Walking the Tightrope

Ultimately, Kashmir holds peace to ransom

Ghazala Wahab

Nearly 10 years ago, when terrorism was at its peak in Jammu and Kashmir, a friend was working on a US-sponsored research project with a Pakistan partner, whom we can call Sajjad for the sake of convenience, Both were journalists: both were Punjabis (it probably means more in Pakistan than it does in India); loved the Hindi films of the Sixties and Seventies; thought Dev Anand was the most stylish actor even and S.D. Burman the best music director: agreed that while Ghulam Ali was more populist, Mehdi Hasan was a class apart; and believed that those who don’t enjoy a drink in the evening are not to be trusted. In the distant US, far from the Indo-Pak reality, the friendship grew instantly. One evening, the drink got a little too much, the songs became a little too gregarious and my Indian friend slapped his Pakistani friend on his back saying. “Why wouldn’t we share the same interests? After all, we are the same people.”

Sajjad’s hand, poised to take another swig, froze in mid-air. Pushing away his Indian friend he burst out vehemently, “No, we are not one people. We like one another but we are different people from different countries. Why is it so difficult for Indians to understand that Partition was a reality? India and Pakistan are two sovereign nations.” The evening was spoilt, and the friendship lost the warmth which kindled it in the beginning. For the rest of the year, they confined themselves to work and occasional meetings in the evening, but always ensuring that some American friends accompanied them. Towards the end of the fellowship, in a moment of candidness, Sajjad, fortified by a couple of drinks, said, “Many people like me fear that India does not recognise Partition as a reality. It hopes to repudiate it one day. Indians keep making these reference that just as the Berlin wall was pulled down by emotional and enthusiastic Germans on both side of the border, the same would happens here. But it is not going to happen, We just have to accept that and move on.” What Sajjad admitted had more than a grain of truth. Former prime minister of India. I.K. Gujral says, “Kashmir is not the core issue, the main problem is Indo-Pakistan relations.” Similar thoughts are echoed by Imtiaz Alam, editor, South Asian Journal based in Pakistan. He writes, “More than Kashmir, Indo-Pak relations remained a hostage to the enmity generated by the Partition. It is the liberation of Indo-Pak relations from the captivity of hostility that can create a soil of mutual confidence, strengthened by mutually beneficial cooperation across South Asia and beyond, that can help overcome historically rooted disputes in a process of reconciliation.”

This irreconcilable truth has defined the 50-year-long protracted history of the two countries, which have fought three full-fledged wars (two over Kashmir) and one localised war in Kargil. The two nations are currently involved in an ongoing war in Siachen and a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir for the last 15 years. But absence for war has not always translate into good will and lasting peace. Tensions have always simmered between the countries with common history, culture and to some extent, interests, Despite having divided families on both sides, travel across the border has never been simple. Even before the freeze on relations following the 13 December 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and 10-month-long mobilisation for war by India, both Pakistani and Indian travellers were required to report their presence at the local police stations. Today, trade between the two countries is less than one per cent of their international business. Officially, India and Pakistan have an annual trade of around $200 million, but exports through third countries total nearly $1 billion. The saving grace is that the long period of strife has often been interrupted by brief speels of peace and heightened sense of camaraderie.

The summer of peace and goodwill is upon us once again. There has been a spate of delegations from both sides of the divide. Parliamentarians have been enthusiastically crossing over the Wagah border; businessmen have been flying in to meet their counterparts in Delhi hoping that the season of friendship continues so that the trade between the two countries can grow; Pakistani parents are bringing in their children for medical treatment and making the front page of the Indian newspapers; musicians, actors, artists, designers, models are vigorously taking advantage of the sudden warmth that has crept in the blow hot blow cold relationship of the two countries. After talking about ‘fighting to finish’ and total annihilation, the politicians on both sides have started spouting love poetry. Farmer Prime Minister Vajapyee offered a list of CBM to Pakistan in October 2003, which they initially rejected. Subsquently, Pakistan came up with its own list which included most of the Indian CBMs but with their own riders. In November, President Musharraf announced a ceasefire on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and after much procrastination Prime Minister Vajpayee decided to meet Musharraf one to one on the sidelines of the SAARC, summit in Islamabad in January 2004, Such was the significance of the meeting that the sidelight became the main event and the fact that the South Asian countries finally signed an agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) got buried in the sudden blossoming of Indo-Pak friendship. In a joint statement, the two leaders expressed hope that ‘the positive trends set by the Confidence Building Measures would be consolidated.’ The meeting between the two leaders was followed by a meeting between the two foreign secretaries a few weeks later where they spelt out a time-table for the talks and also the subjects that were to form part of it. The talks were to begin with nuclear and military CBMs in May end. However, following the change of government in India they have been postponed till June-2004, when the foreign secretaries meet again to discuss Kashmir, peace, and security, including terrorism. By July, negotiations would start on such issues as the Siachen glacier, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project and the demarcation of the boundary at Sir Creek, Economic, Social, intellectual and cultural issues are also supposed to figure in these talks.

