Pakistan and India. The unstoppable force and the immovable object. Will they ever find peace and put us all out of our misery? The mutual prisoner-killing, the assault on diplomats, the endless war drums, all of it begs the question, when does it end? Left on its own, not anytime soon. But as just half the problem, we might only resolve to extend a hand and hope to grasp theirs. The alternative, history proves, has been to lose out; lately, more than they do.
Like Pakistan, India has issues: female infanticide, Maoist guerillas, the sad state of its Muslims and rape becoming distressingly high. Unlike Pakistan, it’s working towards a long-term narrative. At home, its reforms have busted the licence Raj, thrown markets open to the world and given rise to a vibrant middle class. Abroad, we are told India Shining is a chaotic, pulsating, multicultural democracy — the world’s largest.
It’s a story that works and Pakistan’s friends subscribe. The latest Chinese premier visited Them significantly before Us. Where once Richard Nixon would row into the Bay of Bengal cursing Indira Gandhi, today’s America signs strategic deals with the Indians on one hand and hyphenates Af-Pak on the other.
With urgent crises both domestic and foreign, Pakistan can only spend so much energy on adversarial old Bharat. And the onus lies on the state. While it’s wonderful that our artists are appreciated on both sides of the border and it’s heartening to read, even for the hundredth time, the reception cricket fans get in either country, we need to stop deluding ourselves. People-to-people contact has always been warm, stems as it does from shared experience — it still translates into nothing for peace. In other forms, it hurts the cause the most.
That same shared history, on a state level, has become poison. A poison that affects water treaties and trade agreements and visa grants. A poison that brings up memories of wars and death, trains and Partition, of Khalistan and Balochistan, of the dreams of the Kashmiri people.
Further helping our history in preventing peace is the question of identity. In no small measure, thanks to what we are taught, we would be hard pressed to affirm what it is to be Pakistani without rejecting what it is to be Indian. Our leaders agree, their worldview forged by an overwhelming sense of Otherness.
Narrating a boyhood episode he’d “never forget”, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had gone “up to a man selling water and asked him for a drink. The man filled the cup, stopped and asked, ‘Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ (When I told him), the man poured the water to the ground. (…) We’re not brothers. We never have been. The Hindus have always humiliated us. Our religions,” he said, “go too deep into our souls.”
The words of a young army officer, who had escorted the last train of refugees from Babina in 1947, were as revealing: “I saw no greenery — only the mutilated bodies of men and women lying along the rail line.” When the officer finally made it to Lahore, “I realised, we were bathed in blood, but at last we were free. This,” Captain Ziaul Haq would later say, “was Pakistan.”
These admissions are not subtle. It may be a coincidence that it was between schoolboy and captain, between the men they grew up to be, that Pakistan built the bomb. It’s likelier that it was not. Nuclear war will still wreak mutual devastation after their respective contributions to peace — the Simla Agreement and cricket diplomacy — are long forgotten.
Not that we haven’t entertained the idea of a glorious atom-splitting meltdown. India’s Cold Start doctrine is a “military strategy” that will “thrust” into Pakistan in short and sharp bursts, paralysing its nuclear arsenal before it ever comes into play (a script worthy of Salman Khan). Foreign journals report that the response, in the true spirit of Pakistani improvisation, is to have built smaller warheads capable of being deployed on the battlefield. Less strategy, and more like fighting fever dream with fever dream. Better perhaps, to leave the nightmare scenarios where they belong: in our nightmares?
How can we, when our nightmares have already played out? Benazir Bhutto felt her generation, the post-Partition generation (that had never been denied water or witnessed mass murder on the rails), had the best chance to make peace, untouched as they were by the trauma of those days. Ms Bhutto underestimated the trauma of later events and how 1971 changed everything.
No one from my generation will understand 1971. Many have tried. They’ve listened to witnesses in Dhaka and spoken to broken men back home. Enough human interaction can mean reaching out and almost touching the pain, the anger, the hurt; just not feeling it. Because second-hand wounds aren’t wounds at all. Understanding 1971, what it was, what it meant, the kind of nation that inherited it, and the kind of nations it left behind, will elude us forever. Those questions may only be answered when the 1971 generation finds closure. And it’s hard finding closure to what one’s chosen to forget.
What happened afterwards, in spite of 1971 or because of it, is clear: hating what India did to Pakistan helped us forget what West Pakistan did to Pakistan.
Whether Pakistan and India are victims of their history or the cause of it is something for later generations to decide. Just as it is, those later generations that can shed the sins of the past and forgive each other. Until then, soldiers on both sides of the Wagah Border will continue stamping their feet, sacrificing their knees to crowds cheering from the sides.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2013.
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