Divide and rule didn’t reach the hearts of most people in India and Pakistan

Expressing this writer’s experience in India, writer and journalist Fatima Bhutto wrote in the Financial Times recently:

“Despite our shared heritage, culture, history, languages and memories, both India and Pakistan have managed to create the impression that there exists a gulf between their peoples. Wherever relations between the two countries can be hindered, they have been. Our phones don’t connect to each other’s countries, for ordinary travellers to get a visa is a process so complicated it may as well include a physical obstacle course, we don’t trade freely and we have even managed to turn the most boring sport in the world – cricket – into a constantly tense encounter between our peoples.

“But that’s the outside. That’s not how Indians and Pakistanis feel when they are with each other. I can think of no country in which I am more warmly received than India. (And a Pakistani passport is not exactly a hot welcome card anywhere).

Imran Khan, pointing out that he is welcomed in India as Sachin Tendulkar is welcomed in Pakistan, recently called for a new era in the relationship between the two countries.

Few people know of the ongoing meetings between peace-loving people in India and Pakistan. The writer amassed a substantial file of cuttings about this during residence in India – 1993-2004.

These are ongoing. As the India-Pakistan Peace organisation reports:

“Common people in India and Pakistan will continue to strive for peace and friendship irrespective of what their political masters do. That was the mood at the India-Pakistan Peace Caravan that flagged off from Mumbai on July 28. The caravan reached the Atari border and met their counterparts at the Wagah border”. 

An account of this ‘peace caravan’: stressed:

“Whenever the common people of India and Pakistan get to meet, all reservations they might have about each other collapse and warm emotions of mutual affinity surge forth, very much like people of the same family meeting each other after years of separation. Enmity, hatred and distance melt away, warmth and friendship take over.

“In spite of the geographical boundaries forced upon us by historical circumstances, our common customs and traditions endure – our language, our music, our food and cuisine, the very mode of living on both sides of the border leaves no scope for scepticism in terms of our shared values and issues of common concern. The people are divided by borders but their hearts are one.” 

A few days later, more than a thousand enthusiasts, carrying the Indian national flag in hands, gathered near the Attari-Wagah border for a joint celebration of the 63rd anniversary of India’s independence. As happens years after year, the Border Security Force (BSF) exchange sweets with their Pakistani counterparts at the Attari-Wagah joint check post between the two countries in Punjab. BSF Inspector General (Punjab Frontier) Himmat Singh said:

“We are all brothers and sisters and this is our gesture to express solidarity and brotherhood with Pakistan. We hope that in the coming days all tensions will fade away between the two countries.”  

Through various people-to-people contact programmes governments of both the countries are being urged to reduce visa restrictions and increase free movement of people and goods across the borders. There is also pressure to cutback the huge defence budgets that have built a military-industrial complex with entrenched vested interests, dismantle their nuclear establishment and curb acts of terror on both sides of the border.

The young Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is playing a constructive part in improving relationships between the two countries. Though the following words are not directly relevant, her clarity of thought and firm delivery impress.

Last Wednesday at Chatham House she said:

“Contrary to clever wordplay and cheap headlines, Pakistan’s position could not be more clear . . . We will support any . . . and I mean any, and all initiatives that are all-inclusive, that are Afghan-led, that are Afghan-owned and are Afghan-driven. This is our first and last prerequisite.”

Although Pakistan has complained about being kept out of the loop in ongoing U.S. talks with the Taliban, Khar said her country would do “absolutely nothing to block any other initiative that any country or any group of countries offers to Afghanistan or for Afghanistan, anywhere in the world.”

But Pakistan, she said, “will not lead. . . . We will only follow what our Afghan brothers and sisters decide to be the course of action they adopt.”

As an account of the 2010 peace caravan points out: 

“Economically strong India and Pakistan can bring about an era of peace and prosperity for the whole of South Asia. A spirit of give and take, of mutual co-operation, of creating an environment of friendship and peace rather than of jingoistic nationalism can see the two countries moving apace on a path of progress and development.”

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