Misperceptions about each other on both sides of Pakistan and India border are a galore. We are so close and yet so far. The more I meet particularly the Indian middle classes, I feel there is need to understand each other first for building a bridge to peace.
On both sides, deliberately or because of their ignorance, our rulers and their embedded media breed misperceptions about the other country. For last sixty years we look at each other’s political, economic and social interests as static — inorganic. On the contrary, in this period Pakistan and India hagone through a sea change in every aspect of life. Though not at a desired pace economic base of both countries has changed from heavily agricultural to industrial, and service industry has grown to contribute 50 percent of the GDP. Globalised communications technology is sweeping away old thinking. Notwithstanding opposition to globalisation by many in our respective countries the transition to information and knowledge age is happening. In this post partition period the middle classes have grown many times, and the demographic profile has changed dramatically with over 60 percent under 30 years.
Unfortunately All these developments are not factored in by our respective analysts and policy-makers who are buried under the heavy burden of distorted history
At a recent seminar in Kolkota on ‘India-Pakistan Relations — Challenges and the Way Forward’ organised the quarterly New Approach’s Editor Shekar Basu Roy, if one thing all the nine speakers agreed about was that uninterrupted and irreversible dialogue is needed beating the agenda of terrorism.The emphasis was that we need to understand each other better. Highlights of the speakers observations of this well attended seminar would be in order here. Imminent journalist Bharat Bhushun, who moderated the seminar, succinctly described PM Modi’s Pakistan policy as ‘flip-flop policy’. Modi has invested in Pakistan relations at Ufa he says keeping in view forthcoming SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016.
Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri said that solution to all issues with India is possible. His optimism resides in his experience of dealing with India as General Musharraf’ foreign minister. “Pakistan and India have natural common interests so CPEC should be seen by India as a bridge to Central Asia,” he suggested. Giving teasers from his coming book, he says “we had made significant progress in back door talks with India on number of issues and could have signed a settlement on Sir Creek and Siachen had Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Pakistan materialised.” Kasuri was right to stress that in talks between the two countries nobody should claim victory to keep the peace process going.
A section of media which is embedded with the beneficiaries of war economy ‘has led to mediastation of Pakistan India relations, to borrow Javed Jabbar phrase. Their role has been anti-peace and hence anti-people.
Former Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid criticised PM Modi for not taking the ooppositions in confidence and for the “policeman point of view ” which is a major problem.
To my surprise the Editor of the RSS magazine Seshardri Chari was very positive about India Pakistan peace process and said that “in spite of terrorism we want to talk.” But his reservation was that Pakistan’s army and non-state actors are against giving peace a chance. He rightly concluded that the political class has the capability to overcome the hurdles on the peace track.
Senator Taj Haider was of the view that building on the secular and socialist tradition of Subash Chander Bose peace process should be taken forward which is resisted by arms industry of imperialism and religious lobbies.
It was poet writer Javed Akhtar who touched the basic issue. “The faultline of the Kashmir and terrorism issues is in the basic concept of the Two Nations Theory.” “If we accept it in the case of Kashmir what would be the future of Indian Muslims in India as thoh would be legally turned into B class citizens,” he asked. I have also heard this view from Muslim intellectuals in Delhi. Even the Jammat e Islami Hind implicitly supports this view by declaring that they stand for a secular India. However Javed Jabbar claimed his right of reply to Akhtar and defended the weak two nation theory quite forcefully maintaining that nation can be on the basis of religion.
Peace activist and former Indian minister Mani Shankar Aiyer cleared the air and appealed to move forward “we should not try to prove who is clever than other instead of engaging each other to understand what Pakistan means to Pakistanis and what India means to the Indians.” Speaking from his first hand experience Mani told the Kolkota audience that “in Pakistan peoples’ position has more nuances than India.”
My contention was that instead of talking about the way forward to peace from stated official line only, we should talk from the peoples perspective of the subcontinent. While talking about two countries we are talking about every third person in India and every 4th person in Pakistan living in poverty, we are talking about every third child under 5 years who is malnourished, we are talking about the people who are killed at the borders. In last 2 years 800 cease fire violations were reported, in this July alone 11 firing cases were reported with 1 killed and 16 injured on indian side 10 killed on Pakistan side.
Peace is the most urgent imperative for as far as people are concerned while the cold impersonal governments and analysts in Islamabad Delhi pontify on who called who first and the silly ‘optics of the Ufa meeting. Pakistan’s narrative about India is not monolithic in spite of the state’s propaganda machines. That is needed to be emphasised at every forum to remove misperceptions and create better understanding of each other.
India is beyond Modi and Pakistan is beyond the likes of Hafiz Saeed as fundamentalist have never been able to get more than 10 per cent votes . We are moderate democracy loving people, who love the soft power of Bollywood as the Indians love watching Pakistani plays on Zindgi. Thus anti-Indianism has not been an election issue in Pakistan 1977 elections onward.
The writer is a free lance journalist and author of What’s Wrong with Pakistan? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org