By Kuldip Nayar (Nation,Lahore)
A seminar took me to Lahore. The topic was: Rapprochement between India and Pakistan. Among the participants were scholars and retired diplomats from Germany and France. Their experience of striking friendship after hundreds of years of war was their input. They argued that certain members of the government elite had to undergo a personal “conversion.” Public opinion followed later.
With India and Pakistan, it is different. Bureaucrats who formulate and execute policy for a détente between the two countries are “mindset” and they are far from converted. The initiative has been by the people. Whatever progress has been made to lessen tension, it is because of them. They, too, have their eyes fixed on how France and Germany reached the equation.
This example was cited by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammed Ali Jinnah two years before the creation of Pakistan. He came to the Law College at Lahore where I was studying. In reply to a question expressing fear over the hostility between Hindus and Muslims, he said, “Some nations have killed millions of each other’s and yet an enemy of today is a friend of tomorrow. That is history.”
I find his prophecy coming true when I see people-to-people contact not only spreading but also strengthening. Yet the attitude of the bureaucracy and politicians on both sides leaves me cold. That a visa is hard to get is no more a news. The news is that the intelligence agencies are the ultimate arbiter.
One glimmer of hope is that India has proposed to Pakistan to abolish visa for people above 65. Islamabad, which had once rejected the proposal, is reconsidering it after the advent of the new government. Still, the grievance of New Delhi is that it is doing its best but Islamabad is not cooperating. Indian High Commission at Islamabad claims that it issued more than one lakh visas last year as against Islamabad’s 35,000.
However adamant the governments on both sides are, the people will make a difference to the sterile exercise that both sides go over periodically. The world is replete with examples where people have forced events. Poland is thousands of miles away from the subcontinent. Yet, this European country has a lesson for people living in the two countries. Europe asserted itself against the dictation of who will meet whom and under what circumstances, the practice in India and Pakistan. The common man was only a tool in the hands of some faceless Communist party bureaucrats wanting to control him.
Suddenly, from among the people rose an ordinary worker – with the same failings as others – to ignite the desire to overcome individual differences and stand together to defeat those who furrowed separateness. This man was Lech Walesa, head of the ship workers’ union at Gdansk and later the first president of a free Poland. To the world he gave an idea, the idea that people who join hands for a common cause are a power to be reckoned with. They can remove any impediment, any wall and any border.
Before I crossed into India, after travelling some 250 kilometres in a jeep from my hometown, Sialkot, on September 13, 1947, I saw a column of Muslims coming from India stopping near us, outside Lahore. None spoke – neither them nor us. But we understood each other; it was a spontaneous kinship. Both had seen murder and worse; both had been broken on the rack of history; both were refugees. The emotional bonds between peoples of the two countries had not died even after the holocaust when at least one million people were killed and 20 million uprooted.
After staying for some time on the outskirts of Lahore, they went their way and we ours. I told myself that someday we must create conditions where we could meet, the friends I had left behind or their children. I do not like gates at the border, nor barbed wires.
A candlelight vigil at the Wagah border or a busload of women from Lahore to Delhi, or a lorry of passengers travelling between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar are by themselves not great events. But they signify the breaking of a crust of hostility between the two countries. A composite dialogue or confidence building measures may be overused phrases. But what they mean is that the era of hostilities is over and the era of sitting across the same table has come. The basic problem between the two countries is how to have faith and confidence in each other.