Peace blast needed to break Pakistan-India impasse
In mid-eighties I asked the Editor of Economic Times in Bombay (now Mumbai) that why his paper has very little coverage of international economic and business news? I had in my mind the economic pages of Pakistani newspapers that carried lots of foreign news, including Dawn for which I was working.,. The seasoned Editor replied: “in the limited space I have domestic news and views which crowd-out the international news as India is a big economy.” It was the time when India was comparatively a closed economy and Man Mohan Singh had not happened to it.
Fast-forward 2014 a channel Zindagi was launched in India broadcasting Pakistani TV channels dramas. Instantly it has become a hit. The feedback I get from the Indians I meet while travelling in India is pleasantly amazing, particularly from those who have not travelled to Pakistan. It also shows that how little people know about Pakistan. They ask questions like: are these dramas presenting real picture of Pakistan? Does the middle class have as good a life-style as portrayed in the plays? Are Pakistani TV channels allowed to challenge some of the anti-women values and myths? So on and so forth… My answer to them is that by and large Pakistani TV dramas portray the real life and the issues faced by the society with minimum exaggeration which is a norm of this genre to drive the underlying messages home.
The Zindagi wave it seems is doing a great job to present a moderate Pakistan narrative. No Pakistani government has done so much to project the real image of our country. On the other hand Indian TV news channels blares that Hafiz Saeed and other Islamists’ anger-seething-crowds represent Pakistan. On Pakistan side, Bollywood movies had started changing perception about India way back in the 80s, thanks to video technology.
Soft images of both countries is slowly sponging the poison of negative propaganda injected by the co-evolutionists of the war economy. Peoples of Pakistan started doing cultural trade in the eighties of Rs10 at least once a week while watching the pirated videos of Bollywood movies. The illegality of this trade aside it clearly manifested that soft image of secular India was accepted by a large majority of Pakistanis, contrary to the establishment’s narrative that India is our ‘enemy no 1’. Mauled by the terrorists and having lost 60000 Pakistanis, the establishment has declared the terrorists as the country’s foremost enemy.
Indeed to project that Pakistanis are by-and-large moderate peace-loving people in a huge country like India is a gigantic task. In this back drop when the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) invited me to speak in Delhi at a conference on “Understanding Pakistan Today” I readily accepted. The topic was of importance given the fact that very little is known about Pakistan in India. My experience is that most electronic and print media journalists in both countries lazily or deliberately paint each other with one stroke of the brush dipped in the colour of hatred. Once unfortunately, on a foggy winter morning I landed in India when reports about the alleged killing of Indian soldiers at the LOC was breaking in. As if that was not enough, the head of one soldiers was chopped off by the barbarians. One Indian channel anchor invited me to his talk show where hawks were in majority. In a belligerent tone, that does not suit a journalist he editorlised that people in Pakistan hate Indians. I contested that sweeping statement with explanation.
Recently at the conference in Delhi earlier this month my contention was that in Pakistan which is a multi-ethnic country there is no monolithic view about India and Kashmir. Let’s take a quick tour of Pakistan. The Baloch have never been anti-India, the same is true with Sindhi and Urdu speaking people of Sindh who want to be friends with India. In South Punjab while the majority is ambivalent about India, there is a small religious militant section which is the beneficiary of war economy and is die-hard anti India. The big business which leads the ruling classes of Pakistan has been lobbying for normalisation of relations with India as they want free access to India’s market. However medium and small farmers want some protection against the free import of agricultural produce as they find it difficult to compete as India subsidizes its farmers. But the same farmers are keen to import Indian agricultural machinery and seeds. Northern Punjab which has traditionally been the army recruiting area in history would always go along the establishment’s narrative. In Pakhtunkhwa, leaving aside the pro-Taliban religious groups, most Pashtuns led by Awami National Party and JUI are for improved relations.
This peace pulse of the people is understood by all major political parties. The overbearing factor is that in all the elections since 1988 there was no anti-Indian tirade in the election campaigning.
The delegates who spoke at the PIPFPD conference were academicians, journalists and women and human rights activists. From the Indian side the mix was the same. Presentations on Pakistan economy, politics, history and labour and women issues were made by scholars, journalists and women activists. From the Indian side a number of intellectuals and journalists participated as discussants. Even though Indian participants were of a high intellectual caliber, many admitted that the conference was educative. “We did not know about the level of studies done in Pakistan, divergent sentiments of the people regarding India and about the resilience of the country’s economy,” one JNU professor admitted.
It is generally accepted in India that the people who travel to Pakistan come back with positive impressions about the people and the level of development of the country. And that is also true on this side of the border too. We have to let the Indians know that Pakistan is beyond the terrorist groups, and in Pakistan people have to know India is beyond fire spitting electronic media and chauvinist organisations.
More intense people-to-people contacts are necessary to clear the cobwebs of history spun by the respective war economies of both the countries. Each terrorist blast to sabotage the peace process should be matched by the ‘peace blast’, instead of stepping back from the peace process and becoming a hostage to terrorists and beneficiaries of the war economy.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of ‘What’s Wrong With Pakistan? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org