Interview: Mohsin Hamid

Author says Pakistan and India can co-operate against terrorism.

Mohsin Hamid talks to Sir David Frost on Frost over the World

Pakistani protesters demonstrate in Lahore against the terror attacks in Mumbai [AFP]

Mohsin Hamid, the British-Pakistani author of the widely acclaimed The Reluctant Fundamentalist, speaks to Al Jazeera about how only Pakistanis can understand and share the deep sense of sorrow Indians are facing as their financial capital is held under siege.

He also says the attacks in Mumbai could have been portrayed differently by the foreign media.

Al Jazeera: What do you make of the current attacks in Mumbai?

Hamid: I think at the moment there are two possible responses – either we can use these attacks to continue to think that India and Pakistan must be opposed to one another – or we can start to say there is a shared sense of sorrow that actually unites both countries.

Islamabad has had a hotel destroyed … pitch gun battles were fought at the Red Mosque last year … actually the two countries are very similar and hopefully can act in unison in a way they previously never could.

Do you think people in both India and Pakistan are feeling this shared sense of grief?

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I think they are. I think we could be at a real changing point … Because in Pakistan the perception that terrorism is directed at Pakistanis has become common place and the country is really re-aligning in its view on terrorism.

The army is fighting pitch battles in the tribal areas right now – hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis have been displaced in this fighting.

This is not the same as a few years ago when perhaps militants in Kashmir were partly operating out of Pakistan and Pakistan was suffering the consequences. So there is a big change.

In India, however, I think the urge to look abroad also fits in with a desire not to look within.

So there is a great deal of resentment among Muslims in India. For example, I was in a cab in Bombay a year ago and my taxi driver asked me if I was Muslim and Pakistani and I said ‘yes’. 

He then went into a long rant about how terrible the state of Muslims in Bombay is.

So these problems exist and always looking to Pakistan is a way of hiding from them.

What is the status of Muslims living in India?

They comprise a bit over 10 per cent of the population and [are] increasingly becoming a bit of a marginalised underclass.

The treatment of minorities in Pakistan is no better. I’m not saying Pakistan should be anyone’s exemplar in this area but actually both countries have enormous problems with their religious and ethnic minorities and with a state that has chosen violence as opposed to negotiation and integration.

What has been your experience visiting India as a Pakistani?

On the one hand, whenever I go to India I have a great time … I have had a wonderful experience as a writer in India.

But when I go I have to register at the police station – you have to wait for hours and register for every city you go to.

I’m sure in Pakistan the same thing is done for Indians. This is the absurdity of Indo-Pak relations. 

What role does Kashmir play in the coming together of the two nations … or not?

Over the last couple of years, under Pervez Musharraf [the former president] but also under Asif Ali Zardari, the current president, Pakistan has been putting forward compromise positions on Kashmir that have been quite close to the perceived historical Indian position – and getting very little traction on the Indian side.

It makes one wonder – is it a case that the Indian negotiators don’t trust the Pakistanis? Or simply that perpetuating this conflict is in the interests of the Indian political setup?

I think that is what is unfortunate.

Because the Congress party requires sort of frightened Muslims as a significant vote bank and the opposition BJP has an anti-Muslim sort of position; resolution of this Hindu-Muslim India-Pakistan tension isn’t easy under the Indian political system.

But that said, I think the vast majority of people on both sides would like to see it resolved as these terrorists target Pakistanis and Indians, who have a shared interest in seeing it resolved and hopefully it will be.

It has been widely reported in the foreign media that the gunmen in the current attacks in Mumbai are specifically targeting Westerners and Jews. Does this point to a higher likelihood that Muslims are behind it? 

Well they’re not Muslims … they just call themselves that. But it’s preposterous to focus on this.

Who is losing their lives? Over 100 brown people have been killed – Hindus, Muslims and Christians indiscriminately– but the media focuses on the white faces being killed. 

The vast majority are Indians, police, soldiers and so on. Clearly they want to attack foreigners they but have no problem with attacking locals too … this has been overlooked.

Are you optimistic about relations between Indians and Pakistanis?

I am and I think it’s at a human level.

I have friends and family in Islamabad and when you see the Marriot Hotel blow up in Islamabad as it did this year and when you see the Red Mosque stand-off between the armed forces and extremists being fought for days in central Islamabad – you cannot help but look at the people in Bombay now and feel a kinship.

No one has seen remotely anything like this – except perhaps the people in Islamabad. And that kind of the humanisation of the former enemy, I think, is the reason for the optimism.

Source: Al Jazeera