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Some anniversary
by Thanos Kalamidas
2007-08-19 09:47:10
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Over the last few days we have often watched on the news how India and Pakistan celebrated their 60th independence anniversary from the British. It seems I don’t really remember how they celebrated their 50th anniversary, but it was really impressive watching and, most of all, listening to what the officials and simple people from both countries had to say.

The majority of the politicians are aware that we live in the era of …political correctness, so they somehow forgot to talk about the years before independence; I think that’s the way they put it nowadays, 'occupation' is not a nice word. Instead, they spent most of the time talking about the improvements of the new democracy or the birth of a new style, a more Asian democracy. I feel that over the last fifty years the word 'democracy' has been used so many times that it is going to lose its meaning in the end.

But let's return to India and Pakistan. India has made huge steps over the last sixty years and the worst enemy India has had all this time was her own self. Indian political life went through some really hard times and on some occasions fear became a synonym to the political career. Gandhi’s family, as though they are cursed in their lives, lived the whole drama of the new Indian democracy often balancing in between tradition, religion and ignorance.

I’m not going to judge the good and the bad of the Indian Congress Party but they were in the spirit of democracy and even the heavy heritage of Gandhi himself proved often very heavy for the Indians as a nation. The never-ending religious differences and the traditions often kept this nation backwards and it makes it more of a miracle that despite all those the Indian democracy has become stronger year after year – we must also never forget the financial and scientific revolution that the Indians managed in the last decades.

The last few decades of information and communication has shown that Indians are members of the leading team worldwide; actually, there is no IT, software and computing company anywhere in the world without Indians on its board of brains – an improvement that has shown on many levels. I have to admit that I was surprised after the tsunami when I heard that the Indian government led all the help that was coming to other countries in the neighbor zone, with bigger and more dramatic needs, actually they even sent help to Indonesian areas. This is the same country three decades ago we could see pictures of starving kids and fights between casts.

I have often said that older countries suffer when comparing them to newer countries because they have one really dark enemy; their old traditions that hold them back. It seems that India found a way to break this by getting involved in an industry beyond her traditions, computing technology; apparently they succeed. The financial improvement and stability gradually brings security and, yes, there are many things still left to improve in India, with corruption being a big issue and the health situation to follow, but India is on a good road. Most of all, the people and the politicians have understood that financial stability and transparency brings security and prosperity even for the second most populated country in the world.

Pakistan is now on the other side of the same coin and, oddly enough, it is as though they followed different ways. They are an Islamic country, but the main difference is that India is one of the first Islamic countries to have a woman prime minister and one with a very strong will. She has made mistakes, a lot of them, but just like India she had to deal with strong traditions, plus the Islamic rules. She was blamed for corruption in a country that every single official was corrupt and she was trying to make the change.

Was she successful or will she be successful? Nobody really knows because the moment Pakistan came to following India’s example, ready for the next step that would most likely change the whole society, along came Musharraf! He came to remind us that, aside from tradition, except Islamic traditions, the Pakistani democracy has one more, far more dangerous enemy: the Pakistani army. The army has played the worst role in Pakistani history, and every time the country was ready to step forward the generals were returning to hold everything back. However, the last one, General Pervez Musharraf is the worst of all.

What makes him so bad is primarily the timing. You would think that at the beginning of the 21st century and at the end of Saddam, with Mugabe hopefully next, countries like Pakistan that had already made the first steps into democracy with leaders like Bhutto and had suffered under dictators like General Zia-ul-Haq and his ideas of forcing a combination of a secular political system with a bit of … Shariah laws! This last one made things worse, since it brought inside Pakistan all the radical and often extreme Islamic groups, including the neighboring Afghan Taliban.

After General Zia’s death in a plane accident, the daughter of Bhutto, Benazir made an effort to return Pakistan to democracy but, as I mentioned before, it lasted very little time and in 1999 Pervez Musharraf, via a military coup, became 'president' for life in the same way that Pinochet had done in Chile and Idi Amin in Uganda. Apparently he has often used their methods by balancing between the paramilitary Islamic groups and the army.

Coincidence made things worst since after 9-11 Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan found themselves in the middle of the war against terror and the dictator found himself between the good friend neo-republican and neo-Christian to whom God talks at night George W. Bush and his only loyal allies in Pakistan, other than the army, the Islamic fanatics. To make it worse, it is believed that bin Laden is hiding somewhere in Pakistan with the Pakistani authorities unable to find him. Don't forget the Pakistani people in the middle suffering.

If you add to all of that, a general who needs some military games and who better than with enemy/neighbor India you have the full picture on how far from democracy Pakistan is or how it will be as long as Musharraf is in control. Oddly in this case it as though the Americans never learned; Saddam was their creation because they wanted to control that area and Musharraf is again their creation, and sadly both cases have their similarities with the biggest being their brutal attitude towards their own citizens.

Little is left to say, so let's hope that the future of India will be the same bright situation as the present shows and, as for Pakistan, let's hope that Musharraf’s regime will soon meet its end, so Pakistan can celebrate its 61st anniversary practicing democracy and not saying that it has democracy.

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Paparella2007-08-18 13:18:50
I'd like to take issue with the description of tradition as the dark enemy of older contries obstaculating progress. To me it seems a paradox that India can be both the most populous democracy on earth and the most religious.That if course a sort of conundrum to most secular Europeans. It seems to me that the core issue here is this: has India been a stable democracy since its independence for some fifty years in spite of its religion or because of it? The issue is complex and needs an honest dialogue free of bias and caricatures of religion, but whichever way one answers the question, one thing is sure, it gives the lie to those “enlightened” people in the West that go around proclaiming that religion is incompatible with democracy, or worse, that religion destroys democracy. Perhaps the answer to the conundrum can be gathered from India's Constitution which insists that the government, while guaranteeing and protecting religion as integral part of the nation’s cultural identity, remains neutral and above the fray of religious contentions. However, since 1980 there have been complaints within India that the Independence fathers were perhaps too quick to apply Western secular forms to an Eastern cultural reality; that while a secular state may work well enough in a country like the U.S., it is discordant in an Indian society that remains non-secular at its core. Two such intellectuals are T.N. Madan and Ashish Nandy. Others however continue to defend a reading of the Indian Constitution that is a-religious, not anti-religious, claiming that communal violence proceeds not from the fact that the state is too secular but from the fact that it is not secular enough.(continued below)

Paparella2007-08-18 13:21:03
In a strange way, the reading of India depends upon one’s reading of the United States. On the one hand the U.S. has been construed as among the most religious nations in the world, with some 95% of Americans claiming belief in God” and more than 60% claiming attendance to religious practices. On the other hand, the U.S. can easily be portrayed as the secular nation par excellence with its separation of Church and State. This explains the culture wars among the orthodox (conservative) and the progressive (liberal) religious forces. In a way this is democracy at work. It is exactly because there is clear separation between Church and State, that we can have in America highly vocal religious politics. The separation itself would not be acceptable without an opportunity in the society to freely express one’s religious preference. So the U.S. remains a paradox and the exception which commends the rule concerning the virtues of a secular state and a religious polity.

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