Every day around sunset, on the outskirts of Lahore, at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan, the public gathers to see a show of military muscle and colour in a ceremony that dates back to 1959.

People from all walks of life become part of the message to the other side. They hold posters expressing solidarity with Kashmir, as loudspeakers blare patriotic songs. There’s also a recorded recitation of Quranic verses that focuses on non-believers.

The road from Pakistan goes up to a gate, painted green, with the national flag emblem. Paramilitary troops stand guard on both sides of this massive metal gate. Beyond is Indian territory, divided by an agreed upon Line of Control. On the Pakistani side two men holding flags perform aerobics. Troops standing on top of the nearby border post blow horns, as if calling for war. It’s a show of triumphalist machismo.

One family, visiting from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, is here for the first time. For them, all this is new. “It’s strange to see all of this. It looks well orchestrated,” says one of the women, sitting in the front row of this amphitheatre–like arena. 

What follows is a statement of the obvious, but it makes you think all the same. “We were one country. But look at this now. Is this what we are?” she asks. “No, but what can people do? The state controls the narrative in our country,” she replies to the question herself.

By state many refer to the military which has historically dominated foreign and defence policy towards India. Their justification is the troubled history between the two countries, which includes Kashmir, Siachen and the Sir Creek conflict, and three wars since they won independence in 1947.

We were one country. But look at this now. Is this what we are.

It’s not only the visitors who feel there is narrative control, at Wahgah and elsewhere. Outside, on the left and right of the border gate are villages whose residents dream of peace with India. They complain that the border forces have made their lives miserable.

“They have very strict rules. We can’t get out of our homes after 6 p.m. and they harass us all the time,” says Haji Shahzad, a resident of one such village. ‘We live under the threat of these forces, not India.”

Many of these villagers left their homes in the Partition in 1947 and still have relatives on the other side. “We have family in Rajasthan,” says one of Shazad’s neighbours. “We want to go and meet them. Even they want to come and see us. But the bureaucratic hurdles have defeated us,” he adds in an oblique commentary on Pakistan-India relations.

“We left behind everything when we came to this side, but not for such living conditions. Some of our family that stayed in India now mock us about our migration,” says Haji Shahzad, when asked if he’s happy moving to Pakistan.

Despite their problems with the border forces, they believe it was right to move to the Land of the Pure, as many Pakistanis call their country. “Hindus and Muslims could not have lived together so we had to migrate,” the villager adds. Such conviction is reinforced by lobbies in Pakistan that openly propagate hatred of India. They are backed by political, religious and military circles.

Recently, when Pakistan and India resumed talks on enhancing trade, massive street protests erupted in some areas, a stark reminder of non-state actors who oppose the dialogue. Kashmir was the main point of contention.

One such protest happened in Lahore, around six months ago, where Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the charity organisation which is the alleged front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, addressed the crowd. He denounced Pakistan’s efforts to improve relations with India, and its alliance with the United States for supporting the war on terror.

Many protesters carried placards reading: “What is the relationship with India? Of Hatred… Of Hatred”.

“Indians are unbelievers. And Allah says Christians and Jews can never be friends,” says Zubair, a man in his thirties, one of the participants at the rally. He cannot differentiate between religions, yet hates India, because of the indoctrination at such rallies.

There are many others who echo his sentiment. “India can never be a friend of ours,” says Waseem, a cook in Islamabad, who hails from Abbotabad, last refuge of Osama bin Laden. “It’s inside their blood to be anti-Pakistan, because we are Muslims,” he adds.

Waseem says people back home feel the same. “No one likes India because they have occupied our beautiful Kashmir.” His voice rings with conviction that Kashmir is an integral part of Pakistan, a belief that a lot of Pakistanis share.

It’s hard to tell if a majority feels this way as no surveys are available, but anti-India sentiment has spread across Pakistan, especially in parts of Punjab and Sindh, where JuD has paid rickshaw walas and taxi drivers to carry posters of hatred.

The JuD is one of those bodies that seem to enjoy an immunity no one acknowledges, but no one challenges either. Security experts believe this is because of its closeness to certain influential quarters during the Afghan Jihad in the Eighties. Many of the current JuD leaders were trained by the Pakistani military to fight the Soviets. These same people then went over to Kashmir to touch off mid-Nineties violence that erupted in the state.

JuD’s influence is partly explained by the social services it provides in rural Pakistan. In many places it’s the only presence, as the state has forsaken its role. Also, in recent years it has acquired an organic niche in several pockets of urban Pakistan where global Islamism is being espoused as an ideology. Moreover, its central ideology of perennial jihad with India finds support in parts of the state, whose policy towards India was one of systematic hostility until recently.

According to Dr Hasan Askari, a political and defence analyst and author of several books on Pakistan’s political economy, the negative perceptions of India have been created by the military, right-wing political parties and religious groups, along with some state-sponsored intellectuals who regularly speak and write against India.

Recently, when news about an Indian spy in captivity being pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari hit the headlines, the mainstream media went ballistic. Many said the government had sold out. TV talk show hosts and opinion writers in Urdu called it a move against the national interest.

