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 midnight 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
sub-continent.” He has paid homage to all those who has 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
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 organizing the 17th
India-Pakistan Peace Festival at Amritsar on 14-15 August, 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 normalize relations.
Both the Congress and the 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 p.m. 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 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 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 people of Northeast 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 northeast 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
civil society and government should ponder over because even after 65
years of independence, we have not been able to achieve national
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 Afghanistan. If Kabul is taken over by
the Taliban, it would have disastrous consequences in the entire
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 the India
find that Islamabad is dragging its feet on punishing the perpetrators
of 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, they wonder whether the statements by
Pakistan against terrorist 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 realize this.