Inskeep And Sikka Reflect On Grand Trunk Road

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In May, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep and executive producer Madhulika Sikka traveled the Pakistani portion of the ancient Grand Trunk Road. It's the 1,500-mile highway that links the rival nations. They found that day-to-day life is every bit as complex, and mundane, as anywhere else.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The Grand Trunk Road begins in the great sea port of Kolkata on the Bay of Bengal, runs through northern India to the capital, New Delhi, then on across one of the tensest borders in the world into Pakistan, past its capital, Islamabad, and then on to Peshawar, the gateway to Afghanistan.

Last month, NPR's MORNING EDITION broadcast a special series on the Grand Trunk Road, and you may remember the stories of the people we met along the way. Host Steve Inskeep and executive producer Madhulika Sikka traveled the portion of the 1,500-mile highway that runs through Pakistan, a country that often evokes concerns about poverty and terrorism.

We heard about that but also about an amazing youthful population that sports blue jeans and the latest cell phones that may have helped change our mental images of that place.

If you heard the series, and you'd like to talk with Steve and Madhulika about their travels in Pakistan, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Steve Inskeep and Madhulika Sikka are with us here in Studio 3A. Thanks for spending a little longer of your day here at NPR Studios.

STEVE INSKEEP: Oh, any time. Delighted to get on the big show, Neal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MADHULIKA SIKKA: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Nice to have you with us, the first time with you on TALK OF THE NATION, Madhulika. Steve, here in the West, people hear Pakistan, we immediately think war on terror. One thing that surprised you is the difference between those perceptions and reality. You talked to a young lawyer in Lahore who was concerned not about security and the Taliban but about why the government can't keep the lights on.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of very practical concerns that people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis, and we found that was especially true when we spoke with younger people. And I don't want to suggest that extremism is not an issue. It's a huge issue in Pakistan, and some of our stories dealt with that, as you.

I don't want to suggest that American concerns in the region having to do with al-Qaida are not a big issue there. They're often discussed. But there's a much wider range of problems and also possibilities, especially when you look at the young people of a very, very young demographic place.

CONAN: And as you point out, though, those young people understand that Pakistan is not necessarily a stable place, either. Here's a clip of tape from that same woman we were talking about, named Marya(ph).

INSKEEP: Do you have friends who are almost provisionally staying in Pakistan, taking it day by day, year by year?

Ms. MARYA KHAN: Yes, definitely. I mean, there are lots of people with dual nationalities. I mean, the reason people get dual nationalities in Pakistan is because they want they have, you know, a backup plan. They'd get up and leave just in case something happened.

I don't blame them because you don't know what's going to happen in Pakistan tomorrow or day after. That's why people refuse to invest here, because there's no investor security.

But then at the same time, I also know lots of people who are coming back and who are moving their things back and who, after having lived abroad for, you know, seven, eight years just got very tired of it and wanted to come back.

INSKEEP: It's hard to be a Pakistani abroad these days.

Ms. KHAN: Exactly. I mean, you're it's hard to be a Pakistani in Pakistan, and it's hard to be a Pakistani abroad.

CONAN: And that's an interesting observation, but clearly a young woman with options that a lot of Pakistanis don't have.

INSKEEP: Well, that is definitely true, Neal. Interesting person to talk to nevertheless because we do think of an awful, terrible, benighted place. We imagine that, but there are many different layers in Pakistan, and one layer is the elite, people who have superb educations, sometimes within Pakistan. In this woman's case, she'd gone to the West, to America, to England, people with lots of possibilities before them but also facing a lot of difficult choices.

Where do you want to make your future? Do you want to bet your future on this country, or do you want to gamble your future somewhere else?

CONAN: And Madhulika Sikka, I want to bring you into the conversation. You -well, your family is from that part of the world but from the other side of the border, in India, and you were traveling the Grand Trunk Road for the first time in a country that, well, in a way you'd been peering across that border most of your life.

SIKKA: I was. If youre an Indian, growing up, you can't escape the history, and a Pakistani has the same feeling. My parents actually came over to India from the Pakistan side during partition. And we were intrigued by this idea of traveling along a highway that crosses through both countries.

There was a time when it went all the way without an elaborate border in between it, and we thought it was a good device to get at some of the similarities. Were often focused on the differences between these two countries, and you see a lot of similarities there.

CONAN: And one of the similarities you wrote about was the food, that as the food that you were familiar with as a child, well, you could've gotten that in Pakistan, too.

