Posted by: cydonian | August 14, 2006

Crunching Numbers from the Hidden Dragon: Loving Thy Neighbours, And By How Much.

While we await the completion of a short story we’ve been brewing lately, we take a moment to stop, observe and crunch a few interesting numbers from Beijing and a few Pakistani cities. Read on for a fuller analysis.

Now, since a lot of you are itching for a flame war, we’ll start off with the Pakistani set first. And here’s the finer elements of the gnyaan that struck for its sheer insight:

  • Most Pakistanis think the best way to resolve the Kashmir issue is bilaterally

    Bilateral negotiations, you’ll note, is GoI’s preferred way of conflict resolution, and this option being seen this high should count as a victory for India. That it’s fallen down slightly from 2003 shouldn’t be cause for concern at all; the difference falls within the error margins.

  • While most think that India will never “part with Kashmir” (I hate the emotional bias in that statement; I’d have preferred a much less emotive construct than that), there’s still a sizeable portion who believe that LoC can’t be made an international border. Minus “parting” with Kashmir, minus conversion of LoC, I can’t but help ask: how do you think we’ll ever solve the problem? A ready answer here as well: a 61% think it’ll never happen. Interestingly enough, though, the younger generation is much more optimistic than the older ones; a consequence, we think, of spending significantly less time following the news than the older set Sorry, the error margin being 3-4%, the difference again statistically insignificant.

  • What, then, does the average Pakistani see in India? Ayaz Amir has an interesting qualitative response to the question, but the numbers, again, caught us surprised: (this is statistically valid; difference > 4%) more people are impressed by India’s democracy than by Indian culture. Given the preponderance of Bollywood and Indian channels, you’d think it would have been the other way; we don’t know why this is the case, but we think it is, perhaps, because Bollywood isn’t really seen as an Indian-only thing anymore?

    The fact that none of the figures for any item crosses 30% is also note-worthy; it appears that all our neighbours, with the exception of Bhutan and Sri Lanka, perhaps, somehow feel continue to feel intimidated by us. Wonder why, hmmm.

  • Most think there’s only a low-to-moderate chance of war with us. This isn’t Israel- Lebanon, or Israel- Palestine situation, and I really wish people comparing India- Pakistan with the Middle East would stop doing so after seeing this factoid.

Luckily, (or rather unluckily, if you’re a disfranchised Pakistani), I really don’t think the opinion of the man on Mall Road, Lahore, would count that much in bilateral negotiations. If anything, I believe these numbers indicate a certain success for Pakistan‘s PR machine; clearly, there’s a lot of overlap between official stance (“first solve the Kashmir issue”, “bilateral agreements”, “more people to people contact”), but we must remind ourselves that this comes within a certain idea vacuum within Pakistani debate-space; remove Musharaff and his government, and you’ll find no other real source for opinions.

This is, then, the real lesson of the numbers here; unlike in India or the US, there isn’t, we conclude, an ideological choice when it comes to policy-making in Pakistan. The Pakistani people have, however, paid out a certain penalty by not having more political options; while they are, apparently in the minority, those who disagree with the current government, they certainly don’t have any other power-sources to turn to and won’t able to influence the discourse in any meaningful way. Would be interesting to see, then, on how unified/ fragmented public opinion in India is as well; something tells me it’ll be a lot more fractured than it is in Pakistan.

I was more interested by the other set of numbers emerging from Beijing, though. Not just for my interest in Chinese people and their culture, which is, as many of you know, immense, but also because we so rarely hear about the opinion on the street. Indeed, given the novelty, the sheer size, and most importantly for us, the emerging global reach of the Chinese diaspora, we should be more interested in Beijing than in Islamabad. Again, true to form, we’re faced with a few curve-balls from the other side of the Himalayas:-

  • We’re more spiritual, intelligent and intellectual than hard-working. Or at least, Beijing doesn’t see as hard-working as much as NYC and London do; clearly, the lack of interaction between the Indian and Chinese peoples is to be blamed here.
  • Very few folks see us as corrupt or inefficient. (Heh, if only they knew!)
  • They see us as competition, and are prepared to compete very hard (“better place to invest – 84%“, “India can’t rival China as a superpower – 64%”, “India shouldn’t be a permanent member of UNSC – 58%”, “India won’t overtake China economically – 82%”)
  • Significantly more Chinese (57%) think that India will never disintegrate into smaller nations. Is there some sort of a transferrance of belief in governmental rigidity at play?
  • And finally, more people are interested in historical monuments (meaning, would like to travel to India) and Bollywood, than in religion, spirituality or Indian food. The Indian restaurant business isn’t doing that well in Beijing, then.

