Shahrukh Hasan: The Peace That Could Save Pakistan

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Shahrukh Hasan (25 minutes, 13 mb mp3)

KARACHI — Shahrukh Hasan is a Pakistani media mogul who’s made peace with India his personal, professional crusade. In American terms, he’s a throwback to the days when lively newspapers, fat with readers and profits, had editorial chieftains who stuck their necks out for substantial agendas. Shahrukh Hasan’s stamp — as managing director of the Jang newspaper group, Pakistan’s largest — is the year-old Aman ki Asha or “hope for peace” campaign, to ventilate and soften the hard feelings between India and Pakistan, born to life and sibling strife 64 summers ago in the bloody partition of the British Raj. Hasan’s opening strategic move was to enlist the giant Times of India group across the border in the same editorial campaign. The theme in endless variations — on Aman ki Asha editor Beena Sarwar’s wonderful blog, for example — is that the boundary between India and Pakistan is a line that disappears when you cross it: the governments are hostile but the people mostly not.

It’s Shahrukh Hasan’s line in conversation that habitual old war fantasies (now nuclear-tipped) are an “existential threat” to Pakistan — not just foolish to begin with, but inseparable now from the instability of Pakistan’s off-and-on democracy, its gaping economic inequalities, its international disrepute, its decidedly weird trading relations. He’s noting, for example, that almost three quarters of the European Union’s trade is within its own membership; whereas Pakistan, self-sealed in hostile isolation from its great neighbor, must depend on exports mainly to the US and the UK.

More generally, Shahrukh Hasan is nudging us toward a notion we hear a lot in Pakistan: that the hasty and reckless 1947 partition, the “vivisection” of Gandhi’s India, was one of the costliest blunders of the 20th Century — not unrelated to the extremism and terrorism of the 21st. The mismatching size and power of the two new nations surely had something to do with the devilish deals Pakistan made from the start for American protection. And surely Pakistan’s originally ambiguous Islamic identity was asking for long-term trouble. By the 1980s, I am reading, Pakistan’s jihadist dictator General Zia-Ul-Haq was stirring Islamism, militarism, and anti-India-ism in one great stewpot. Turkey or Egypt, without Islam, would remain exactly what they are, Zia said — that is, Turkey and Egypt. “But if Pakistan does not become and remain aggressively Islamic,” Zia railed, “it will become India again… swamped by this all-enveloping embrace of India.” Which goes well beyond this conversation with Shahrukh Hasan, who argues that a separate homeland for India’s Muslims was inevitable, and that most Pakistanis would vote today to renew it. He is not revisiting the partition question so much as he’s reviewing the evidence that the “rivalry” of these ever more unequal sibs, now 64 years old, is an exhausted idea, overdue for retirement.

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  • Simon Blackley

    You consistently find people capable of lighting up our world’s dark corners with warmth, wit, and real understanding — and then you give them the space to talk. Journalism of the highest quality, badly needed because it is so rare.

  • nother

    When I speak to people from the Middle East I’m struck by a two-sided coin of their long history. On one hand they rightfully chide the West for our near-sighted selfishness – for instance we are quick to check our parents into nursery homes and to dismiss the duty of legacy. Yet on the other side they are too often jaded by their history which can translate into a condescending response to progressive views. History is not a principle, it’s just the past. Principles can only be in the present tense as far as I’m concerned. Show me. The rest is bullshit.

  • Aditya

    I am convinced with almost every thing Shahrukh has spoken here…except his definitive statement about Muslims condition in India. What are the truths, Facts & Figures, which says Muslims in India are not treated well, being minority how they have been in suffering. Shahrukh being a representative for Aman ki Asha, should not be over-compelling about such false sentences if he doesn’t provide facts and figures in such concluding statements. I am an Indian, and I am an Hindu, I say this confidently that I respect religion, whether it is Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Christians and so on. I have loved my every moment being part of such a diversified nation. I have lot of experiences which defies such hatred which Politics has sown about inter-religious conflicts. I totally believe in India, being an Indian I love peace. I have respect for every Pakistani, irrespective of any creed and faith. In my conclusion I would say if a person like Shahrukh, who is a responsible journalist, misunderstood the actual condition then how is he gonna preach the peace.

    • Sunshine

      I would agree with your statement. I caught that statement as well. Being a Christian minority in Pakistan its very interesting to hear muslims indicating “its horrible to be a minority in another nation”. Yes, it is yet most Islamic nations cannot, I mean just cannot separate church for state and treat non-muslims with any dignity. . India has problems, no doubt but largely the country are a very secular nation where all religions are living. Pakistan on the other hand – the secretarian violence amongst muslims themselves. The inherit intolerance is incredible and that had nothing to do with economics. I think it just how the religion (islam) is the state. India is run with more a mind-set be a world power with a secular mindset. No comparison

  • Potter

    I like that Mr. Hasan says Pakistan needs peace. The Israeli’s don’t say that ( though they do very much need peace too). And the Palestinians –well, they aren’t even formed yet, but of course they need it. The Israeli’s, however, pretend that they don’t need peace- or ( worse) we hear from some right wingers that they can get along without it.

    So I would optimistic when I hear that the sides both feel that they need peace.

    The other difference- or the issue that causes anxiety worldwide- is that both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. The Israeli’s have nuclear weapons (we assume) but the Palestinians don’t. No Arab/Muslim country has nukes. The threat of a nuclear country that is anti-Israel and Muslim (Iran, not Arab but supporting the Palestinian cause) is alarming to Israeli’s because it would change the imbalance of power in the region that Israeli’s enjoy… or their perception of themselves. The France-Germany analogy almost works as Germany does not possess nuclear weapons (though they have the ability and are thus a good example) and France does.

    Hasan contradicts himself (or it seems so) when he says that Pakistani’s and Indians are the same people and we would not be able to tell them apart in a room. But yet he also says that they would not want to reverse partition. Maybe this is a distinction with a difference which has to then be religious differences (a shame!). Okay.

    So maybe we are talking about (aiming for realistically, practically) an amicable divorce. This is similar to the way some of us outsiders view the Israelis and Palestinians; they need an amicable divorce because, for now at least, they cannot live together. And maybe, just maybe, they will, once divorced, gravitate to more friendly relations. (We outsiders just don’t understand why they can’t get along.)

    Anyway Mr. Hasan’s peace project is just wonderful even though I am beginning to realize that I will leave this Earth a less than perfect place.

    Thank you, Chris.