SIKKA: Absolutely. Well, the Grand Trunk Road runs through Punjab in Pakistan, and Punjab was one of the states that was split during partition. So there's a Punjab on the India side and there's a Punjab on the Pakistani side. And as a good Punjabi who cares a lot about food, it was very comforting to taste the tastes that I was familiar with growing up, actually growing up in England, where Indians and Pakistanis eat together quite often. And it was refreshing, and it kind of felt familiar, even though some of the portions we were on, I was closer to Pakistan than I was close to Afghanistan than I was to India. But the food was exactly the same.

INSKEEP: Madhulika had many duties on this trip, and one of them was ordering the food at whatever restaurant we might have been at.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But it speaks to the function of great roads like this. We think of the Silk Road in another part of Asia that traveled from China all the way down to the Mediterranean, and this road that runs from the Bay of Bengal all the way on into Afghanistan, as well, part of the Silk Road in a way, but that carried culture and trade and people and ideas and food.

INSKEEP: And soldiers, as well. A lot of invading armies have gone down that road. It was built in some ways for security but also for trade, and it is amazing as you go through as we talked about in the series, from place to place, you do see similarities in the food, even though you also see a gradual evolution.

You can pick a dish that is served on way on the border with Afghanistan, and it will gradually change, the spices will change, the ingredients will change, but it is in some ways basically the same dish all the way across the subcontinent.

CONAN: We want to get listeners involved in the conversation. That voice, of course, Steven Inskeep, the host of NPR's MORNING EDITION. Also with us, executive producer Madhulika Sikka. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And let's begin with Sayal(ph), Sayal with us from Wichita.

SAYAL (Caller): Hi, Neal, thanks for the great show.

CONAN: Thank you.

SAYAL: Steve, a big fan of your coverage.

INSKEEP: Thank you.

SAYAL: I just wanted you to know - I'm a Pakistani-American, just wanted to get an idea if you covered this or not I didn't follow your whole series. But did you get an idea if the youth on both sides, India and Pakistan, do they have hope that the conflict between the two countries will be resolved in the near future?

INSKEEP: I can only speak directly about the Pakistan side. That's where I traveled. Phil Reeves, our excellent correspondent, was on the other side of the border. But I think that you would find something similar on both sides, which is that with young people, it's not the first thing that comes up, is it, Madhulika?

SIKKA: No, not at all, and it was very striking to us, I think, that young people are concerned with the same things you'd think young people are concerned with. In fact, when I came home, the immigration officer asked me about Pakistan, and she said, well, what are they thinking about?

And I said, well, I met a lot of young people, and they're thinking about jobs, and they're thinking about the fact that the power goes out regularly, gas costs a fortune. They're really thinking about what their prospects are and the conflict with India, the war on terrorism, isn't at the top of their list. Steve?

INSKEEP: Yeah, I don't want to say, Sayal, that it's not there at all because it does strike me that in some of our conversations, there is a dose of what I let's just call it paranoia. People think that the United States is out to get them. People think the CIA is out to get them. And they think that Indian intelligence agencies are out to get them.

And there was some reference to that, to people interfering in Pakistan, but it was by no means the dominant concern on people's minds. It wasn't that people were saying we want peace with India. It wasn't people saying we want war with India. They were thinking about other things. They were thinking about their daily lives. Maybe in some ways, that's a hopeful sign.

CONAN: Thanks very much thank you.

SAYAL: Thank you.

CONAN: And I just wanted to follow up on what he was talking about. We cringe here at the unemployment rate of 10 percent and talk about people's futures and dreams being crimped. What is the prospect there for young people?

INSKEEP: Oh, depends on who you are entirely. I think that there are people near the top, like Marya Khan, who we heard from, who have excellent prospects. You don't have to be quite that high in Pakistani society she's very near the top. You don't have to be quite that high in Pakistani society to have good opportunities, but then there are millions, tens of millions, countless Pakistanis who even today are receiving no education or virtually no education.

You hear a lot about women who are kept home by their families. The families don't want the young women in school with boys. You also run into a lot of boys, quite frankly, that - you got any schooling? No, never went. Why? I just wasn't interested.

And you never get the full story out of them. They never have gotten any education, and that limits your possibilities severely in Pakistan, in the same way that it would limit your possibilities in the United States.

CONAN: We want to play another cut of tape. This is illustrative of the clash between traditional values and some Western ideals in a gender dimension, as well. Here's Tayiba(ph), and I hope I'm not mispronouncing that too badly Faisallah(ph), a female student at the University of Punjab, which whom you spoke.

