The recent skirmishes between Pakistan and India along the Line of Control (LoC), the circumstances surrounding which are still shrouded in mystery, should have been little more than a small hiccup on the road to peace. There was certainly no need, despite the senseless and tragic deaths that accompanied it, for this to elevate to a defining moment in the rocky relationship between the two countries. To his credit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Salman Bashir, has called for a de-escalation in tensions and said that the “Pakistan-bashing” India is indulging in needs to be toned down a notch or two. Usually, when Pakistan takes a blame-India-first approach to problems, it is doing so to cover up its own misdeeds. This time, however, Mr Bashir has a reason to be worried about the rhetoric and actions emanating from India.
Among the steps taken by India to needlessly prolong the ramifications of the LoC incident are the last-minute cancellation of plays to be performed in Delhi by the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa). This followed the forced departure of Pakistani hockey players meant to take part in the Hockey India League and the cancellation of a concert by Pakistani pop singer Ali Zafar. Indian extremists are also trying to prevent our women’s cricket team from playing in the upcoming World Cup, to be played in India. Given the jingoistic nature of the reaction to the LoC incident in the Indian media, one is not surprised that what is essentially a cultural boycott has been proposed. But the Indian government should have been mature enough to nip such suggestions in the bud rather than encourage them.
There is no better way of forging peace with India than through such cultural exchanges. Essentially banning them altogether only strengthens the hand of those opposed to peace between the neighbours. It will lead to greater misunderstandings and potential to whip up nationalist sentiment in the future. Pakistan’s first cricket tour to India in five years was seen as a rousing success both on and off the field and should have opened the floodgates to greater contact. We should heed Mr Bashir’s words and separate these essential interactions from whatever political passions may be spurred by border incidents.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2013.