[Reader-list] Khuda Hafiz Pakistan by Nirupama Subramanian

Aditya Raj Kaul kauladityaraj at gmail.com
Sun Mar 21 21:28:04 IST 2010

Khuda Hafiz Pakistan Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu

“There is a Pakistani in every Indian; and an Indian in every Pakistani,”
President Asif Ali Zardari famously said two years ago. Those words rang in
my head with new resonance as I packed my bags and left Pakistan recently
after a nearly four-year-long assignment as this newspaper's Islamabad-based

It should have been easy to leave a country that is by word and deed hostile
to India, and where the state machinery treats every Indian as a “RAW
agent”, spending considerable human and material resources on the
surveillance of the only two Indian journalists — from *The Hindu *and Press
Trust India — that are permitted to be based there.

Yet, saying goodbye to Pakistan was much more difficult than I imagined.
Like other Indians who have experienced Pakistan first-hand, I gained a vast
number of friends for life and multitudes of warm memories. Against this
reality, it seems absurdly unbelievable that these two countries are not
even talking properly to each other, that I cannot visit my Pakistani
friends easily, that they cannot come and see me. Even texting, one of the
easiest and cost-efficient ways of keeping in touch these days, is not
possible — or erratic, at best — between India and Pakistan.

*Huge distance*

Walking across the Wagah border into India took me less than five minutes.
But as I turned at the gates to wave to a Pakistani friend who had come to
see me off, the distance between the two countries seemed huge and daunting.

At home, family and friends greeted me with relief, and asked me how I had
managed to survive four years in “a country of terrorists.” Despite the
close geographical proximity of the two countries, and the reams written and
spoken in India about Pakistan, there seemed little patience for or
understanding of the complexities of, an important neighbouring country, the
shades of political, social and religious opinion among Pakistanis on such
issues as terrorism and extremism.

There is similarly much in the way Pakistanis react to India that can send
even the mildest Indian's blood pressure rising. For instance, even
well-educated Pakistanis continue to believe that the Mumbai attacks were
staged by RAW to defame Pakistan with the ultimate aim of snatching its
nuclear weapons or dismembering the country. Young and old alike will assert
that India is behind the wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan because “no
Muslim will kill fellow Muslims”, even though they have no explanation for
why Shias routinely get killed by Sunni extremists.

I would have heated debates with Pakistanis who consider themselves modern,
enlightened, liberal and secular but would suddenly go all Islamic and
religious when it came to an issue such as Kashmir, seeming no different
from their ultra-conservative compatriots who protest against the clamping
down on Islamic militancy in Pakistan as harassment of “brother Muslims.”
They could tout jihad in Kashmir as legitimate even while condemning the
Taliban who threaten their own modern, liberal lifestyle, despite the
knowledge that the distinction between the two kinds of jihad, or the two
categories of militants, is at best an illusion.

But at the end of the day, the goodwill I experienced in my daily
interactions with ordinary Pakistanis, even during the most heated debates,
was overwhelming and more powerful than anything else. Despite the heavy
hand of the state in every sphere of life, I found people who were willing
to set aside long internalised stereotypes and prejudices about Indians and
Hindus to try and understand me and my point of view, and they accepted with
good faith that I was trying to do the same. We may not have entirely
convinced each other every time but we managed to build little bridges of
our own and find our own *modus vivendi*.

If there is anything I learnt from those personal experiences in Pakistan,
it is that these little bridges are the key to peace. And for this reason,
peace-making cannot be left to rulers. It is the people on both sides that
have to take charge of it. What the people have now is a unique and
contradictory chemistry of love and hate, curiosity and suspicion,
friendliness and antagonism, admiration and envy, not to speak of nostalgia
and convenient memory lapses. Forget about which of these is natural and
which deliberately created. What is required for a stable relationship is a
rational middle-ground between these emotional extremes.

If we acknowledge that war or even just a simmering long-term enmity is not
an option, that middle-ground would be easy to locate. There, on that
middle-ground, we need not be the best of friends, but we need not be the
worst of enemies either. We can just live as two civilised neighbours.

It is evident that the political leadership of both countries, which
includes the military in Pakistan, cannot be entrusted with finding this
middle-ground. The political class on both sides has specialised in hyping
the emotional in India-Pakistan relations over the rational, finding it a
useful instrument for domestic political gain. Blame communally driven
politics on the Indian side, and in Pakistan, the tight grip of a military
that needs to perpetuate its predominance in national affairs.

*Narrow prism of state*

Most of the celebrated India-Pakistan people-to-people contact since 2004,
including the interaction between the media, film and fashion worlds of the
two countries, has tended to be driven by the governments on both sides, or
blessed, encouraged or sponsored by the two states in some way. With rare
exceptions, such contact has mirrored the official point of view, providing
no room for building genuine bridges. No wonder they fell apart so easily in
the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to a point where goodwill seems
almost irretrievable.

But even now, the first thing that Pakistanis and Indians ask each other is:
“We eat the same food, speak the same language, we even look the same, so
why can't we be friends?” The short answer to that is that we cannot be
friends as long as we continue looking at each other through the narrow
prism of our respective states. Pakistanis must locate the Indian within
themselves, and Indians must discover their inner Pakistani. It would help
understand each other better, and free us from state-manipulated attitudes.
In our own interests, it is up to us, the people, to find ways to do this.
For now, Khuda Hafiz Pakistan.
Link - http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article258515.ece

Aditya Raj Kaul

Cell -  +91-9873297834
Blog: http://activistsdiary.blogspot.com/

For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.

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