It can be a shock to see how others view you. In
a disturbing, eye-opening chat, novelist Mohsin Hamid
tells Shoma Chaudhury how Pakistanis see India
your personal map of Pakistan?
I think the biggest
threat Pakistan poses to India is the threat to the Indian ego,
as opposed to anything more substantive
Similar to what makes up anyone’s map. The city
one lives in, friends, attachment to things like sounds, food, sights...
A sense of belonging and emotional investment in the place — those
are the things that link me to Pakistan.
conception of itself as an Islamic state bother you?
I’m not sure what you mean. Pakistan is a very
diverse country. I’m not sure how much it does define itself as
a religious state. Official speak might seem to say it is a religious
state, but for me that’s just one facet of the place.
of India do you and people from your world hold?
Well, it’s mixed. Certainly, there are a lot
of positive things. We all have Indian friends; people who’ve
married across the border, who travel across borders. There are television
shows, films, music we all like. At the same time, there’s a fairly
pervasive feeling that India is a rather arrogant, uncompromising neighbour.
There’s also a sense that India is a country that is a lot about
hype. All this talk of India Shining and what not — a lot of mainstream
Indian media will portray India as this flourishing super power doing
wonderfully well, when the truth is most Indians are desperately poor.
Pakistanis seem to be much less jingoistic and nationalistic about themselves.
I think as a smaller and more cynical country, Pakistanis find this
nationalistic aspect of India pretty off-putting.
the self-criticisms of your generation of Pakistanis be?
There are many. We’ve failed to evolve a lasting
democratic set-up. Failed to find a peaceful resolution with India,
failed to educate a majority of our people.
versions of Pakistan that make you blanch?
Your question is more interesting than the answer.
Let me turn this around. How would you respond to a Pakistani periodical
calling you up and saying, what are things about your country that make
you blanch? It’s like a neighbour you don’t have nice relations
with saying, what about your mother don’t you like? Certainly,
there are things about Pakistan I don’t like, but to make that
a topic of enquiry is problematic. Just look at headlines related to
Pakistan in the mainstream Indian press and you’ll find a very
jingoistic, distorted view of Pakistan. Even in Tehelka, which might
be a very liberal paper otherwise, the tone is very hawkish. As a Pakistani,
I find Indian media prone to exaggerating the threat posed by Pakistan,
and the differences between the two countries, as opposed to highlighting
similarities. In some ways, I think the biggest threat Pakistan poses
to India is the threat to the Indian ego, as opposed to anything more
substantive. So in that context, this is a very odd question. With that
caveat in place, I’d say, I have enormous love for Pakistan, though
I’m frequently frustrated by it.
war is equal. Here the focus is on the ISI, Dawood Ibrahim, terror camps.
After the recent blasts ...
I find it all very amusing, I have to say. Let me give
you a simple example. Why in the 30-day Congressional notification period
for the sale of F 16s to Pakistan — pending for almost two decades
— why in this 30-day period would Pakistan choose to bomb India,
when that can only look bad for Pakistan? It’s the one time in
our history when we are most likely to be restrained; we want the deal
to go through.
not just about this blast. The talk is of jehadi groups within Pakistan
I think India is terrified of looking inside itself
because if a homegrown Indian Muslim group has done this in Bombay,
you’d have massacres. India is a tinderbox so it’s forced
to look outside. Who’s backing the Naxalites? People out of Nepal?
Who’s backing the Muslim groups? Pakistan and Bangladesh? There
are a billion Indians, many of whom are very upset with the government
and could certainly be involved. In Pakistan, we have sectarian bombings
all the time. Certainly one could say these are the work of Indian intelligence
agencies. Perhaps they are. But I think it’s a mistake to look
at these problems in this way and ignore what is often a very strong
domestic component. I think Pakistan is right now desperate for a peace
deal on Kashmir. Musharraf — like him or not — is bending
over to find some compromise. But India is completely uncompromising.
It prefers the status quo so any time there’s a bomb in India,
it can be blamed on Pakistan.
would throw Kargil and terror camps and infiltration at you…
They would, but Kargil was at one time. At one time
Musharraf wanted to have this tactical invasion of India. Now he doesn’t.
People change. I think the Kargil war is really more an issue of Indian
ego — which I think is a very fragile thing and the biggest barrier
to normalising relations with Pakistan.
If the Indian
press demonises Pakistan, isn’t it the same in the Pakistani press?
Absolutely, particularly in the Urdu language press.
But, you know, I think the demonisation of Pakistan in India is more
than here because Pakistan has no substantial Hindu community. So the
average Pakistani deals with India only as a concept. There is not much
entrenched actual bigotry. India, on the other hand, has over 100 million
Muslims. This is a very real issue, sometimes a very real problem for
many Indians. Pakistan gets lumped along with that, so the resentment
towards it in India is much more.
Pakistan negotiated modernity?
In remarkably complex ways. You have everything in Pakistan
— mini zones of talibanisation, fashion shows with girls wearing
next to nothing in Lahore, parties in Karachi where people are doing
cocaine and Ecstasy, villages where people don’t have education
or electricity. It’s a huge collage. The thing people often forget
about Pakistan is that it’s enormous. It’s the sixth biggest
country in the world. China, India, US, Indonesia, Brazil, then Pakistan.
It’s only when you compare it with something even more galactically
vast like India that it seems anything but huge. So there’s a
huge diversity in the way people are dealing with modernity —
from complete hedonistic embrace to religious reactionism. The result
is a bit of a muddle.
themselves, people across the globe are becoming wary of the dominant
face of Islam.
I don’t think there is any homogeneous Islam.
As a novelist, I negotiate these things by breaking them down to the
personal. Even if some basic principles are the same, there are huge
variations in outlook. And religion is only one facet of what makes
us human. There are cultural identities, gender, race… For me,
Islam is a word that includes an incredible multiplicity. The notion
of a strong, politicised, unitary Islam which is either a threat or
a transformative force is for me an artificial construct. Analogous
to the movement trying to make Hinduism a monolithic identity. That
said, within the world of Islam, certainly there are many who are deeply
reactionary, who are moving towards some frightening utopia which for
someone like me is terrifying. But I don’t characterise those
people as typical of Islam. Look at Pakistan, Islamic parties never
get more than 10-15 percent of the vote. They are significant, but the
vast majority would rather vote for schools, jobs, food than some utopia.
you think of Musharraf?
I am deeply ambiguous. First, on the negative count,
how can the political system he’s building be sustainable? Second,
there’s his willingness to use force to settle disputes within
Pakistan. Third, one just doesn’t know what Pakistan foreign policy
is! Are we really anti-Taliban and fully pushing for peace with India?
It’s unclear. There is no transparency. We seem broadly positive,
but there’s no way of knowing what the intelligence agencies or
army or state actors are doing. On the positive side, there’s
been dramatic economic growth in Pakistan — almost as fast as
India since 2001. There’s freedom in the media, an explosion of
TV channels, kids doing things I couldn’t dream of. Lahore, Karachi
— the cities have a new vibe. There also appears to be a relative
desire to disengage from the affairs of our neighbours, and a relative
check on the non-state violent actors within Pakistan. I’d put
a question mark on that last one though. But the trouble is there are
enough sycophants in the Pakistani government to warp your sense of
how right you might be. That warping process which eventually leads
to monomaniacal figures has begun with Musharraf. Yet, I also think
he is also sincere, not corrupt, and trying to do the best he can.