Recently, a survey by the US-based “fact tank”, the Pew Research Centre, released soon after the signature on a more open visa regime between India and Pakistan in early September, has found that Indians and Pakistanis actually view each other unfavourably, but that the Pakistani sentiment is “more intense”.
It seems that 72 per cent of Pakistanis view India unfavourably — of which 57 per cent viewed India as a very serious threat — while 59 per cent Indians believe Pakistan is a very serious threat to India. According to Pew, for the Indians surveyed, Pakistan is a greater threat than even the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Wow. The Pew findings are more or less borne out of a poll carried out by The Economic Times, one of India’s largest newspapers, a couple of days after the Islamabad signature on the visa regime, also in early September. This poll found that about 72 per cent of Indians feel that the visa regime is going to have little or no impact on the bilateral relationship; Pakistan continued to be perceived in unfavourable terms.
Is anybody surprised by these findings? Distraught? Amazed? I would personally doubt it very much, especially as several visits to Pakistan have confirmed that, actually, both our nations — peoples — actually don’t know each other very much. Because we speak similar languages (Hindu/Urdu), listen to some of the same music and watch some of the same movies, a vocal sections of Indians and Pakistanis often make the mistake of saying, “Oh, we are mirror images of each other!”
Not at all. India and Pakistan may have been carved from the same mother country, but the sooner we get used to the idea that we have had completely different histories, cannot compare our presents and are likely to have totally varied destinies, the sooner we will come to understand the need for a ‘normal’ relationship.
The trick is to look at each other not as enemies or as friends, but as neighbours with whom we must keep a semblance of good cheer, so that we come to the other’s aid and protection when the other needs it. Moreover, let us stop reacting too much — if some want to light candles at Wagah every August 15, that should be their prerogative. The ability to be critical of each other — or have special relationships, as the case may be — cannot depend on our national identities, or the colour of the flag that we fly. Indians and Pakistanis seek each other — or don’t — in third countries for a variety of reasons, so let’s extend that privilege and courtesy to each other, too.
That is why the rising ensemble of voices in Pakistan asking whether Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is going to visit before the end of this year interests me so much. If the Pew Research/The Economic Times poll is correct, then why would Pakistan be so keen on the Indian PM? The answer, in my opinion, lies in a sort of self-vindication mechanism: if the Indian PM doesn’t come to Pakistan, goes the argument in the mind of the ‘average Pakistani’ (be warned: there is no such thing), then he’s no friend of Pakistan and we are “right” in disliking the country he represents. If he does come, well, he will be treated like everybody else … the special relationship still rests with China.
That’s why the need for us to get to know each other better, to get the edges off our likes and dislikes, to ask if we can be better neighbours and only then be friends. Pakistanis seem surprised when Indians cheer their cricket team against Australia. In fact, I find it surprising that they’re surprised. And here’s why: first of all, Pakistan is part of the subcontinent, which automatically ranks it above any other country in the world. Secondly, the choice is clear if the opponent is Australia … I remember the time Arjuna Ranatunga ticked off Shane Warne because Warne shouted at Ranatunga for not being able to run because he was so fat. Ranatunga pointed out to Warne that his wife or his coach had never complained, so what was his problem? It helped that the Sri Lankans won that particular match against the Aussies.
Hopefully, the new visa regime will allow ordinary Indians and Pakistanis to travel to each other’s countries, which will further hasten the understanding of each other’s sensitivities and compulsions, as well as the discovery of the shades of grey in the black-and-white picture that dominates the bilateral picture today.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2012.
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