Youth to lead Indo-Pak peace
By Babar Ayaz
Last December while processing number of forms a Pakistani visitor has to submit in spite of a valid visa, , an immigration officer at the newly refurbished Indra Gandhi Delhi International Airport asked me: “Babu Ji aap paterkar ho yeh batao humarey duno deshon kay beech rishta kab theek ho ga.” (Sir you are a journalist so tell be when the relations between our countries are going to normalise). He confided that when he served for the Indian army, he used to hate Pakistanis and think they were enemies, but ever since he has joined the immigration department and met so many Pakistanis at the immigration counter he has realised –“hum ko to ab aap log apnae jesay he lagtay ho.” (I now find you people the same as us).
This immigration officer is not the only one who finds more similarities than differences between Pakistanis and Indians. Since my first visit to India in 1986 to the last trip this April, I have heard this observation many a times. Another common observation of people on both sides is that while there are no hostilities among the people, barring some ultra-nationalists and religious extremists venomous chants, Delhi and Islamabad establishment are too slow and cautious in normalising relations at the official level.
Why? I think weak coalition governments in both countries fear the so-called public perception that is projected by vested interest. The fact is that it is very irresponsible of the opinion-makers – politicians and media – to generalize peoples’ perception on important issues in multi-ethnic and multi-structural societies. As these opinion-makers represent the ruling establishment’s interest most of the time they present the official views as peoples’ views. There is no genuinely national view in India and Pakistan except in times of war or a cricket match between the two countries. In peace time one finds more warmth for each other than anywhere else in the world whenever an individual gets the chance to visit the other country, in spite of, perhaps, the world’s most ridiculous visa regime.
Let’s take Pakistan first, of which I can speak with close personal knowledge. The people of Baluchistan – Baloch and Pasthun – have never been anti-India or for that matter enthusiastic about fighting for Kashmir, the same is the case with Sindhis. And now even the Mohajirs – the Urdu speaking Sindhi — youth also think along the same lines. The Siriaki-speaking people of Southern Punjab, barring the Jihadists of Bahawalpur Division, have never been in the forefront of any anti-India movement. They are rather indifferent. Most of the Pasthuns of Pakhtunkhwa have also been supporters of having good relations with India. This leaves only the Northern Punjab which is the beneficiary of the war economy. The sentiments in Central and Northern Punjab have been changing in favour of having better relations with India led by the industrial ruling class of this region.
Similarly, India is too big and diverse. The people of Southern and Eastern India are by and large not hostile towards Pakistanis. But they are also not very close either, mainly because of the language and cultural barrier. On the other hand people of Northern India find too much in common to share with each other. Whenever they meet in any conference you find them huddling together. I am reminded, here, of the 1993 Head of Asia-Pacific Organisation conference organised by The Economist at Penang, Malaysia. I met Adit Jain, a young, India country expert, for the first time. Both of us were The Economist Conferences resource persons for presenting on the economic, business and political environment. Adit and I clicked immediately and now he is one of my best friends. The Economist Conferences regional Managing Director Sam Moon commented “how come you guys are seen together all the time while India and Pakistan are supposed to be enemy countries?” Adit replied that culturally he has more in common with me than his boss who was from Bengal. Adit loves to talk in Urdu and listen to Urdu poetry. He now runs India’s largest CEOs and CFOs forum.
Another reason for Indians and Pakistanis becoming friendly is that the population profile of both countries has changed a lot in the last quarter of a century. Under 25 years population is 50% and 60% in India and Pakistan, respectively. This is the post-1971 War generation not burdened with the heavy luggage of the past. This generation is also forward looking and wants to move upward at fast-forward pace. “The issues like Kashmir and tension with Pakistan are a drag on our economy and time” young Nitish Kumar told me a couple of years back in Mumbai.
Perhaps one of the reasons of the friendly attitude of Indians towards Pakistani visitors is that Muslims are no strangers to them, as Muslims are the second biggest – 13% — religious community of India. They deal with Muslims in their daily life hence when a Pakistani visits India he is taken as somebody who has been once a part of the same society.
Owing to the mass migration after partition of the sub-continent there are hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the divide who have either direct nostalgic relations with cities and villages in Pakistan or their younger generation has heard a lot from their parents or grandparents about the cities they once belonged to. My first such experience was on a train from Luckhnow to Delhi in 1986 where I attended the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Progressive Writers Association, again a joint heritage of literature of both the countries. On my seat I had Bhisham Sahani, celebrated Hindi writer and Rajinder Pal, a leading Urdu short-story writer. The common bond between them and me was not only that we belonged to the progressive writers’ movement, but also that Bisham’s family had migrated from Rawalpindi and his elder brother who was the famous actor Balraj Sahani was my father’s friend from school days. Rajinder Pal had migrated from Sialkot, the city of my mother. While we were talking a man sitting on the opposite seat with his mother, asked me “are you from Pakistan?” When I said yes his mother said she had migrated from Karachi where her father had a locks shop at the Lea Market. And I thought out of six people sitting on two seats five had something in common. The Punjabi Hindus and Sikh speak fondly of Lahore and Rawalpindi and ask if it is possible for them to visit these cities. Sindhi Hindus speak about their forefather’s cities with teary eyes. Even the elder Mittal, the founder of the steel mills empire, was excited to talk about Karachi when I met him in Bali many years back.
Indeed, India has anti-peace lobbies like Hindutava, RSS, Bal Thakaray’s party and some hawks in BJP. Pakistan too has its share of extremists. It has an anti-India lobby like Jamaat-i-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish Mohammed etc. But the fact remains that India had seven elections since 1989 and Pakistan had six, and in all these elections no major political party whipped up hysteria against the other country. Whichever party came to power in both the countries expressed its desire to normalise the relations. That reflects the peoples’ mood — much bigger proof of goodwill of people than my personal experiences. This also belies the media and politicians who want us to believe that peoples of these countries are enemies.
Euphoria about the breakthrough in Pakistan-India relations has started a flurry of activities with delegations from both countries visiting each other. The businessmen of both countries have picked up the peace initiative for which a few starry-eyed peaceniks of Pakistan and India have been struggling for decades. As businessmen have the economic might and political clout, this time around there is hope that the establishment of both countries would gather the courage and take some bold decisions. So this spring is the time for sowing ever-lasting peace and let the 1.4 billion people of Pakistan and India bloom. (firstname.lastname@example.org).