Living Next to Hell

Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar’s statement that ‘Pakistan is Hell’ has become quite popular and controversial. Whilst the BJP sympathisers celebrate this candid pronouncement, former Karnataka MP and actor Divya Spandana’s statement that she has been to Pakistan recently as part of an MP contingent and that ‘Pakistan is not hell. People there are quite friendly and loving there,’ has kicked off a storm. Not surprisingly, a sedition case has been booked against her.

We are not sure what direction this case would take, but we can explore that question whether Pakistan is hell.

Pakistan contains reasonably developed cities such as Karachi and Lahore, and several villages that haven’t even seen electricity yet. The nation has been adamantly holding onto their fragile democracy. Politicians are generally content with yielding to patronage, by awarding government appointments and contracts to their own kith and kin. The police are largely corrupt and the judiciary is painfully slow in dispatching their cases. A large part of the nation doesn’t pay any income tax at all.

In the above para, if you replace Pakistan with India and the city names with ours, you won’t see much difference at all. Anatol Lieven, a London-based scholar had toured the length and breadth of Pakistan that resulted in a book titled ‘Pakistan: A Hard Country’. In his book, he compares large metropolitan cities of India with Pakistan’s major cities and compares towns and rural parts to regions such as MP, UP, Bihar, etc. If you look at it through this comparative framework, he argues, few differences emerge.

In Pakistan, the Syeds and Sheiks identify themselves as belonging to the highest social order and dominate educational, bureaucratic and scholarly positions. Pathans are recognised as warrior class. (They are represented in large majority in the army. Also, most of the militant intruders along the Kashmir border are Pathans.) Memons, Bohras and Khojas are into business and trade. Ajlafs are into handicrafts and manual jobs. A large majority of weavers come from this class. Finally, Arzal community are generally oppressed and exploited by the rest.

In the above paragraph too, if you replace the communities with our four ‘varnas’ and the ‘fifth group of castes’, it would read a lot like the description of our country.

On Human Development Index (HDI), which determines the social progress of a nation, India is placed at 130th slot and Pakistan is in 147. However, if you take into account Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index* (IHDX), Pakistan loses 29 points in its score and India loses 28.6 points, which indicates that the state of inequality is almost same in both the countries.

In other measures too, Pakistan stays only slightly behind India. The only index where India scores far higher points is in education and, especially, girl child education, where Pakistan remains far behind. (Although it’s a separate matter that Bangladesh is ahead of us in pointers on girl education.)

There are, however, certain key differences between the two countries. The dominance of the army, terrorism and religious fundamentalism. However, Lieven argues that, although world-over, military dictators have only wreaked havoc in their societies, ironically, in Pakistan, it is the military dictators who have tried to make positive differences, with the spectacular exception of Jia Ul-Haq. For instance, it was Musharraf who brought in reforms that gave a lot of teeth to the media. Tragically, though, the same freedom sounded the death knell for him. (i.e., buoyed by the new found freedom, the media boldly and openly criticised Musharraf’s regime, which led the public to believe that his was the worst government ever!)

Christoph Jeffrelot, in his book The Pakistan Paradox, narrates all the challenges the country faces and then argues that the people and the powers-that-be still worry a lot of their country and strive towards progress. He looks at how their competition with India is driving their life and is helping them, wherever possible. The country’s keenness to stick to democracy stems from their comparison with India. (Interestingly, in his book India After Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha remarks that the reason behind Indira Gandhi suddenly ending the Emergency and announcing elections could be to do with Pakistan announcing returning to democracy by announcing general elections.)

The same force could also be driving Pakistan’s keenness in preserving cultural institutions such as films, music and sports. Despite so many problems, they are striving towards international excellence in sports such as Cricket and Hockey. Similarly, although they are way behind India on avenues such as economic reforms and free media, they are ahead compared to other post-colonial Islamic nations.

So, here is the point: Pakistan is not heaven. Nor is it hell. They have serious social problems and, in the middle of all that, still striving hard to lead a normal life. Just like us.

However, there is one element that has the power to make Pakistan hell. That is India. We can aggravate the situation by causing chaos in their regions, remain dogmatic on Kashmir and fan up public enmity among the general public. The more we aggravate the situation, the more insecure we make Pakistan feel, the more they are going to rally behind their army. The more teeth their army gains, the more teeth they will offer to fundamentalists like Hafiz Sayeed. Terrorism would get more fuel. The two nations would move further away from each other.

If in case Pakistan disintegrates, due to our ‘goodwill’ gesture to Baluchistan or other regions, and ends up like Syria or Iraq, there is no telling whose hands those nuclear weapons would fall into. If Hafiz Sayeed or Dawood were to get hold of a missile or two, we all know to which direction those will be fired.

This means, in our attempt to send Pakistan to hell, we will end up sending half of India to hell as well. We’re witnessing how Lebanon or Turkey are suffering due to their proximity to Syria. On Independence Day, our Prime Minister has announced his plans to make Pakistan into a Syria. Our defence minister has made his intentions clear as well, on where he wants to see Pakistan.

The tragic truth is, the place living next to a hell cannot aspire to become a heaven. Besides, the one who aspires to make his neighbourhood hell would be incapable of making his own house a heaven.



* – Inequality Adjusted can be explained thus. If we were to calculate the average earnings of Gujaratis and if we take the earnings of Ambani and Adhani, it might paint a distorted picture by showing higher average. So to calculate the ‘real’ average, we would have to exclude Gujaratis earning above a certain ceiling and calculate the average only for the rest. That would provide a truer picture. This is what happens in Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index.





  • Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven,
  • A Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilence, Christophe Jeffrelot
  • An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions, Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze
  • Work For Human Development – Pakistan, UN Development Project Report, 2015
  • How Poorer Bangladesh Outpaces India on Human Development Indicators –