Last December, while processing the plethora of forms a Pakistani visitor has to submit in spite of having a valid visa, an immigration officer at the newly refurbished Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi asked me: "Babu ji, aap patarkar ho; yeh batao humare duno deshon kay beech rishta kab theek hoga?" [You are a journalist; tell me, when will the relations between our countries normalise?] "When I served the Indian Army, I hated Pakistanis and thought of them as the enemy but since I've joined the immigration department and met so many Pakistanis at the immigration counter, hum ko to ab aap log apne jaise hi lagte ho [you people are the same as us]."
The 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 times. Another common observation on both sides of the border is that while there are no hostilities among the people, barring some ultra-nationalists and religious extremists venomous chants, the Delhi and Islamabad establishments 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 interests. The fact is that it is very irresponsible of the opinion-makers - politicians and media - to generalise 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 official views as the people's 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, whenever an individual gets the chance to visit the other's country (in spite of perhaps the most ridiculous visa regime in the world), they get a warmer reception than anywhere else in the world.
Let's talk about the people of Pakistan first. The people of Baluchistan - Baloch and Pashtun - have never been anti-India or enthusiastic about fighting for Kashmir. The same is the case with Sindhis. Now even the Mohajir - the Urdu-speaking Sindhi - youth think along the same lines. The Seraiki-speaking people of southern Punjab, barring the jihadists of Bahawalpur Division, have never been in the forefront of any anti-India movement; they are mostly indifferent. Most of the Pashtuns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have also supported having good relations with India. This leaves only northern Punjab, which is the beneficiary of the war economy. However, even in central and northern Punjab, spurred by the ruling industrial class, sentiments have been changing in favour of having better relations with India.
Similarly, India is too big and diverse to have homogenous views. The people of southern and eastern India are, by and large, not hostile towards Pakistanis. If they're not very close, it is mainly because of the language and cultural barriers. On the other hand, the people of northern India have a lot in common. Whenever they meet at international conferences, they huddle together. I am reminded here of the Head of Asia-Pacific Organisation conference organised by The Economist at Penang, Malaysia in 1993. 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; he is now one of my best friends. When The Economist Conferences' regional managing director Sam Moon asked why we were together all the time when India and Pakistan were supposed to be enemies, Adit said 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.
Another reason for Indians and Pakistanis becoming friendlier is that the population profile of both countries has changed a lot in the last quarter of a century. The size of the under-25 years population is 50 percent in India and 60 percent in Pakistan. This is the post-1971 generation, which is not burdened with the heavy baggage of the past. This generation is also forward-looking and wants to move upward at a fast-forward pace. A few years ago in Mumbai, young Nitesh Kumar put it thus: "The issues like Kashmir and tension with Pakistan are a drag on our economy and time."
Perhaps one of the reasons of the friendly attitude of Indians towards Pakistani visitors is that Muslims are no strangers to them as Muslims comprise 13 percent of India's population. When a Pakistani visits India, he is taken as somebody who has been once a part of the same society.
The mass migration after Partition created hundreds of thousands of people on both sides who have either direct nostalgic relations with cities and villages in the other country or have heard the same from their parents or grandparents. My first such encounter was on a train from Lucknow to Delhi in 1986, where I was attending the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Progressive Writers Association - again the joint heritage of litterateurs of both the countries. Next to me was Bhisham Sahni, 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 (the famous actor Balraj Sahni) was my father's friend from their schooldays. Rajinder 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 if I was from Pakistan. When I replied in the affirmative, his mother started telling me about how she'd migrated from Karachi where her father had a locks shop at Lea Market. And I began thinking, of the six people sitting opposite each other, five had something in common. The Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs speak fondly of Lahore and Rawalpindi and ask when they can visit. The Sindhi Hindus speak about their forefather's cities with teary eyes. When I met the elder Mittal in Bali many years ago, for example, the founder of the steel mills empire went on and on about Karachi.
Admittedly, India has anti-peace lobbies like the Hindutavavadis, the RSS, Bal Thakaray's party and some hawks in the BJP. Pakistan too has its share of extremists. It has an anti-India lobby like the Jamaat-i-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish Mohammed etc. But the fact remains that India has had seven elections since 1989 and Pakistan has had six; in all these elections, no major political party whipped up hysteria against the other country. Whichever party came to power in both countries expressed its desire to normalise relations. That reflects the peoples' mood - the real proof of goodwill of people. 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 will gather courage and take some bold decisions. Let the 1.4 billion people of Pakistan and India bloom.
The writer is a senior journalist and communications expert.
Monday, May 07, 2012
A Lahori's take on Delhi
Pakistani journalist, development professional and blogger Raza Rumi's first book 'Delhi By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Travell .....more
Philanthropist and music promoter Jayesh Kotak wants the all-blind Indian orchestra Black to perform in Pakistan, where there is huge musical talent - and potential f .....more
On January 6, I nervously landed at the Delhi airport. I say nervously because I wasn't there as a tourist. I had gone to India as a researcher - t .....more
A dance documentary
An upcoming documentary by a team of Indians and Pakistanis traces the journey of classical dance in Pakistan through the story of the .....more
Page 1 of 177
The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw