The conflict in Kargil took place in the summer of 1999. It was the fourth war between India and Pakistan since their emergence as independent nations in 1947, but this was the first that the two had fought as nuclear powers. A few months after the cease-fire, Bill Clinton made a trip, the last official visit of his presidency to the Indian subcontinent. Before leaving the United States, he described the region he was about to visit as “the most dangerous place in the world today.”
Around the time of Clinton’s visit to India, a small incident took place in a town called Marcel, near Goa. An Indian schoolteacher named Dharmanand Kholkar was assaulted because of a question he had posed on a test. Kholkar had asked his students to imagine a fictional scenario. An Indian soldier, injured during the Kargil war, finds himself in a Pakistani hospital. The soldier is surprised to be alive and asks why he has been shown such consideration. A Pakistani soldier replies that they are both soldiers and human beings. Kholkar asked his students to state the moral of the story.
Angered by this presentation of the Pakistani soldier in a good light, a mob attacked Kholkar and blackened his face. The attackers were members of the Sangh Parivar, the fundamentalist Hindu group close to India’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP. This brand of ultranationalism and sectarian politics has taken root in both India and Pakistan, a phenomenon explained thusly by the late Eqbal Ahmad in a book of collected interviews, Confronting Empire: “We are so-and-so because we are not the Other. We are what we are because we are different from the West, or from the Muslims, or from the Hindus, or from the Jews, or from the Christians. It necessarily leads to extreme distortions.”
The distortions that Ahmad is speaking of are actually part of the official, sanctioned histories. They claim as casualties not only truth but also the education of youth in the rival nations when they are taught in schools to hate–a theme implicit not just in Ahmad’s final work but in books by Indian journalists Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, and the academic Urvashi Butalia as well, albeit from very different approaches.
A Pakistani newspaper reported last year that the objectives enshrined in the federal curriculum for the education of a 12-year-old child include the “ability to: 1. understand the Hinduand Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan; 2. know all about India’s evil designs against Pakistan; 3. acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan; 4. demonstrate by actions a belief in the fear of Allah; 5. demonstrate the desire to preserve the ideology, integrity and security of Pakistan; 6. make speeches on jihad and shahadat; 7. guard against rumor mongers who spread false news and to stage dramas signifying the evils of rumors; 8. understand the Kashmir problem; 9. collect pictures of policemen, soldiers and National Guards.”