Waking up on January 1 and with my eyes falling on the front page of the TOI, I chanced upon the announcement of an initiative to bridge fences between India and Pakistan through people-to-people interaction.
Immediately the monster hangover I was nursing from the rum-coke just took a turn for the worse.
I understand that we just entered a new decade but the old decade, was like, here just a day ago. A decade which started with a dastardly hi-jacking, warmed up with attacks on our Parliament and continued with sporadic acts of urban violence and ended with 26/11, all of them originating, beyond any scope of reasonable doubt, from a single land-mass to our West. Being that the case, the kind of amnesia that makes us want to “talk peace” with Pakistan, in a “people to people Track 2” kind of way makes my mind boggle, in the same way that Jaani Dushman–Ek Anokhi Kahani did.
I absolutely understand the need to move ahead and forget the hurts of the past though I would not have the balls to stand in front of Lt Saurabh Kalia’s family or a camp of Kashmiri Pandits and say this. The problem here is of course that this initiative is asking us to ignore the present. A present where those that perpetrated 26/11 are allowed to walk free in Pakistan like heroes. A present where ISI has been trying to make the Indian economy collapse by introducing massive amounts of fake currency.
Of course I know the response. This is Pakistan “the establishment” that is doing this. Not Pakistan “the people”, who as the poll shows overwhelmingly do not desire armed conflict with India. And that somehow exchanging sweets on the Wagah border and having a trade delegation in Karachi and having joint musharafs sorry mushairas will somehow soften the China-Pakistani army to dump the billions they have pumped into the proxy war against India over decades and even prompt Kayani to act in Bhatt movies.
That is if he is not doing so already.
But maybe I am being too pessimistic I thought. So I started reading the joint statement. But then right at the top, there is a gentle reminder of the love that our Pakistani brothers have for us. A love that they are willing to spread by paying money to Google, who using their super-smart contextual super-semantic algorithm, have placed their banner-ad straight on top of this missive of goodwill.
No prizes for guessing what the answer to the rhetorical question (circled in red) was.
But then again I told myself that this is precisely the kind of things that such acts of brotherly bonhomie will strive to clean up and perhaps the said hate-site is run by Pakistan the “establishment” (a disembodied zombie-like organization that apparently has no popular support for its policies) and not by Pakistan “the people”.
So I read on.
There was this impassioned rhetoric to rescue the fate of the two nations from “warmongers” followed by an interesting mea-culpa.
We believe the media can serve as facilitators in fostering greater understanding between people. Unfortunately — and TOI cannot entirely escape blame — we tend to focus far too much on the negative. In the process, the good that people do is drowned out by the sensational, and by the constant flow of death-and-destruction headlines.
Sounds good. And fair.
Having read this, I decided to make a visit to the Jang site, hoping to see a reflection of these thoughts (namely that India and Pakistan press are partially to blame for the escalation of rhetoric) and of the importance of this initiative.
On the Jang site however, to my surprise, any reference to the historic project was way at the bottom of the page (the last link in the Opinions section) at the same time when it was being prominently displayed on the TOI site.
And then I went through what the other side had to say. Throughout the article with politically sensitive references to Kashmir and Bangladesh, the underlying tone was anything but shared responsibility of history. Then in sharp contrast to the tone of the TOI article, there was this killer line
Given the hardening of positions after the Mumbai massacre and particularly the anti-Pakistan tone of the Indian media,
In other words, according to the Pakistani sponsors of this initiative, it is the Indian media which is exclusively anti-Pakistan and not the other way round even though a 2 second googling throws up so many lovely examples of pro-India Pakistan reporting that they are not worth linking to , not to speak of the intellectually weighty analysis of Mr. Z. Hameed, Pakistan’s pre-eminent public intellectual.
The reason I mention this is not to do a “gotcha”. I do it because this is precisely the reason why a people-to-people solution will never work.
The people of Pakistan refuse to acknowledge the truth of the complicity of their citizens and their administration in acts of terrorism in India for decades.