So far so good. The trouble is, unlike nuclear and military CBMs, non-military CBMs have a habit of hitting dead-ends. One of the primary reason for that is the lack of trust between the two countries. Pakistan fears that non-military CBMs have the potential of putting the Kashmir issue in the cold storage. India has been pushing for them for precisely the same reason. Hence, political, economic, and social CBMs have figured sporadically in talks between the two countries since 1960 when they negotiated a treaty on Indus River to end the dispute on Indus water sharing, but have not made any headway. Among the most prominent of these CBMs has been easing of Visa and trade restrictions; allowing better access to pilgrims on either side; a hotline between the two prime ministers (this happened briefly during Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto’s tenure in 1989); agreement on Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project; demarcation of the boundary at Sir Creek and more cultural, intellectual, and educational exchanges between the two countries.

This time however, there seems to be greater hope of success because this is the first time the two countries have decided to link official level talks with high level political meeting in a specific time frame. If all goes well, the two foreign ministers will meet in August to review the peace process. Hopes have also been raised by mellowing down of public pronouncements of former Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf. The K-word, however, looms large. Pakistan foreign minister recently tried to temper down the soaring enthusiasm by saying that, “Let us remember, it is a composite dialogue. Lots of things are interlinked.” This clearly implies that if Pakistan perceives that there is not enough forward movement on the Kashmir issue it would drag its feet on other issues. Worse, things may spiral back to the pre-ceasefire time in Kashmir. A pointer to this can be found in the scheduling of talks at the moment. Meeting on non-nuclear and non-military talks have been scheduled after the secretaries have tested water on such tricky issues as Kashmir and cross border terrorism.

A usually happens in conflict situations, Indo-Pak relations have also spawned private industries of their own: Track II and Track III diplomacy. While the former comprised retired bureaucrats, out of job politicians and self-styled analysts with some leverage within the government, the latter refers to people to people contact which usually help in building atmospheric. Sustained by the Western countries, Track II industry in India and Pakistan grew in the Nineties with such people as M.K. Rasgotra, I.K. Gujral, Muchkund Dubey, A.M. Khusro and Kuldip Nayar leading the Indian side and Niaz A. Naik, K.M. Arif, Abdus Sattar and Sardar Ahmed on the Pakistani side. Largely focussed on Kashmir, these people have been meeting regularly all over the world to float various theories for the Kashmir solution which are basically informal suggestions to the governments of India and Pakistan. Among the formulas floating around have been the Chenab formula, the acceptance of Loc as a permanent border, partition of Kashmir on religious and linguist lines and the Neelam Valley formula. Bothe governments have shown inclination towards some formula or the other but have not agreed on any one of them.

Lt. Gen. A.M. Vohra (retd) who has been involved in track II diplomacy for over a decade concedes that it has achieved only marginal success and that too only in creating some kind of awareness among the people on both sides. He says, “On my recent visit to Pakistan a couple of month ago, I felt that there was an increasing desire for peace among the people, with more and more realising that economy should override contentious issues. Yet, Kashmir remains the central issues.” Ayesha Javed Akram, a journalist based in Pakistan, scoffs at the possibility of economy side lining contentious issues. According to her, “Whose economy are we talking about? Once WTO comes into play and trade restrictions between Pakistan and India are lifted, Indian’s consumer goods are going to flood the markets in Pakistan. India is far ahead of us in terms of cheaper labour costs and better-quality control. We are hardly in a position to compete with them on those grounds so while economics may override contentious issues as far as the Indians are concerned it is not likely to be that way for Pakistan.”

Sceptics in India add that Pakistan would not want to move forward on non-military CBMs primarily because the people of Pakistan would then see the stark difference between the two countries. They would be exposed to the economic and political developments of India and hence would start questioning their own leadership. But optimists still carry a candle for peace. They feel that history should not come in the way of future. “The current environment is ideal for India to announce a few unilateral CBMs, like relaxing Visa policies, discarding police verification for travellers, allowing visitors to visit more than one city during their trip, allowing pilgrims and other to get instant short duration Visa on arrival to India among other things. This is going to increase the constituency for peace in Pakistan and it would be under pressure to reciprocate,” says a peacenik who is a regular on Indo-Pak seminar circuit.