Ms. TAYIBA FAISALLAH (Student, University of Punjab): (Speaking foreign language). It's very difficult for me to...

INSKEEP: It's very difficult, she says, and has trouble finishing her thought. She fingers her black abaya(ph), the garment that covers everything except her face.

What was it that you said was very difficult for you to talk about?

Ms. FAISALLAH: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Woman: She's scared.

SIKKA: A male student standing nearby says: Feel free to talk, I'm not a Jamati - not one of the conservatives. Faisallah tells a story then about the day when boys and girls played a game of Truth or Dare. Conservative students grabbed two players and beat them.

Ms. FAISALLAH: (Speaking foreign language).

Unidentified Woman: After that incident, she has been very careful.

CONAN: After that incident, she has been very careful. People are well, there are very different ways of looking at life.

INSKEEP: Yes, and there are conflicts on places like university campuses. This was Punjab University. If you could imagine Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana University, it's a big state college.

CONAN: Modern buildings, laboratories?

INSKEEP: Modern buildings, laboratories. I mean, I don't know that everything would be as up-to-date as you would want it to be, but it looks like a nice university, and it's a very big university, tens of thousands of students. And there is a minority of very conservative students who have, for many, many years, sought to impose their views by many different means on other students there and have in some cases terrorized them, in some cases beaten them, and earlier this year, a professor was beaten.

CONAN: And the same kinds of tensions about clothing, do we see those in Pakistan?

SIKKA: I think it depends on where you are. The further West you go, the closer you get to Afghanistan our colleague Julie McCarthy(ph) went as far as Peshawar. I think as you get closer, there's a very different perception there. But Lahore, you could think you're in New Delhi except that the script is in Urdu, not in Hindi.

CONAN: We're talking with Madhulika Sikka and Steve Inskeep, just back from their trip along the Grand Trunk Road in Pakistan. Many of you heard Steve's reports on MORNING EDITION. Today, they're both taking your calls. If you heard the series, if you'd like to talk with them, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

MORNING EDITION's Steve Inskeep is staying up late with us, along with executive producer Madhulika Sikka. They took us along on their trip along the Grand Trunk Road in Pakistan. You can find those reports and their blog posts at npr.org. There are some fascinating slide shows, as well, that accompany the stories.

If you heard the series, if you'd like to talk with Steve and Madhulika about their travels in Pakistan, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Pakistan and India, of course, have a long and complicated history. The two countries have fought a number of wars in the past 60 years over who claims what land along the winding border.

While things can be very tense at that border, there can also be different circumstances. And Steve and Madhulika, you started your trip at one spot where Pakistan and Indian militaries meet several times a day, not with weapons and gunfire but with pomp and circumstance. Here's a cut from that daily ceremony at the border crossing in Wagah.

INSKEEP: Gula Mabbas(ph) has come to this border more than once.

Mr. GULA MABBAS: (Speaking foreign language).

Unidentified Woman: He said he is so fond of this border, he wants to come here every day.

INSKEEP: He watches a formal ceremony that begins here every evening.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's late in the day, when Indian and Pakistani troops put on dress uniforms. Side by side, they lower their nations' flags, closing the border for the day.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Groups of tourists here on the Pakistan side sit in bleachers to watch the ceremony, and once again today, Gula Mabbas joins them. He likes to look across the way at bleachers full of Indians staring at him. Simple pleasures like that seem to keep many Pakistanis from going under.

CONAN: And Steve, that's - must have been a fascinating...

INSKEEP: Well, the entire scene is really astonishing. We met Philip Reeves, our excellent South Asia correspondent, who has now transferred to London, he finished his 1,200 miles of the road. We divided it up very nicely, didn't we?

SIKKA: We did indeed.

INSKEEP: He got 1,200 miles, and we got about 300. But in any case, we had him we watched him walk across the border. It's not easy to drive across that border. You generally get out of your vehicle and stroll all the way across on the highway, and there are a few people waiting for you, not many. And you do have this outrageous ceremony, which Madhulika attended.

SIKKA: It was outrageous. It's very flamboyant, very extrovert. The military are in dress uniforms. They are strutting their stuff, very high goose-stepping, and flourishes in their uniform. And they have some people, they're almost cheerleaders with the flags, trying to get the crowd going and loudspeakers singing patriotic songs. And you can hear the Indian side doing exactly the same thing.

