Allah and Aam Aadmi

Many Pakistan-watchers, particularly in India, allow our contempt, fear and distrust of the Pakistani army to so cloud our judgement, we fail to see a fundamental, and virtuous, change. For a full five years, Zardari ran a bumbling, waffling government, marred by indecision, corruption and confusion. But his opposition did not pull him down. And his generals stayed in their headquarters. This was a fundamental shift. It has only happened because the people of Pakistan have decided to take charge of their own destiny.

Over the years (post-Sharm el-Sheikh, let's say), our view of Pakistan has become re-militarised as its own society's has become de-militarised. Anybody in Pakistan is willing to say to you now that the beheading of the Indian soldier was carried out by the military establishment only to block the Zardari government giving India the MFN status. And we walked straight into the trap: calling off sporting exchanges, the PM himself saying it can't be business as usual, the leader of the opposition demanding 10 heads for one.

At some point in 1992-93, exasperated with my frequent requests for visas, the then Pakistani high commissioner asked me: "Just what's your problem? Do you think Pakistan politics is India's internal affair?"

The point he raised in that momentary lapse of diplomatic restraint was a valid one, particularly as his answer wouldn't have been very different from mine. Yes, Pakistani politics is so important for India that we Indians can't be faulted for being obsessed with it. But must we continue to be ignorant and self-servingly patronising about it?

This election further underlines the fact that we need to revisit some of our old, ossified stereotypes and prejudices about our most important neighbour. Over two decades now, since Nawaz Sharif's first government was dismissed by the army-establishment combine, Pakistan's people have come out of several trials by fire. They have come through another coup, near-decade of army rule, a humiliating loss of sovereignty because of the war on terror, high inflation, economic decline, flight of capital and talent, rampant internal Lashkarism, rising radicalism, and a rarely contested description as a global migraine. But what does their report card show at the end of all this? A wonderfully decisive new election, with an unprecedentedly high turnout, despite terror attacks (real attacks, not just threats), a commitment to civilian rule that was never so apparent or deep-rooted, a much stronger judiciary, an election commission that any democracy can be proud of and, most importantly, a new appreciation for institutions of democracy, as well as respect for them.

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