Monday, March 14, 2005

Endgame with Pakistan

Fifteen years ago, we attended a Pakistani-American friend's wedding in the tony suburbs of Washington. Early next morning, as we fumbled around for breakfast and an airport ride, a (mohajir) neighbour -- learning of our Indian identity -- invited us over (in a magnanimous gesture we will never forget) to join her family for breakfast. Her husband would then drop us off, so we could catch our flight.

She was very curious about India -- specifically about Lucknow, where our roots are. She talked about her own family's India connection, the stories her parents told her about India, and her regrets over our nations' mutual animosity. Because we were from Lucknow (a Urdu speaking Hindu at that!), she even made us an elaborate vegetarian breakfast -- needless to say, we were blown away!!

These warm memories returned as we read When Veer Met Zaara in this week's Outlook. No doubt, there's great human-level goodwill among Indians and Pakistanis. And why not? As we noted last week, we share centuries of geographic co-habitation and political union -- not to mention anthropological identity and cultural similarity. This can hardly be willed away, nor should it be.

BUT, this warm human connection is just that. There's a cold reality in play as well -- this too cannot be willed away. As we reminisced about the warmth in Washington, memories of a cold Jammu night brought us back to reality.

Our family has long visited the Vaishno Devi shrine in J&K. At night, one can see lights of distant towns from pilgrim trails up the mountain. What is that town? Katra. And that larger one? Jammu. What about those very dim set of lights over there? That’s Sialkot. Sialkot? Yes, it’s a border town in Pakistan.

We remember thinking even as a child: aha, there glimmers the enemy -- a dim set of lights. We'd just lived through blackouts during the '71 war.

Years later we learnt that Sialkot was the birthplace of Iqbal, who had summoned the creation of Pakistan. In a 1937 letter written to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Iqbal wrote“ it is obvious that the only way to a peaceful India is a redistribution of the country on the lines of racial, religious and linguistic affinities.” He died less than a year later. In a decade, the partition occurred. The peaceful India he imagined seethed from betrayal. The peaceful Pakistan he dreamed of embraced jihad.

Sialkot was also the birthplace of Faiz Ahmed Faiz who wrote the following haunting words on India’s partition (translation ours): this pockmarked daylight, this darkness dimmed dawn, this is surely not the sunrise we were waiting for. One million people were killed in just a few months of violence. Thirteen million people were made refugees in their own land. At least three generations thereafter were brought up in the shadow of war and mutual suspicion.

We can also never forget the martyrs of Kargil and Sansad Bhavan and countless innocents mercilessly mowed down at places like Kaluchak and Nadimarg.

There are many influentials in India who choose to forget all this -- who think that human-level connections between Indians and Pakistanis will wash away our congealing blood, dissolve Pakistani betrayals, and bring about peace in this -- our shared Continent of Circe.

This sounds great except when one begins to unravel its meaning. What does peace with Pakistan really mean?

We suspect most Indians have only a woolly concept of Indo-Pak peace. Some even hold out hope for a reunion of sorts -- even though this would destroy India's delicate political balance.

We're afraid such idealist dreaming is deep folly. There is no such thing as peace with Pakistan -- the best we can hope for now is an absence of war.

And in the long run? Whats the end-game in the long-run? In our eyes, the endgame is simple. It'll happen when the triumphant Indian idea of secular democracy replaces Pakistan's idea of communal tyrrany -- in "the land of the pure"; it'll also require a real accounting for every Indian innocent killed at Pakistani hands. It is only when we reach this summit of victory, can India really emerge a great power on the world stage. Settling for anything less is unacceptable.

This is why the new-found Indo-Pak bonhomie (including Musharraf watching Cricket, perhaps in Kochi) is merely a mirage. Behind this lies a vast desert of devilish ideas about "peace" -- including the particularly tempting notion that human contact can settle our deep-seated mutual rage -- these ideas are really distractions from our national purpose. India better keep its head down and its eyes glued coldly on the endgame.

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