Are British journalists and writers guilty of ``romanticising’’ India too much while dismissing Pakistan as a ``basket case’’?

Actually, this was not posed as a question but asserted as a fact and met with a murmur of gentle protest from those in the audience who thought the barb was targeted at them.

Academic and journalist Victoria Schofield, one of the more sympathetic observers of Pakistan largely because of her personal friendship with Benazir Bhutto, protested that she herself had written extensively about how there was more to Pakistan than guns and mullahs.

Others reeled off names of British journalists who had written with ``empathy’’ about Pakistan. Certainly, Pakistan had not been neglected, they said, and even as they spoke books on Pakistan were being written.

What was meant to be a discussion, organised by the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association on Patrick French’s book, ``India: A Portrait’’ turned into, often prickly, exchanges about India and Pakistan: Who was more obsessed with Kashmir? Whose media was more independent? And was India’s ``much-touted modernity’’ for real or a western import? An imitation of western consumerism?

Economist Lord Meghnad Desai was challenged over his comment that Pakistanis were ``obsessed’’ with Kashmir. On a visit to Pakistan, the only question he was ever asked was: ``Why don’t you give us Kashmir?’’

One young Pakistani woman said that was not true; and the younger generation of Pakistani couldn’t care less about Kashmir. Like their Indian counterparts they were more interested in bread-and-butter issues and getting on with their lives.

A claim that Pakistani media was more ``independent’’ was greeted with the retort --``and parts of it hideous too’’.

As for Mr. French’s book, it had a rather easy ride except for some sharp points raised by Ziauddin Sardar, the well-known British-Pakistani writer. He thought Mr. French had ``glossed over’’ the warts and oversimplified a very complex country.

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