When I received the Mother Teresa award, this year, for working towards improvement of relations between India and Pakistan, I was happy to believe that there must have been some tangible evidence of it to get me the recognition.
Then comes one Rehman Malik, interior minister of Pakistan, and nearly severs everything. He did everything possible to spoil relations through his statements and remarks. He stayed in the capital for only three days last month but reignited the fires of suspicion, bias and hatred.
First, he compared the demolition of Babri Masjid with the terrorist attacks on Mumbai to suggest that the demolition was the job of Hindus and the 26/11 attacks of Muslims, thereby renewing the memory of the holocaust during Partition and reiterating the two-nation theory, which even the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, abandoned after independence. Then, Malik brushed aside the agony of Captain Saurabh Kalia’s father, who received his son’s mutilated body 20 days after the Kargil war. The Pakistan Army has denied the inhuman act but it could have at least held an inquiry to allay India’s doubts on Kalia’s case.
Malik, when pressed, said that his ministry would probe but I doubt if he can dare do anything against the army’s wishes. In any case, no one has taken his visit seriously. The anger was so deep that India did not agree to a joint press conference or even a joint statement.
Malik’s disastrous visit eclipsed the welcome gesture that the Supreme Court of India had made. It had freed Dr Khalil Chisti, a Pakistani doctor, who was mistakenly implicated in a murder case when he had travelled to India in 1992 to see his ailing mother, who died while he was there. In contrast, the government, given the facts, was rigid and too legalistic. Some human rights activists put before the government the negligible role, if any, played by Chisti.
Initially, the Rajasthan government saw that Chisti was not to be blamed and recommended Governor Shivraj Patil to pardon him. Patil was adamant and rejected the state’s proposal. Mahesh Bhatt, a famous filmmaker, and I, met Patil at Chandigarh and pleaded Chisti’s case, stating that he was 80 years old and suffering from a heart condition. But this did not appeal to the governor who argued that Chisti had been on bail and must spend some time in jail to serve the purpose of justice.
The Pakistan media does not take up the case of excesses committed against minorities as forcefully as the Indian media does. It was because of the media that the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders could not hide their faces when the Babri Masjid was demolished.
I can see a change in the attitude of Indians and Pakistanis towards each other. They never harboured hostility despite the sterile attitude of the two governments. Now, they make bold comments and feel repentant on the massacre of millions during Partition. The public in both countries must force their governments to cut the military expenditure. Better relations would force a cut in military budgets on both sides. New Delhi should take the initiative.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2013.