CONAN: Same thing.

SIKKA: And, you know, when there's a break on the Pakistani side, I'd hear a little bit of the Indian music, including a song that most of our audience is familiar with, "Jai Ho," from "Slumdog Millionaire"...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIKKA: ...which has been co-opted by many people in India. It was just a really fascinating scene. And what I was particularly struck by the border at that point is how it came to be at that point. There's no obvious you know, there's no river there. There's no mountain. There's no nothing that screams border.

INSKEEP: It's just flat.

SIKKA: And I think it speaks to what some might call the sort of cartographic negligence of how the map was divided.

INSKEEP: There was a British guy who had never been there who was assigned to draw a line in a very short period of time, and he just did it.

CONAN: We have an email that, this is from Vivak Reddy(ph), who says: I want to point out that Sultan Sher Shah Suri was responsible for the development of this road, so...

INSKEEP: Okay, fair enough. Yes, this goes back he's referring to a Mughal emperor. The Mughal Empire ruled much of India, most of India, 1500s, 1600s and theoretically up until the 1800s, although really the British were increasingly in control.

We briefly got an opportunity to see some of the incredible layers of history on this road. We were in a place called Taxila. There are cities that are thousands of years old, the ruins of cities that are thousands of years old in Taxila. And so you get a sense that there has been trade and commerce along that route for a long time.

Then in the 1500s, it was paved. And there's still a section of original pavement, 100 meters or so, which you can see these big paving stones. And I spoke with an expert who said that those were the original paving stones, although there was evidence of roadwork in the 1600s. So I have a sense of, you know, angry drivers of mule carts backed up behind a construction site.

CONAN: Okay. So, like, the one yard of bricks still in Indianapolis, but maybe not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: A little like that.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to Robbie(ph), Robbie's calling us from Kansas City.

ROBBIE (Caller): Yes, hi, thank you. This was an excellent report. I wish you would consider writing a companion book with this.

CONAN: I think you've anticipated Steve's editor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBBIE: And my I have a few questions. Which months were you there and how long it took you to do the whole journey? And then if I may, you know, you talked a lot about similarities between the two borders and the young people across the borders, but what are the main differences that you found maybe not just across the border but within India as you progress through different states within India?

CONAN: Well, again, they were not on the Indian side of this journey, just in Pakistan, but if you could address some of the differences.

INSKEEP: Well, I think we can, and Madhulika, of course, has spent a lot of time on the Indian side and can talk a little bit about that. As far as the months in which we went there, we were there during the month of May. We were there when we were doing the reports. And everyone said it was the stupidest, stupidest, stupidest time to go to South Asia because it's very, very hot. But actually, I found it not too hard to acclimate.

CONAN: Okay. Madhulika, differences?

SIKKA: You know, I think the differences that came out a little bit in Phil's reports from the Indian side, there's a little bit more of a sense of optimism, I think, in India, regardless of the level you are, the strata you are in society.

And in Pakistan, there's still an underlying stress and tension almost for a lot of people. And you heard it even in someone like Marya Khan, who we just heard from, who in any country, actually, given her status really wouldn't have much to worry about. But you get this sense that these young people are just sort of caught in this sort of flotsam and jetsam of being in a place that is a just such a vital area in international relations and...

CONAN: And it's coming into its own.

SIKKA: A little bit, I think, a little bit.

INSKEEP: I want to make a point about that. I mean, the propaganda or the image of the two countries could not be more different right now. India is seen as on the way up. One of the greatest things in the last century to happen right now seems to be India. Pakistan seems very much on the way down. And I think you do get this sense of anxiety and regret because Pakistanis, once upon a time, could conceivably have been part of India. They were part of British India.

At the same time, I think Phil Reeves' reporting in this series exposed a little bit of the reality behind the propaganda, that many of the same problems with class divisions and educational problems and economic inequities that you have in Pakistan you also have in India. It's not that the propaganda or the image doesn't matter, but it's not the only thing.

CONAN: Okay, Robbie, thanks very much for the call.

ROBBIE: Sure, thank you. Just a minor correction. I hear you mentioned the credit for building this road initially goes to Sher Shah Suri. He was actually not a Mughal king but earlier than that, part of the Delhi Sultanate.

CONAN: Okay, thank you for that, all right. Good, there's one letter we won't have to have on our letters segment this week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's go to Caleb(ph), Caleb with us from Boone in North Carolina.