Hamid Mir, a leading columnist who has a primetime political talk show on the largest news networks, did a show the day it was announced that Sarabjeet Singh, an Indian spy, would be released. He also wrote an opinion piece in an Urdu paper calling Sarabjeet the Indian Ajmal Kasab, (the Pakistani terrorist arrested in the Mumbai attacks of 2008). According to some sources, the presidency a few hours after this media campaign announced that it was Surjeet Singh, not Sarabjeet who was being released, calming the nerves of India hate-mongers.

All in all, the mainstream media is highly charged with anti-India sentiment. The others form a small minority.

Hassan Belal Zaidi, a development worker in Islamabad, has an example. “I went to meet a friend at a newspaper office recently and an Indian diplomat was standing with him. As I returned to my car, two men rudely interrupted me and asked me what business I had with the ‘Hindu’. I repeatedly told them I don’t even know him, but they kept insisting on some information,” he complains.

Then there are more extreme cases. A writ petition was recently filed in the Supreme Court against the South Asian Free Media (SAFMA). The appellants demanded that a case of treason be filed against journalists involved with Safma, which is trying to change perceptions of India among Pakistanis.

The petition had the following: “We demand death penalty under Article 6 High Treason law for all SAFMA leaders, members and supporters like Imtiaz Alam, Marvi Sermed, Najam Sethi, Hamid Mir, Asma Jahangir, Hasan Nisar, Khaled Ahmed, Beena Sarwar, Nusrat Javed and Ali Chishti.”

Such hyper-nationalism can be traced to the school syllabus. Compulsory subjects like History and Islamic Studies have always painted India as an aggressor. Be it pre-Partition, where there are chapters about how Hindus betrayed Muslims in the Congress and tried to stab them in the back, or post-Partition, where Bangladesh’s separation and Kashmir occupation are blamed on India. That gives hardly any space for other narratives to develop.

“‘Atrocities of Congress Rule’ was a chapter in Pakistan Studies in tenth grade,” says Harvard alumnus Samad Khurram who grew up in Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters is located. He studied in a private school, yet the syllabus for such subjects is dictated by the government. “I was surprised to see so many inaccurate accounts of events in these books.” Muhammad Tahseen, a peace activist in Lahore, feels anti-India sentiment is also a product of location.

“Geography determines feelings towards India,” Tahseen says. According to him, border areas like Punjab, closer to India, have a large military presence that leads to anti-India perceptions, because the army builds such a narrative.

“But there are so many divided families on both sides, which do not hate each other,” he adds.

Tahseen, whose family migrated during Partition, went to his hometown in Himachal Pardesh recently and was overwhelmed by the welcome.

He feels many people in Pakistan do not voice their love for India because of certain lobbies. “Some state elements and the mullahs instill such fear in people that they don’t want to talk about it openly.”

The flip side of this hatred is the unconditional love affair with the Indian entertainment industry. Although Indian news channels are banned in Pakistan, cinemas and TV channels show Bollywood films, Indian dramas and other such things.

Sher Ali, entertainment reporter for a local English daily, says the government’s efforts to curb the Indian media’s influence have failed, partly because the local industry has decayed, but also because Pakistanis and Indians share a common history. “Even the hyper-nationalists who may be anti-India are open to entertainment because they can relate to it.”

Beena Sarwar, a peace activist and senior journalist in Karachi, says, “I wouldn't say the Pakistani state is anti-India but there are elements that are anti-India, stuck in an outdated anti-India, pro-jihadi paradigm.”

But people like her represent the minority in a country of 180 million. Mostly firmly believe in the India-Pakistan divide, in the ideology that this country was founded on the principle that Islam and Hindus cannot coexist. It seems likely to be fulfilled, given the large Hindu migrations to India, which are on the rise. Reportedly, eight to ten families migrate each month, the main reason being persecution in Pakistan.

Forced conversions of girls in interior Sind have been highlighted in recent times, with the Supreme Court getting involved, too.

Rinkle Kumari, a woman produced before the Supreme Court, was sent to her new Muslim home despite her own initial claims of being forced into a marriage and converted to Islam. But due to lack of protection for her family, sources close to her say she had to sacrifice herself and be with her husband.

“The family is threatened every day and wants to leave Pakistan now,” says Marvi Sirmed, a human rights activist following the case closely.

The Land of the Pure is thus becoming increasingly hostile to alternate voices, held hostage by the Islamists who interpret relations with India as anti-Islamic. It’s most evident among the middle and lower classes, who have been brainwashed by anti-Indian lobbies sponsored by the military.

This impression was reinforced during a recent visit to army headquarters in Rawalpindi. The presentations to journalists focused mostly on the Indian threat. In one of the presentations, a senior military showed a map of terrorists infiltrating through the western borders. Asked why there was so much focus on the eastern border then, the official could not but name India as a catalyst. “Tajiks, Uzbeks or other such foreigners involved in terrorist activities are funded by Indians,” he claimed.

As one defence analyst put it, “If enmity with India did not exist in the minds of people, justification for the military’s extravagant expenditure will come under scrutiny and may be cut. For the army to continue getting the largest share of the Pakistani budget, it will have to project India as a threat.”