Nothing surprising about this though. This kind of refusal to accept the truth, even in the face of mountains of evidence accepted beyond doubt, is a trait commonly exhibited by perpetrators—from the last cross-cultural ambassador from Pakistan we have been honored to host (Kasab) to Policeman Rathore.
However this does make it impossible to reason with them or to make a play for their heart and minds.
Now if a Pushtoon tribal man who never went to school and likes to watch Haseena Atimbum felt that the malignant entity that promotes terrorism in India is India itself and that India controls Afghanistan, I would have understood. However in Pakistan, it is the elite of the elite, the well-healed and the educated who in other countries would form the “liberal” cabal typically prone to gratuitous self-flagellation, who are curiously the most loathe to accept the culpability of the nation they belong to.
Take for example Pakistan’s rock/pop scene, usually one of the most progressive sub-cultures of any nation, as shown in this video article by New York Times . No doubt to make themselves acceptable and marketable, their songs are all exclusively about how Pakistan is a victim in the war of terror (“All the turbulation (sic) in Pakistan it is not us, it is the outside hand” )and that Pakistan is not responsible for any kind of terrorism (a song that supposedly decries terrorism says “It is not us. It is not us. The story that is being spread in our name is a lie”) .
There is full support for the Taliban with one superstar going as far as to support Taliban’s bombing of girl’s schools and another saying that Taliban is a very small problem for Pakistan compared to the “others”.
Not that there are not sane voices in the video (mostly from music critics who do not have an audience to pander to) but what one cannot get around is that what these musicians are doing is that, perhaps in order to sell more, is to echo what people in Pakistan feel. The elite, the educated and the “Westernized”. The same people who are supposed to be the target for such outreach programs.
The reason why musicians sprout anti-Western/anti-Indian rhetoric is the same as why democratic governments in Pakistan are typically the most virulently anti-India (it was Benazir Bhutto who initiated the pogrom against Kashmiri Pandits).
India hatred is popular. Simple. It wins elections and it sells records. And a few cultural programs and flag-painting on faces wont change the fact.
Of course I am not saying there is nothing for us Indians to do. For one we can hold the feet of our political masters to the fire on matters of national security in a continuous and sustained fashion, as opposed to the impassioned SMS-s and bluster of not playing cricket that immediately follows an attack and then dies after three news-cycles. This should be accompanied by a realization that we will continue to have a neighbour whose hostility will only increase as our economic might increases and that the only way to control the situation is in us securing the nation through investments in the modernization of the intelligence and internal security infrastructure (perhaps a bit of the Rs 300 crore our honorable ministers spent on domestic and foreign travel might have been better used) rather than expecting the world to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, which it will not do because it is not in their best interests, even though when push comes to shove (i.e. their lives at stake) they will show Pakistan their place [Link]
Indeed there are a hundred one things that can be done to protect ourselves. Each needs planning, thought and strategizing. Each alas is more complex than eating laddoos together or an India-Pakistan match where Rani Mukherjee is dressed as a man.
However we as a nation continue to treat relations with dangerous nations with a kind of child-like naivete which would be cute only if it did not lead to consequences that are tragic. Forgetting Govinda’s famous advice “Control yaar” we swing between the emotional extremes of “Let’s go to war” and “Let’s mend bridges by hugging” and projects like this one, despite being born from good intentions, unfortunately do play their part in consolidating the myth of simple-minded Alok Nathization (“Aaj humare dil mein gajab ek uljhan hai, gaane baithe gana saamne Ilyas Kashmiri hai”) as a solution for the most complex of problems.
Lest I be misunderstood, I like most polled citizens of the two countries, do not want war.
Not because it is not politically correct to desire peace but because conventional war in today’s world, as proven by Afghanistan and Iraq, has only disaster as its consequence—-sometimes even more for to the victor.
However at the same time, I do not also endorse the tokenism of similar Bhai-bhai peace initiatives simply because, given recent history and the current situation, they will not work.
Why? Because they have never worked before. Not with China. Not with Pakistan.
The forces of politics, history and economics are too strong for that.
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