It should have been a big breaking story. But there was a near-complete blackout on this side of the border. The coverage was not prominent either on the other side of the frontier too. Perhaps, the story does not fit into the narratives the two neighbours pursue for their respective domestic audiences. Nevertheless, in this day and age where social media is more powerful, the story of Pakistani and Indian soldiers dancing together was bound to attract attention and even trigger debate. The venue was Russia where Pakistani and Indian troops were participating in the joint military drills under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
On the second last day of the anti-terror exercises codenamed “Peaceful Mission 2018” Indian army invited troops from the participating countries, including Pakistan, to celebrate the “India Day”. The event soon turned into a meeting ground for soldiers from both countries who were seen testing their dancing skills on Bollywood tunes. Some on social media began to question what would have happened had politicians from the two countries danced together. Their loyalty to the country would have certainly been questioned as had happened recently with former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu after he hugged Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Sidhu faced tough time from his countrymen, who described his act as treacherous.
Despite hostility at the government level, the fact remains that people of both countries by and large go along nicely with each other. And this is true even in the case of men in uniform. For years, Pakistan and Indian troops have been part of the UN peacekeeping missions and they go about their business without any hassle. However, unfortunately that private bonhomie is rarely reflected in our bilateral ties. The reasons are obvious. The two neighbours have a long history of bitter relationship because of the unresolved disputes, including longstanding Kashmir. But the question is for how long the two neighbours would avoid each other and how long the people of the two countries would be held hostage to the false egos of their respective governments.
Today, relations between the two countries have reached a level where media would feel reluctant to run stories that may give some positive vibes. But someone somewhere has to break that logjam. Pakistan has a new government. Prime Minister Imran Khan has already offered an olive branch to India for restarting the dialogue process. The good news is that for the first time in many years, Pakistan has a Prime Minister who enjoys the backing of all state institutions. The unprecedented welcome given to him during his visit to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi was seen as refreshing change. The top brass standing in queue and saluting the elected Prime Minister was not an ordinary event. He was also seen presiding over the meeting at the GHQ, something his predecessors could only wish for. The icing on the cake is that the Army Chief stated in categorical terms that the armed forces like other state institutions are bound to follow the elected government. Some may say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. However, let’s not doubt the intention of the Army Chief and take his statement at its face value. The newly-elected Prime Minister has a historic opportunity to take some of the difficult decisions. India must take him seriously when he offered a hand of friendship. Unlike, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Khan is seen as someone who cannot betray and compromise on the national interest. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also enjoys the same status in his country. This may present a glimmer of hope for the two countries for a new beginning. But for now, we must applaud the dance performance of our men in uniform.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2018.