CALEB (Caller): Hi. I'm a high school student, and we love studying Pakistan in our civics class, and I'm seeing that there's kind of a culture of fear going on in Pakistan. And from your reports, it seems like people are very scared and very terrified of most things. I'm wondering if that's kind of quelled the maybe modernization and globalization? You talked about how people have modern cell phones and have kind of been modernized, but I wonder if maybe the fear has kind of quelled that a bit.

CONAN: Madhulika, I wonder if you wanted to address that.

SIKKA: Well, I think that I think that there's no doubt that if you live in a city like Islamabad or Peshawar, certainly where Julie McCarthy was, you know, they live and breathe this tension every day.

But let's take a city like Lahore, where we were just a couple of weeks ago. And last week, there was a huge attack on a mosque in Lahore, 70, 80 people were killed. You can't help but feel that tension, even though you are trying your best to go live your daily life as best you can. And I think that that push and pull is really a struggle.

But one thing I do want to talk about in the, you know, what is our vision of Pakistan, which often is one dimensional because of the way the news coverage drives it.

But, you know, we went to visit a park in the capital, Islamabad, which is just on the outskirts, up in the hills, and we blogged about it, and there are photos on our website. You could have been in suburban Virginia.

There were families, picnics, picnic tables, you know, kids playing, stores selling stuff, music playing. It was actually very revealing, I think for us and for people who saw that posting, because there's a lot that's similar that wouldn't surprise you, let's put it that way.

CONAN: We wanted to play and Caleb, thanks very much for the call. We wanted to play a clip of tape from one of Julie's reports, Julie of course based in Islamabad. But she did go on to Peshawar and speak to some of those with different views of their world and their future.

She speaks with two young men in Lahore, Sakil Ahmad(ph) and Ranyan Noman Haq(ph).

Mr. SAKIL AHMAD: These kids that are following the West, they will find it hard to fit in this society because this is not us. And you have to look at the larger population, and you cannot let these very few people dictate terms for them.

JULIE McCARTHY: So these young kids who are part of this deep Western influence risk becoming strangers in their own land?

Mr. AHMAD: Yes. Yes, they do. They are, because their population is very limited to Facebook and Coffee, Tea and Company. You know, there is small places where they're limited. So that's a - that is - the divide is there.

Mr. RANYAN NOMAN HAQ (Fashion Designer): We can't live a caveman's life anymore. Things have changed, times have changed.

McCARTHY: Meet fashion designer, Ranyan Noman Haq, squarely on the Western side of the divide.

Mr. HAQ: You have to modernize yourself or, you know, you have to move forward with your life.

CONAN: And, again, that was in Lahore, not in Peshawar. I was wrong about that. But, again, illustrating this divide, we - our image of Pakistan perhaps, Steve, does not include fashion designers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Exactly right. You do have a wide range of people. It's a huge, huge country. It's got the population of the Eastern United States approximately. And you - I mean, that's interesting, again, to listen to the dialogue - or not really dialogue - the rhetoric by those two people there. The man who was more conservative was basically suggesting people who oppose him are not really Pakistanis. They're off on Facebook. They're nobodies. They're off in...

CONAN: Somehow, the other.

INSKEEP: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. They're just - they're not real Pakistanis. And you have other people who are saying, no, no, no. We are. We are part of this country and we want to change it and keep it in the modern world where it has been.

CONAN: Here's a couple of emails. This is from Urfa(ph). I'm a Pakistani-American married to an Indian-American. Our cultures are very similar yet different. But what annoys me is the fact that when my husband visits Pakistan or vice versa, there is so much red tape. I had to go to the police station to get registered in every city I went to. I would hope we can act as adults and move on to work towards building our nations rather than destroying them.

And this from Gerish(ph). I have lived in three towns on the Grand Trunk Road, Kanpur, Ludhiana and Amritsar. I have seen the growth and challenges. I have seen the GT Road widened from a single lane to multi lanes. I am listening to your conversations. It is very funny, hilarious. It brings back many memories.

We're talking with Steve Inskeep, the host of NPR's MORNING EDITION. And with executive producer Madhulika Sikka, who recently returned from their part on the Grand Trunk journey. They covered the stretch in Pakistan.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And let's go to Tom(ph). Tom's with us from Cody, Wyoming.

