Coming out of the Pulwama shadow

  •  ‘Not before Siachen melts’

Pulwama attack happened and hell broke loose in the subcontinent. From blame game to war hysteria, all drastic options are being furiously debated. The bitter truth is, as always, that the ground realities are being ignored, and among the chaos that prevails, there is not much sense which can be found.

It is not new that India has pointed fingers at Pakistan, holding it responsible for the terrorist activity unleashed on its soil – the very soil, which in the viewpoint of Pakistan, is disputed, and in the opinion of India, a domestic issue. That in a matter of few hours of the tragic incident, India bluntly alleged Pakistan of involvement, is itself a dubious move. What has followed is a series of vicious attitudes: Indian media is screaming hoarse to ignite the tensions at a sky high level, Indian artistes are showing their patriotism by cancelling cultural exchanges and making strong statements against Pakistan, with Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut asking to focus on “Pakistan destruction”. Indian diplomat replies Pakistani counterpart’s handshake with a curt namaste, ridiculous news of an Indian tile maker preparing tiles with Pakistani flag captioned Pakistan Murdabad appear, a Pakistani inmate in an Indian jail is murdered in a frenzy of hatred by local convicts, and the list goes on.

While Navjot Sidhu in India seems the only and rare sane voice in the deafening din of dogmatism, we see that some human touch still prevails. As India halts a key bus service with Azad Kashmir, Samjhauta Express arrives at Delhi “under Pulwama shadow”, carrying 14 Pakistani nationals. Two sisters reunite after three decades and a grandmother embraces her grandson for the first time, while a new mother returns home with her infant and a family returns from a wedding in Multan. Lives across borders remain the same, but fear, intolerance and hatred draw unseen boundaries which are higher and wider than before.

India and Pakistan talk about war as if it is a child’s game. Three wars within seven decades is not a joke and they consider more. India talks of offensives and Pakistan snaps back with defense. The nuclear powers engage in spats, although not directly, curiously ignoring the deadly technology they both have, deadly enough to wipe out both from the face of earth. So much for destruction!

From water disputes to territorial disputes, tussles between India and Pakistan are plenty. Terrorism, rocking both, is now a global issue. But throwing dirt on each other, closing doors of communication and suggesting more violence is a terrible whirlpool of disaster

But it is not the sheer number of military attacks these neighbours have used against each other. There are some other hard figures which demand attention. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 report, out of the 850 million hungry people in the world, 300 million are from India and Pakistan alone. This is despite the fact that both countries produce surplus food.

In Pakistan, nearly 25 percent of the population is living below poverty line, while Nigeria recently overtook India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor. India, although showing a remarkable decline in its poverty index ranking, still has 73 million people living in extreme poverty.

In India, 80 percent of its doctors serve only 28 percent of the population and only 20 percent have a health insurance cover. In Pakistan only around 26 percent of the population has access to state provided heath care, with the country having the third highest rate of infant mortality in the world.

And still, they talk of war. Although the missed targets of both can be achieved with mutual cooperation in areas of trade, economic and infrastructural development and yes, cultural exchange. While India and Pakistan continue to bicker and thrive on revelry for each other, the world feeds and gnaws on this very animosity for its own personal gain. Throwing away the opportunity of emerging as regional superpowers, the former colonial states prefer to either shrink back in despair or settle on struggling to achieve. “In this oppressive subcontinental atmosphere of enmity, each revels in the misery of the other, and each seeks glory in the ignominy of the other”.

From water disputes to territorial disputes, tussles between India and Pakistan are plenty. Terrorism, rocking both, is now a global issue. But throwing dirt on each other, closing doors of communication and suggesting more violence is a terrible whirlpool of disaster both countries have entered into.

Many believe that the situation, with sporadic instances of improvement, will prevail, largely to fulfil India’s objective. In a detailed essay Reversing Strategic ‘Shrinkage’, Munir Akram, who has remained a permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, writes that:

Today, India’s ambition, propelled by its self-perception and western encouragement, is to emerge as the supreme regional power and eventually a global power to rival China… to realise its regional and global ambitions, New Delhi believes Pakistan’s capacity and will to resist Indian domination must be broken. To achieve this, India is pursuing a well thought out strategy on multiple fronts”.

Recent years of India’s broken relations with Pakistan and its aggressive pursuance of ambitions seem to complement the theory presented by Munir Akram. And if it is true, it seems that India is bent to achieve its goals at the cost of regional peace; a policy not expected to prove beneficial for both countries, in the short as well as the long term.

I read an article written nearly 25 years ago in a local publication. The conclusion – a dismal supposition, is still valid. The longer it remains, the longer the shadows loom over both countries and their futures.

But do we, the South Asians, have the wisdom and the courage to wrench ourselves free from the clutches of the past? Can we rewrite our future as other nations have? Yes, indeed we can. But then, there is always that other possibility: there will be no peace and amity in South Asia, not till the hell freezes over and Siachen melts”.

Choice Before South Asia, Iqbal Jafar,

Dawn, September 1, 1997.