Ten days before he was assassinated in January, my father, Salman Taseer, sent out a tweet about an Indian rocket that had come down over the Bay of Bengal: "Why does India make fools of themselves messing in space technology? Stick 2 bollywood my advice." My father was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, and his tweet, with its taunt at India's misfortune, would have delighted his many thousands of followers. It fed straight into Pakistan's unhealthy obsession with India, the country from which it was carved in 1947.
Though my father's attitude went down well in Pakistan, it had caused considerable tension between us. I am half-Indian, raised in Delhi by my Indian mother: India is a country that I consider my own. When my father was killed by one of his own bodyguards for defending a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, we had not spoken for three years.
To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge—its hysteria—it is necessary to understand the rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan. This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan's animus toward India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.
Throughout history, relations between dominant and rising states have been uneasy—and often violent. Established powers tend to regard themselves as the defenders of an international order that they helped to create and from which they continue to benefit; rising powers feel constrained, even cheated, by the status quo and struggle against it to take what they think is rightfully theirs. Indeed, this story line, with its Shakespearean overtones of youth and age, vigor and decline, is among the oldest in recorded history. As far back as the fifth century BC the great Greek historian Thucydides began his study of the Peloponnesian War with the deceptively simple observation that the war’s deepest, truest cause was “the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” The fact that the U.S.-China relationship is competitive, then, is simply no surprise. But these countries are not just any two great powers: Since the end of the Cold War the United States has been the richest and most powerful nation in the world; China is, by contrast, the state whose capabilities have been growing most rapidly. America is still “number one,” but China is fast gaining ground. The stakes are about as high as they can get, and the potential for conflict particularly fraught.
At least insofar as the dominant powers are concerned, rising states tend to be troublemakers. As a nation’s capabilities grow, its leaders generally define their interests more expansively and seek a greater degree of influence over what is going on around them. This means that those in ascendance typically attempt not only to secure their borders but also to reach out beyond them, taking steps to ensure access to markets, materials and transportation routes; to protect their citizens far from home; to defend their foreign friends and allies; to promulgate their religious or ideological beliefs; and, in general, to have what they consider to be their rightful say in the affairs of their region and of the wider world.
New political understandings are being launched each day, it seems. From one quarter comes what we might call Praetorian Realism, an acknowledgment of Samuel Huntington’s scenario for the military disciplining of civil chaos in modernizing lands.1 From another comes Matrix Realism, emphasizing the army’s role in the institutional order of the Arab countries.2 In this expansive intellectual climate, with its growing range of options, perhaps there’s room for one more entrant. Let’s call it Tribal Realism, the aim being to bring anthropological insights to bear on our political prospects abroad. Tribal Realism might have a number of practical applications, but its immediate goal would be to vet Western political speeches to delete all references to “the people” of Libya, or Iraq or Afghanistan. It will then try to decompose this popular collective noun into its actual constituent parts. Admittedly, removing such a warmly democratic term as “the people” will leave a sizeable hole in the prevailing rhetoric, exposing speechwriters for assorted presidents and prime ministers to a pressing need for workable replacements, but the benefits should outweigh the costs.
For one thing, it will expose the enemy, too. From his Bedouin tent, Colonel Muamar Qaddafi has said he would not dream of harming “his people”, let alone shooting and shelling them, and he undoubtedly means it. Correctly understood, however, Qaddafi’s people are, first, his family, consisting of his wives and children; next, his clan; then, his tribe; and finally, by a no doubt deplorable process of geographical attenuation, those tiny insignificant figures in the direction of Benghazi, who hardly count at all. Once we grasp this meaning of the term “people”, we will see that Qaddafi is telling the truth. In the colonel’s ethical universe those who deserve his exclusive concern are the men and women he regards as kin. In contrast, that unruly rabble to the east may legitimately be hunted down and mercilessly killed. That is what desert chieftains have historically done when they could. That is what men like Qaddafi see as their duty to do, and that is what his numerous dependents—“his people”—expect him to do.