TOM (Caller): Hello, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

TOM: Hey, with great interest, I listen to the morning program through the Grand Trunk Road, and it brought back a lot of memories. I'd worked over in Lahore in 2002. And actually, one of the tours out there was right during the 9/11 anniversary. And there seemed to be no concern in town, in the hotel complex I was in or people on the street. You didn't see any demonstration, activism or any of those kinds of things. I mean, obviously, it's changed now with the attacks in Lahore. It's not quite as safe. But one thing I wanted to comment on was how lovely I think the people are there.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

TOM: I had some time to socialize after work with a few of the people I worked with and people that just worked at the office I was in. And in one occasion, we had gone out shopping - an engineer and secretary in the office - for shalwar kameezes for my wife and daughter-in-law. And we spent like a couple of three hours in the evening going from store to store. And even though I didn't speak Urdu, you could tell from their mannerisms and such that they're sort of upset with the shops. No, I don't like the clothing here. Well, let's go somewhere else. Well, we've been to that store. Let's try another one. And they just had a sort of light - you know, just like if you're going from store to store in any mall in the U.S. It's that kind of a deal. (Unintelligible) lots of jokes.

INSKEEP: There's - I got to tell you, Tom. There's a culture of hospitality that I think applies to most of the world that I've ever been in except here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: It is my favorite country in the world here. But when I go overseas, it's amazing how people welcome you. And in Pakistan, it's a place where everybody is going to bring you a cup of tea. Everybody is going to talk to you. Everybody is going to answer your questions. You ought to check the answers, I suppose, as you would anywhere. But you - people want to tell you a story. They're eager to talk.

CONAN: I don't think Steve spends enough time in New York.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Anyway, Madhulika, you were about to say something.

SIKKA: Well, it was nice to hear your recollections of the town - of Lahore, because I think, again, that's a picture that is often missing. And our goal in this trip was really just to peel back a layer, to tell the stories of ordinary people who are going to inherit this country. There - it's such a young demographic across the two countries. About 50 percent of the population is, you know, under 25.

And not to be filtered by analysts or politicians or anything else, we do that when it's appropriate. We just wanted to give a little bit of a different flavor. And certainly, the response we've gotten from a lot of people seems to have suggested that we've hit a chord.

CONAN: Tom, thanks very much.

TOM: Thanks much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to Joshua(ph), Joshua with us from Raleigh in North Carolina.

JOSHUA (Caller): A quick question. The U.S. State Department has been pressing the narrative to Muslim nations that we are not at war with Islam. Now, on the ground there, have you seen that message where America's having any effects there? That was my question. Thank you. I'll listen off the air.

CONAN: Okay, Joshua. Thank you. Steve?

INSKEEP: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I mean, when this came up, and it didn't come up that often, there is a lot of concern about the motives of the United States. What is the United States doing? And when you ask - if you press the conspiracy theories, they cease to make sense to me in most cases. But people are not sure what the United States is doing to them.

CONAN: Here's an email from Katara(ph). It seems that many post-colonial states suffer from political strife and underdevelopment. What do the underlying reasons seem to be for the unevenness between Pakistan and India? By the way, she adds, I have social ties with both Pakistanis and Indians, and I enjoy stirring up culinary competitions, i.e., who makes the best biryani?

SIKKA: I don't think I should go there, actually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Controversial question.

SIKKA: Definitely. It will get me into a lot of trouble. Let's just say my mom made the best biryani.

CONAN: Okay. I think we can all...

INSKEEP: Sold. Sold.

CONAN: I think we can all decide on that. On the other question?

INSKEEP: On the other question, I could give you a really long list, but let me give you one really obvious one. India has managed to go, since independence in 1947, without a military coup. Pakistan has repeatedly had military coups. Some of the military rulers ended up being rather liked by Pakistanis.

But I think an argument can be made that they have again and again and again paralyzed the political development of a country that has a lot of different interest groups, a lot of different ethnic groups, a lot of different people speaking a lot of different languages, a lot of things that need to be worked out politically. And they've continually been frozen in time by military rulers.

CONAN: Steve, I think you're going to need about 250 pages to finish that thought.

INSKEEP: Ah, okay. I'll work on it. I'll work on it.

CONAN: Steven Inskeep, the host of MORNING EDITION, also with us here in Studio 3, Madhulika Sikka, MORNING EDITION's executive producer. Thanks for the series. Thanks to you both.

INSKEEP: Thank you.

SIKKA: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Up next, the most famous imperfect game in Major League Baseball history. We'll talk about Armando Galaragga's almost perfect game last night in Detroit. What would you do if you were the commissioner? Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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