I went to UK for Masters in 2006. My brother had been in London since 2002, having completed his MBA from Cardiff. He would fondly mention his Indian friends and how he partied with them. He was in fact deliberate in cultivating relationships with Indians and has remained connected with them all these years. I had always had a vague sense of endearing mystery about our neighbours and a heap of hackneyed notions, enamoured of the beautiful Indian actresses but weary of the common Indian. To be fair, I found Indians to be no less interested in their neighbours, smacking of a natural affinity with Pakistanis due to a shared sense of history, traditions, values, cuisine, appearance and language. The young and educated on both sides of the border actually came across as more curious than weary, unencumbered by the weight of the historic rivalry, the bloody spectacle of partition and two full scale wars. And this was comforting to say the least.
Come 2016. The world has come a long way. We have the IS wreaking havoc giving bad name to Muslims and Islam. We have Trump bent on trumping the illustrious list of US presidents with his claim to the White house and bigoted waffling. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is making Pakistan safer and Taliban are no more the misguided Muslims with a noble agenda. CPEC is promising to plonk Pakistan back on the world map. And our youth too sees India as a neighbour and not enemy. Bigger enemies being terrorism, power crisis, potable water, opportunity etc. Our official relationship with India has, however, stood the test of time and remains to the pleasure of many, riddled with distrust, hate and suspicions. It is time to seriously evaluate the legacy we bequeath to our young. While there are good things coming Pakistan way and I will dwell on them briefly, the national security and foreign policies remain hostage to stasis, paralysis of thought and a security doctrine founded on hate and fear.
Pakistan is on its way up. There are good omens and there are many. Terrorism is on the wane and the deafening sounds of blasts have muffled. Political activism is rendering elections more representative as women and the middle class exercise their right to choose. The political landscape is a little lopsided with no clear Left, but there is definitely more competition in the space right of center.
The emergence of PTI has broken the two-party stranglehold, meaning more choice for people. Media is independent and actively shaping public opinion on issues of national bearing. Hope the Cybercrime bill does not change that. CPEC has descended and Pakistan is likely to emerge as a key stakeholder in the grand Silk Route tapestry envisioned by the Chinese. Silk Road will connect Asia to Europe, integrating South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia into one great monolith comprising countries with shared military and economic interests. Imagine the tsunami of infrastructure development and business activity CPEC will unleash. Peaceful coexistence with India will be a huge enabler as a Pakistan apprehensive of its eastern border will continue to disproportionately allocate resources.
And yes Kashmir bleeds as Indian forces come down hard on the locals and brutally gag their voices. And yes we feel for our brothers and support their right of self-determination. But let’s also not forget our role in the proxy wars unleashed through non-state actors, whipping up unrest in India. What goes around comes around. India now returns the favour in Balochistan and elsewhere in painful ways. The last six decades have seen both countries sinking hopelessly in the bog of hate, spending precious resources on nursing and feeding massive military machines and rogue non-state actors. At whose expense? The people of course. Majority on both sides, thanks to an increasingly connected world, refuses to be an actor in this horrid tale of hate. They want to meet their neighbours, talk to them, eat with them, play with them and most importantly understand them. Pakistan has one of the largest youth bulges with more than 50 per cent of the population under 35. Let’s not poison our youth with a doctored sense of history for they hold the future of Pakistan in their hands.
Pakistan walked free on August 14, 1947. It now needs to run. Democracy inching forward, CPEC promising renewal and rebirth, Zarb-e Azb crushing terrorism and a middle class shaking off political slumber all indicate convalescence. These are our candles in the wind. We can’t let our past and the hate baggage take our future a hostage. And we can’t possibly let a failed security paradigm put out these candles of hope.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2016.