The enthusiasm with which people have greeted Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza across Pakistan – perhaps most notably in Lahore where exuberance by fans led to some unfortunate unruliness – delivers an extremely clear message. It is one that is impossible to refute. Ordinary people have no issue with India or Indians, and are quite ready to take them fully to heart. Indeed, this is not the first demonstration of this warmth; nor is it reserved only for Indians who are Muslims.
We have seen it many times before: when Sikh pilgrims visit holy places, when casual visitors from across the border step into shops and, indeed, despite all the fervour of the rivalry between the two countries, when sporting teams come to play. For all the criticism directed Pakistan’s way by New Delhi, most notably since the bombings a year and a half ago in Mumbai, it is also worth noting that the generosity of spirit seems to have been displayed more keenly this side of the border where there has been no attempt to lash out at Shoaib for failing to marry a countrywoman. Sania has faced many attacks on this count in India.
The fact that two people from different sides of the border have opted to spend their lives together – while retaining their respective nationalities – should give a push to politicians. The two countries need to emulate the young couple and do as they have done. They must learn to co-exist happily, as good neighbours. The animosity that currently exists is a key factor in creating a sense of instability in the region and spurring on the terrorist threat that has had such an adverse impact on both nations.
The vexed question of Kashmir has indeed been a factor in the rise of ‘jihadi’ organisations and also in the support they have received from powerful quarters. The fact too is that this situation is unlikely to change until the issue is ironed out. The statement from former foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri that a formula for this was worked out under the Musharraf regime, and agreed on with the Indians, offers hope that we may one day see the bitter territorial dispute over the mountain valley as a piece of history rather than a present-day reality.
The people of Kashmir certainly need to live in peace and the people of both India and Pakistan could well do without the conflict that arises between their two countries as a result of what seems to be a never-ending conflict. People in both nations recognize that peace and a move towards friendship could bring many positive changes. On the economic front it could open up an era during which lives change for the better and state resources can be directed towards development; in other spheres it would offer students a chance to gain better learning, the sick to gain better care.
There can be little doubt that, just as the past of the two countries is intertwined, their future lies together. The facts of geography, history and politics make it pointless to deny this. With people who live on the other side of the border we share a common culture and a common language. It is these factors which allow people to so easily develop an affinity with each other, wherever and whenever they meet, and almost certainly played a role in promoting the Shoaib-Sania romance which has for days held two nations enthralled. We must hope the recent events, projected on an almost minute-to-minute basis by the media, will encourage the political leadership in New Delhi and Islamabad to think a little harder. There are enormous benefits to be gained by working towards peace.
The most immediate would be a reduction in the defence budgets of both countries and that would make for a decidedly safer South Asia. The much-talked-about but ever-elusive peace dividend could follow as a result and one can only begin to imagine how it could materially and tangibly transform the lives of ordinary Pakistanis and Indians otherwise indoctrinated by their civil-military establishments and mainstream education systems to hate each other.