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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