There are always ups and downs in relationships between two neighbouring countries: they fight, negotiate for peace, and finally resolve their differences. To normalise relations, culture plays an important role. Music, dance, theatre, and literature create mutual understanding and reduce political tension. It brings people closer without any interference of the ruling classes. As far as Indo-Pakistan relations are concerned, sadly, they have seen more downs than ups, more hostility than friendship, and more politics that cultural exchange.
It is not the interest of political parties, especially religious parties to have good relations with India. Hostility with India provides an opportunity to politicians to exploit the emotions of people on such issues which are not resoluble and to create bitterness against India in order to obtain popularity. Religious parties oppose such relationship as they are threatened by the invasion of ‘the Hindu culture’ in the shape of films, music, and other cultural entertainment. It is their policy to keep the country pure and protect it from pollution of irreligious trends.
Neither the media people nor the film industry have any interest in cultural exchange between the two countries. There is a ban on screening Indian films in public cinemas although the CDs of all Indian films are available widely and people watch them without having any sense of hostility. The Indian TV channels are banned on the pretext of their anti-Pakistan propaganda. There are no Indian newspapers available in the market. Occasionally, some Indian publishers are allowed to bring their books to exhibit in book fairs. There are restrictions for scholars to attend academic conferences and seminars. They have to get a no objection certificate from different agencies before they can apply for and get their visa.
The majority of our intellectuals and columnists are not in favour of good relations. Urdu columnists especially write fiery columns to create hostility among people in the name of patriotism. In such an atmosphere, if some individual talks of friendship and normalising relations, they immediately accuse him/her of being an Indian agent and advise him/her to leave Pakistan and go to India.
The textbook writers are very emotional and keen to point out differences between the Hindus and the Muslims in every aspect of life. They want to keep the two nation theory alive. One of the writers has such enthusiasm in this respect that he shows the differences not only of dress, food, houses but also cites that the Hindu trees are Peepal and Bargad, while the Muslim trees are Palm and Olive. The sacred animal for the Hindu is cow, while for the Muslim it is camel. These textbooks leave no common ground between these nations to allow them to come closer culturally or historically. In our textbooks, we disown our history and the past of ancient India and begin our history form the Arab invasion of Sindh and link our past with the Muslim history of the Middle East.
Of course, our army and intelligence agencies oppose any cordial relationship. Their task is to defend not only the geographical but also the ideological boundaries of this country. In case of friendship, they would loose their importance. Supposed danger from India puts our country permanently in peril. It makes security more important than development. Hence, it is a natural corollary that the armed forces would like to keep this perception alive.
From time to time, our bureaucracy and the state representatives have meetings of foreign ministers and secretaries of foreign affairs in pleasant atmosphere. Such meetings are held under foreign pressure and always announce the opening of a new chapter in bilateral relations; unfortunately, the chapter is often closed before it can even be opened. Such meetings so far have proved to be a mere show and a drama which is played again and again without achieving any tangible results.
There is one section of society that wants to have friendly relations. They are the traders whose interest is to have markets for their goods and the Indian markets provide them with huge opportunities to sell their commodities. However, our traders are not strong enough to pressurise the state to accept their demands. They just pass resolutions in their chambers of commerce and express their willingness to trade with India without any response from the state.
As far as the people are concerned, there are those families in both India and Pakistan whose relatives live on the other side of the border. These divided families are disappearing with the passage of time. After two or three generations, the relatives have become strangers to each other. The generation that migrated is also declining with time. Still, there some old people who want to visit their cities or village before death but there are such restrictions of visa that it has become impossible to go on this simple visit to one’s ancestral city or place of birth. The ruling classes of both countries have failed to realise the pain and sorrow of these divided families. The Partition separated sister from brother and son and daughter from their parents. Sadly, some of them did not get a chance to meet each other in their life. They paid a heavy cost for independence.
Recently, the Indian government requires visa seekers to get their domestic bills and an affidavit signed by the police thana of the area and one from the headmaster of the school of their host. It simply means that there would be no visa to visit relatives. Moreover, it is an irony that both states treat each other citizens as criminal and ask them to report to police for their arrival and departure. They are allowed to visit only two or three cities. Furthermore, they are harassed by intelligence agencies on both sides.
Sadly, people of both countries have become strangers to each other. The two nation theory is becoming stronger and stronger. The people-to-people dialogue which created good will between these two countries failed to convince the ruling classes to understand the feelings and wishes of people who want to have close and friendly relations with each other.
The writer is one of the pioneers of alternate history in the country.