In the darkness of night, we lit candles to let the world see the beginning of a new chapter in the annals of India and Pakistan. Ours was the 17th pilgrimage — we have been doing it every year since 1994 — to the Attari-Wagah border this week. Today I am convinced that even though the journey is long, there is no reason to doubt that we will not be able to make the destination.
New Delhi and Islamabad are in the midst of negotiating a peace deal. Foreign secretaries and foreign ministers have met to pave the way for a summit between the prime ministers of the two countries. They are the ones to push the pace of talks which, at present, oscillate between the steps needed to eliminate terrorism and the formula that would find a common ground between India and Pakistan.
However, I do not pin much hope on governments on the two sides. They have different priorities and have locked themselves into snarls of fear and mistrust. No settlement is possible without involving the three — India, Pakistan and Kashmir. And I do not think that there is such a formula possible, although Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri claims that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have visited Islamabad to sign the agreement at Islamabad if the lawyers’ agitation in Pakistan had not come in the way.
I still hope for an agreement and my optimism is due to the response by the ever-increasing number of people who attended Attari-Wagah border event and raised the slogan: “Long Live India-Pakistan Dosti”. This time, it was a sea of humanity. Nearly 200,000 people had come to the border to participate in the function where we talked of peace and friendship and where we heard the leading singers of India and Pakistan displaying their skill.
The most heartening and somewhat surprising aspect was the presence of the Pakistanis right at the border to exchange candles and to raise the slogan of friendship jointly between the two countries. Never before had the Pakistanis come to the zero point at the border, sometimes because of government pressure, sometimes because of threats by Islamic parties and sometimes because of mere diffidence.
Happily, I find that a group of Pakistanis has come up to dare the anti-Indian opinion makers in their country. They have braved more difficulties than us because theirs is still a military-blessed civil government. We too got threats from the saffron crowd but the democratic structure in India strengthened us in our resolve to span the distance between the two countries.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a sane voice in Pakistan, has said that person-to-person contact should continue as it was linked with peace and prosperity. He said both Pakistan and India competed with each other in defence, due to which Pakistan was lagging behind in infrastructure, health and development. India’s poverty is also linked with too much expenditure on defence.
The media on the Indian side was once again caught napping. For it, thousands of people shouting for peace and thousands from the other side lending their voice to the demand for friendship does not make news. Most newspapers and TV networks suffer from prejudice against Pakistan, which they have had for years. Have they ever considered consequences of Pakistan disintegrating or going under the Taliban?
It was Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, leading a government of the Bharatiya Janata Party which still thrives in disseminating hatred, who wrote in the visitors’ book at Minar-e-Pakistan — the place where the resolution for the formation of Pakistan was adopted in 1940 — that India’s integration and prosperity was dependent on the integration and prosperity of Pakistan. The process of peace can be accelerated if this is understood both at New Delhi and Islamabad. There is no alternative to friendship between the two nations.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2011.