan chose wisely to give up its flawed policy in Afghanistan although many now believe we could have bargained a better deal. However, given that there was no elected government or body in Pakistan at the time, we wouldn’t know for sure how desperate the situation was in Islamabad.
A journey of rehabilitation started afterwards. Pakistan now was a willing ally, a frontline state against terrorism. But it still had lost control of the narrative to the Indians. It was funny really how every sacrifice the country made would sooner or later be questioned by an ever-growing Indian lobby and the propaganda was simply lapped up in the Western capitals. Thousands would die in Pakistan every single year, but someone from India would remind the world that these were the consequences of Pakistan’s own poor choices of the past. The voices of children who lost their parents, those of parents who lost their children and of families ruined by terrorism, were of course, never heard. They were asking only one question. What did they have to do with these poor choices?
While Pakistan was caught in a downward spiral, India was repositioning itself as a cultural hub, as the new economic giant and a rising superpower. As one by one, skeletons in Pakistan’s cupboard were tumbling out, Indians did not even bother to clean their own closets. They just pointed at our sins. Ashen-faced with embarrassment, we kept cleaning whatever we found. Anti-Americanism grew in Pakistan. Everyone thought if the West could not see our suffering and sacrifices, there must be an elaborate conspiracy against us. There was none. It was only that an imploding Pakistan made our Indian friends look good. And they forgot that they, more or less, are from the same racial stock.
What happened in Pakistan in the past 15 years changed us profoundly. It was only a matter of time before someone competent stood up, shunned the sense of victimhood and cleaned the stables. But when you are a big country benefiting from world attention, you often start enjoying the suffering of your problematic neighbour too. So ambition and insensitivity in these past 15 years also changed India incredibly. The RSS-backed Narendra Modi’s rise to power and the ensuing circus in the world’s largest democracy bears testimony to that. Today, India seems to have lost touch with its secular spirit and no corrective measure seems to be in sight.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s soft power is gradually returning. It saw its first civilian-to-civilian peaceful political transition in 2013. Ironically, it brought back Nawaz Sharif as the country’s premier. The past two-and-a-half years bear testimony to how dramatically the man has changed. Dissenting voices are free to say whatever they want. Opposition parties staged a four-month sit-in in the capital and we’ve seen no vendetta. Pakistan now has a free judiciary, a free press and a free civil society. Our culture industry and the economy are finding their feet again. Meanwhile, the military has also shown how much it has changed. Under General Raheel Sharif’s leadership, it launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb and terrorists are now on the run. Stability in the country means more regional and global powers are ready to work with us. If we have not been able to totally reverse the negative effects of the Kargil days, we are very nearly there.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.
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