One fine day in a journalism college, my soft-spoken Pakistani friend showed me her supposedly-new discovery: a collage of a walled city on Google. She asked me to decipher anything which was similar. “Are you teaching an Indian to identify Delhi,” I nonchalantly quipped, after glazing at the picture. “Look carefully,” she prodded me. I dismissed her without giving it one more shot. Then came the epic reply, she profoundly said, “The collage consists of two cities of India and Pakistan–Delhi and Lahore–the upper half has Delhi landscape, while other is of Lahore. I was gobsmacked at my “borrowed revelation” of striking similarities between the two cities.
Olive Branch from Nawaz Sharif
After being elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s overtures to have cordial relations with his neighbouring country have been hailed by India. He warmly spoke about India in an interview, published in The Hindu, with Karan Thapar:
(W)e have a lot of love and affection for you (India) all. We must become good friends and hold each other’s hands … let us make a new beginning, let us sit down together and let us resolve that we will from now onwards resolve all our outstanding issues peacefully and in a very friendly manner, in a very friendly atmosphere.”
Indeed a path-breaking statement from Mia Nawaz Sharif!
As political commentators argue that the meaning democratic values, peace, and human rights are best understood and inculcated by the exiled, persecuted and illegally incarcerated who suffered at the hands of undemocratic “establishment” (pun intended). Nawaz Sharif, who had lived in self-imposed exile for seven year, fits into this constellation of stars who have inculcated all above-mentioned values. His olive branch offer to heal the bruised relations with India is a new beginning.
National Heroes: Votaries of Friendly Ties
At this juncture, it is pertinent to recollect what Jawahar Lal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah had to say on India-Pak relations. Quaid-e-Azam said in 1947: “We have no aggressive designs upon our neighbours. We wish to live in peace and friendship.” Invoking the concept of ‘striking similarities’ for peaceful relations, Nehru noted in 1950, “Cooperative relations are not essential because of geography, but because of our joint history, culture, language, and many bond that has arisen between us during the long years.” Such were the noble thoughts of India’s and Pakistan’s national leaders, despite some discordant issues which they never let come in the way.
Common Interests and Discordant Issues
In the wake of border incursions on January 8, 2013 when one of Indian soldiers was decapitated, India-Pak peace process intermittently came to a screeching halt. But now, Pakistan has new civilian government which holds promise for India. The PM has taken another concrete step proposing dates for the peace talks. Now it is incumbent on India not to dither over his friendly call because seldom does history provide these opportunities. In a throwback to the peace process, Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered friendly hand to Pakistan on 18th April, 2003 and it responded positively. Now we need to do the same when other side is looking for better relationship.
Two Centers of Power?
Whether Nawaz Sharif will remain immune to the Rawalpindi factor is still to be watched. But his intent is clear: no place for military establishment in decision making. A case in point is a leaked report which had been kept secret by the then PPP government not to ruffle military’s feather–of the Abbotabad Enquiry Commission, set-up after Osama Bin Laden’s killing. The mandate of the commission was to enquire into military lapses, prolonged stay of OBL in Abottabad and sovereignty issues. Through the report, Sharif has scored some brownie points over the ISI by washing its dirty linen in public. Consequently, he has fortified his power in a country with two power centres: Islamabad and Rawalpindi. These developments should be watched carefully by Indian mandarins, and they should welcome a strong democratic Pakistan in which the ISI is kept aloof from democratic deliberations.
India’s concern on not being conferred Most Favoured Nation status by Islamabad has unnecessarily riled our diplomats. But given the liberalisation in trade, MFN status is within the striking distance; chance are even brighter considering “New Islamabad’s” effort to break out of the status-quoist cocoon.
Sharif’s intent is timely as he is trying to shore up Pakistan’s imploding economy. Bilateral trade and commerce can bolster our untapped potential; thereby supporting Pakistan’s economy. Bilateral trade now stands at paltry $2.5 billion; potential trade is estimated to touch $10 billion within few years, which is subject to further liberalisation. Pakistan improved trade ties with India by implementing negative-list trade with India. Along with that, a joint business group, India Pakistan Joint Business Forum, has been formed to discover more possibilities in economic field.
The costs of perennial hostility are huge. Looking at the human development index 2011, India and Pakistan secured dismal ranks 134 and 145 respectively. HDI index suggests that rather than buying arms to stake out at border areas, we need to invest in our people for their material improvement. Economic development and higher standards of living are possible only in a cordial environment.
Arts and Culture
How can we maintain the momentum created after Sharif redux? People-to-people contact, confidence-building measures, and art and culture exchange programmes will invariably result in deepening our ties. In the same vein, relaxing visa regime, particularly for artists, will reinforce that we take pride in our shared culture, history and arts. Great exponents of Dhrupad raga Ustad Zahiruddin and Ustad Faiyzuddin Dagar invoked Lord Shiva, while Indian artists, like Pandit Ram Narayan, chanted Urdu words. Moreover, Bollywood is also smitten by Pakistani culture. Cultural assimilation therefore would be a catalyst in dispelling suspicion and mistrust.
Despite all these feel-good similarities, strategic naysayers on both sides spare no chance to stonewall peace process, highlight thorny issues–terrorism, water sharing regimes and Kashmir. Let’s not ruin our present by forgettable past experiences. Let’s sit down and talk to address our outstanding issues. Some rational-defying historical events should serve a reminder to pessimists that the Berlin Wall came down in 1989; that centuries of hostile environment among European countries were laid to rest when they hugged each other and formed the European Union; that Japan which bore the brunt of nuclear bombs became bosom-buddy of America, and many more. These unprecedented events remind us that India-Pakistan relations are on the verge of opening a new friendly chapter. The prerequisites for sustained dialogue are: transparency, trust-building and mutual respect. Government of India will ill-afford if it does not reciprocate to Sharif’s friendly gesture, and it brooks no delay. Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sherif cannot belie the expectations of peoples and their national heroes.
Coming back to the collage, my friend asserted that in Pakistan and India, majority of population wants brotherly relations. Considering our shared experiences, eternal neighbours should not swear by eternal hostilities. Let not our past haunt our present and future,” she concluded.