- The choice to make
A time bomb is ticking away in the subcontinent and the world is agape. As mediators preach caution and restraint, Pakistan and India warm up the cold war which has been freezing their ties since the last few years.
While Pakistan has offered an olive branch to India after the recent air borne tussle between the two countries, there has been no final agreement over de-escalation. Also, both are bent on proving their military prowess over each other and the atmosphere still remains tense.
Pakistan and India have remained engaged in sometimes-love-mostly-hate relationship since the time they appeared as sovereign states on the map of the world. That happened seven decades ago. And within months of the historic independence, they were at war. The reason behind this and at least one more war, as well as several clashes between the two countries, remained Kashmir, except in the case of the third war, where the field of contest was East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Almost all bone of contentions; from Kashmir to Indus Water remain unresolved to date. And with no progress in diplomatic ties, it seems the situation will persist.
There is much common between the two states. They have remained the same state for centuries until they decided to split and go separate. Not much changed in the language or the cuisine or the music or the attire. Much of the heritage, from Gandhara to Mughal, remains the same. Pakistani youngsters gush over Indian film heart throbs, while Indian crowds sway to the tunes of Pakistani musicians. But for some odd reason, it is these very films, dramas, music and artistes which come under the axe whenever ice builds over the boundaries separating one side from the other.
Thus, the cultural collaboration remains on and off. When the ice cold ties thaw, the mutual exchange as well as admiration soars. When the ties freeze up, the exchange is replaced by blockades and bans and admirations with scorn. On each side, the testing times are a further assessment of its patriotism. Any attempt to put aside differences, start afresh and continue the mingling of the arts, is seen as anti-state.
Closing doors and communication can not and will not achieve anything. For one can ban the movement of singers, but one cannot silent the tunes of music
Despite being next door neighbours, each looks on the other side or across another, to farther lands and relations. India warms up with Iran and Afghanistan, but remains hostile to Pakistan. Even with its other neighbours – Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and China, it remains lukewarm. Pakistan, with largely ‘friendship higher than Himalayas’ with China to boast of, stays at the edge of war with India, bickers much with ‘brother’ Afghanistan, and mulls over closer ties with Iran, although it still looks up to Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal for increased trade links!
These days, there is yet another commonality between the two countries: their frenzy for war. Both seem to be ever intent on the prospect of taking up arms against each other. Both possess nuclear weapons, which are enough to wipe out not only the enemy, but also themselves. For after all, it is the same land which was partitioned by Cyril Radcliffe in 1947.
It is the same people. The weightage of one religion may be different on both sides, with India displaying an overwhelmingly Hindu culture and Muslim traditions framing Pakistan’s outlook. But the Hindu customs and Muslim traditions on both sides are the same. Parsees as well as Christians live in both India and Pakistan. They both have Punjabis, Kashmiris, Sindhis, Gujaratis and Pathans. It is the same set of humans, once the same nation, which is fighting against each other.
The bitter truth is that both have not been able to escape from the ghosts of partition. The separation was inevitable, as the events had proved. But the horror which afflicted those crossing each side of the border was uncalled for. Lives were lost, materials were destroyed and souls were shattered. With broken hearts, pieces were put together and new identities were created. Yet the legacy of the past remained. Those uprooted from their ancestral homes still look back at their memories. The yearning and the mourning is the same. In yet another way, people on both sides are the same.
So when roots, memories, past and to some extent, the present, are the same, what is the fighting all about? The discord over their share of earth, no matter how complex, can reach some solution through dialogue. And disputes over water can be settled through mediation. It just requires willingness, sincerity and a solution oriented, not a problematic approach.
Closing doors and communication can not and will not achieve anything. For one can ban the movement of singers, but one cannot silent the tunes of music. You can restrict the physical movement of literature, but you cannot hold back the mental connection of words. You can place boundaries of barbed wires, stones and bricks to keep away corporeal bodies, but you cannot enslave free and spirited souls.
The tense atmosphere between India and Pakistan is not a test of patriotism. Nor should it be a test of military skills. It is a test of the present generation to see whether it repeats the mistakes its predecessors have made. The time is a test of the choices both Pakistan and India make. And the choice is clear: either drag the existing and future generations in the same atmosphere of hatred, insecurity, poverty and mistrust we have breathed in. Or let the years to come usher in an era of tranquility, progress and harmony. Let India and Pakistan live.