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Mainstream, VOL L, No 37, September 1, 2012

A Flicker of Hope, at last

Sunday 2 September 2012, by Kuldip Nayar


Some recognition at last: That both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should send messages of goodwill to the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch is a welcome development. The Manch is engaged in an endeavour to improve relations between the two countries. This was the 17th year for its members from the Manch and SAFMA in Pakistan to light candles at mid-night on August 14-15, when the two countries were born, on the Attari-Wagah border. The sky was rent with slogans like: Long Live India-Pakistan Friendship and Dono bhaiyon ko mil ne do (Let brothers meet one another).

Messages by the two governments are an admission of their mistake to have run down the tiny step taken in 1995, which has become a long stride, towards improving relations between India and Pakistan. Zardari has commended the efforts “in pursuit of shared destiny in the subcontinent”. He has paid homage to all those who have been making systematic and concerted efforts for promoting peace and cooperation in the subcontinent.

“The present democratic government and the people wish to see peace and cooperation flourish in the subcontinent. We are committed to it and hope that the search by the two countries together for a peaceful resolution to all disputes through a sustained and productive dialogue will bear fruit…The two countries need durable peace and security to focus on the social and economic development of their peoples…,” said Zardari.

Manmohan Singh too wrote in the same vein. In his message, he said: “I am happy to know that the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch is organising the 17th India-Pakistan Peace Festival at Amritsar on August 14-15, 2012 as part of its efforts to build public opinion for peace and friendship in South Asia. The Manch is pursuing a worthy cause because sustained peace and friendship in this region are necessary for South Asian countries to effectively focus their energies on tackling challenges such as hunger, poverty, illiteracy and disease…”

It has not been a pleasant experience to light candles at the border. The anti-Pakistan feeling was dominant when we started the journey. Threats, demonstrations and abusive letters were hurled at us whenever we came to the border to light candles or held seminars to determine what was wrong between the two countries and how it would be eliminated. All these years we have not faltered in our resolve that people-to-people contact is the only way to normalise relations. Both the Congress and BJP would scoff at the effort and call us “mombatti wale” to belittle the efforts made to rise above the bitterness of partition. The Indian Government has become somewhat cooperative because it gives us permission to go right up to the zero point, even though the border is under curfew from 8 pm. However, the Pakistan Government has given permission to go to the border at midnight after the Zardari Government has assumed power. At the border, we exchange flags and sweets and we also sing together Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s couplet: “Hum dekhenge...”. It is an emotional journey for all of us because for the most who come to the border, it is not a nostalgia but a commitment to see that the line drawn does not divide the centuries’ old composite culture. Both Hindus and Muslims have lived together for hundreds of years and shared joy and grief, apart from festivals like Id and Diwali. Why could not they have lived side by side after partition?

I feel that it is possible to bring back that spirit provided people from both sides consider that the happenings during partition were a blot on their long history of togetherness. It should be a written off as an aberration. Still I wonder why the relationship going back to hundreds of years collapsed like a house of cards. True, the seeds of bitterness were sown long before partition. Yet killing the neighbours or kidnapping their women shows that both sides have not risen above the medieval, religious thinking.

We still carry the baggage of history. Books on both sides depict partition from their point of view and underline the differences over religion. Therefore, it becomes inevitable that the borders between India and Pakistan should soften so that people can go into each other’s country without the hassle of visa or police reporting.

But the worst is the role of the fundamentalists, more in Pakistan than India. They are out to wreck the democratic polity on this side. They are still waging a war of jihad and the messages and images sent by them to foment the migration of the people of the North-East from the different States to Assam show that. Some Indians too have helped the fundamentalists from across the border in this devious move. I am glad to see that the two countries are cooperating in detecting the guilty and punishing them.

However, the manner in which people from the North-East were forced to migrate to Assam is a sad commentary on our secular polity. Mere two hundred messages from across the border have exposed India’s secularism. Suppose there were to be two thousand next time, what would be the state in the country? This is a serious matter which the civil society and government should ponder over because even after 65 years of independence, we have not been able to achieve national integration.

My greatest worry is to find India and Pakistan stuck in the status quo. Both the countries are traversing the same old beaten path and making no progress. The visit of India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna early next month provides both sides with a new opportunity to span at least some distance, even if they do not sign any specific agreement.

What they should be discussing is Afghanistan. If Kabul is taken over by the Taliban, it would have disastrous consequences in the entire region. The recent attack on the Pakistan Air Force base near Islamabad should be a warning. This means that the Taliban have the capability to strike at any place at any time. On the other hand, Pakistan is not seen doing enough to eliminate terrorism. When people in India find that Islamabad is dragging its feet on punishing the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, they wonder whether the statements by Pakistan against the terrorists are credible.

Pakistan is sending mixed messages. It wants to increase business but some of its leading firms have cancelled big deals at the last minute. In economic ties lie the hope. The two countries must realise this.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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