Note that I’m using opinions from NYC and London as a sort of a control to measure against those from Beijing. Also note that while NYC and London more or less share the same ideas about India, Beijing seems to differ wildly in certain parts. I think this is a clear measure of people-to-people contact; the average Londoner agrees more, and hence, is more connected, with the average New Yorker, than is the average Beijing-er. That is, our earlier assumption that these figures could give us an insight into the global Chinese mind could possibly be wrong; the global Chinese might exist, but a Beijing-er is, perhaps, less of a global Chinese than a New Yorker or Londoner of Chinese descent.

In fact, that brings us to the really curious point about these numbers: how would they show up if we were to control for ex-pat Indians or Chinese? Meaning, how much of this opinion is because of globe-trotting Indians or Chinese, and how much is a result of digesting PR spin? That’s the bigger tale I’m interested in, here; how do people form opinions the most, by meeting people, or by reading/watching news? The answer could suddenly reveal a personal, Johnny-Appleseed-ian edge to international diplomacy.



  1. is it just me or has everyone else who has had conversations with pakistani people found that musharraf is a sore topic?

    even before these conversations, i’d felt that musharraf was hanging on by his military might and the backing of “other influential people” rather than the will of his own people.

    especially, when he mucked up that whole pr nightmare for india (musharraf’s first visit to india), pakistanis stood by him by and large, but they collectively cringed on the inside. was i reading the wrong vibe?

  2. I’m not saying Pakistanis support Musharraf per se, but that they certainly seem to support him on India at least. This, I believe, is not necessarily because he’s a likeable guy, but because they have no other policy alternative.

  3. Well written. I got so much to comment, that a separate post on my blog is in the works.

    My dad had a bold prediction to make 10 years ago. That India and Pakistan will be one country again. And it will happen before 2050. More I think about it, more it appears as the logical way to move beyond this hate mongering environment. It could happen by way of war, or by way of economic integration, or by way of a democratic vote, but this is the only way we will get to stop spending so much energy and resources on this “lakeer” the British drew before they left.

    My dad was a hobby astrologer.

  4. slikboard: Thanks for dropping by, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Just give a link to this blog in your post, and we’ll find it!

  5. Wow, this is a very interesting post.

    Opinions of Pakistanis

    Well, Pakistan hasn’t exactly been brimming with actions that depict trust. Bilateral talks cannot be possible with someone who backstabs you, right? Which is the exact reasons why I have a problem with Mush.

    Secondly, there is no reason India should “part” with Kashmir — it is ours, you know?

    Feeling intimidated by us

    Well, we might not be a powerhouse in comparison to China or the US, but we definitely are one of the biggest nations in the world — and we have a strong economy, and a very powerful standing army.

    While IAF and IN aren’t the very top of the line, we do have some good stuff out there. Not to mention the fact that we keep making great technological progress (satellite launches, for instance, IT industry, for another), a good educational system and are a strong democracy to boot.

    When you think of these things, you can imagine how a smaller state might be intimidated by us — a look at Mumbai is enough to scare most folks here from the Midwest, leave alone smaller nations.

    Perception of India

    See, the Chinese are definitely way more hardworking than we are — a look at grad school here reveals that. Most Indians laze it out, live it up and do things at the last minute — and manage to do well. Most Chinese folks work hard the whole time, and we manage to do just as well.

    Personally, I think it has a lot to do with the educational system than anything else.

    And on the topic of corruption — while the _system_ is quite corrupt, the establishment by itself is fairly alright. I mean, look at the armed forces, the election commission, the ability to attract FIIs and the like. These things aren’t half as bad as China, where the “party” controls and amasses everything.

    Finally, I do think that they are right — for all our differences, we feel one as Indians. Honestly, I see myself as an Indian first, and everything else second. I might become quite Americanized and what not, but I’ll always be an Indian-American. I still root for the Indian cricket team. I still dig Indian food, be it from Punjab, Gujarat, Bengal or Kerala.

    I think this is a fairly universal thought. Remember the Ek Thithli, Anek Thithliyan and National Integration ads back when we were young? I think those actually worked. Despite our regional differences, we still are one nation.

    And to answer your final question, I think it is a combination — ex pat Indians, PR spin and mostly — believe it or not — Bollywood and Indian restaurants (oh God, you’d be amazed).

  6. Most think there’s only a low-to-moderate chance of war with us. This isn’t Israel- Lebanon, or Israel- Palestine situation, and I really wish people comparing India- Pakistan with the Middle East would stop doing so after seeing this factoid.

    Ahhh, subtle. 🙂

  7. you seem to miss a point here, in my view.

    the pakistanis aren’t impressed by anything indian (all those who say they are impressed by something indian don’t count for more than a fifth of those interviewed).

  8. Kuffir: Perhaps “impress” was a biased term to use in the context.

    My point was, of all the things about India that seem to stand out to a Pakistani, I’m surprised that democracy is on the top, and not Bollywood or cricket or something reflecting our colourful culture.

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