Noble sentiments notwithstanding, it is clear that hope is walking a tightrope. Right now, only time would tell if the mansoon this year would bring more than the sweet whiff of earth.


Heart to Heart

In the winter following the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998, Pakistani poet Ahmed Faraz came to Delhi for a Mushaira (Urdu poetry reciting session). Given the state of relations between the two countries it was not clear till the last minute if he would be able to make it. He not only made it, he made a point too. He recited a poem on friendship which made a strong comment on the misery and misfortune the two countries had imposed on their people because of their warmongering.

So ab yeh haal huya is zindagi ke sabab/tumhare paaon salamat rahe na hath mere/Naa jeet jeet tumhari naa haar haar meri/naa koi saath tumhare naa koi saath mere (The result of years of war-mongering has been that neither your legs are intact nor my hands. Neither you enjoyed a pure victory nor I ever a pure defeat, none support you today just as non-support me). He concluded the poem by saying:

Tumhare des main aaya hoon doston abkelsaaz-o-nagme ki mehfiul naa shaayri ke liye/Agar tumhari anaa hi ka hai sawaal toh phir/chalo main haath badhata hoon dosti ke liye (I have come to our country this time, not for soirees or poetry sessions. If it’s only a question of your ego, then I extend my hand for friendship). Noted Indian poet Sardar Jaffri, who wasn’t present at the Mushaira but read the poem sub sequently responded to it by an equally warm poem welcoming Faraz’ friendly gesture. Jaffri, in any case, has been a big votary of friendship with Pakistan. His famous poem. Guftagu band naa ho, baat se baat chale, (Talks should never end, let one thing lead to another) has often been quoted in relations to Indo-Pak peace talks.

The fact that these poems tumble out even as the politicians on both sides talk war speaks volume about the relationship between the people of the two countries. Clearly, for many people the ghosts of Partition have been truly buried. But these voices have often got lost in the cacophony of hatred and mistrust that has defined Indo-Pak relations since Independence. However, peace seems to be the flavour this summer. And it shows in the spurt of people to people contact between the two countries. The mother of all CBMs was the recent tour of Pakistan by Indian cricket team to play test and one day international matches after a hiatus of over a decade. Traditionally, Indo-Pak cricket has been more about war than sport. More than the players, the spectators and cricket fans have believed that Kapil Dev and Javed Miandad have to settle matters of life and death on the pitch. Riots are known to have broken out following cricket matches. But 2004 was different. The matches seemed so much like friendly matches that they spawned rumours about being fixed to create an atmosphere of bonthomie. The Pakistani fans supported Indian team as much as they supported the home team, with some waving Indian flags. Then reports came of how Indian bowlers, Ashish Nehra and Zahir Khan, were taking bowling tips from Wasimbhai (Akram). As if that was not enough, Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar took Ashish Nehra for a spin in his Mercedes in his hometown. Indians who had gone there to cheer the home team came back raving about Pakistani hospitality, warmth, cuisine, and parties with an innovative BYB concept (Bring Your Booze). Kapil Dev, farmer captain the Indian cricket team says cautiously,

“The cricket series has made a lot of difference But sports can only build bridges; finally it is the politicians who have to cross them. The situation is very tricky at the moment; we can only hope that it holds.”

Films are also doing a somersault. From the raving anti-Pakistani films with such dialogues as doodh mangoge to Kheer denge, Kashmir mangoge to cheer denge, filmmakers are now going in an overdrive to whip up ‘love Pakistan’ sentiment. Farah Khan scored a first of sorts with her film Main Hoon Naa starring Shah Rukh Khan. The film celebrates Indo-Pak friendship and couldn’t have come at a better time. Filmmakers who had launched war films with an excessive anti-Pakistan sentiment are now running for cover. They are either trying to tone down the rhetoric or make changes in the characterisation. For instance, filmmaker Raman Kumar’s film Sarhad Paar, starring Sanjay Dutt is going for such cosmetic changes. In the film Dutt plays a prisoner of war who returns to India but loses his memory owing to the torture he suffered in Pakistan. Geven that the film was nearly ready when the two governments suddenly started talking love Kumar could do precious little to save his film. Hence, enters one positive Pakistani side of the story in the film. Another filmmaker Anil Sharma who is known for hysterical Pak-bashing in his films (Sunny Deol-starrer Gadar being one of them) has now been forced to tone down the rhetoric in his latest Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar starrer Ab Tumhare Hawaale Waatan Saathiyon; though iit was less because of Indo-Pak bonhomie and more because Akshay Kumar refused to mouth anti-Pak dialogues as he has a huge fan following in Pakistan.

Many filmmakers are also starting films with Pakistani actors. While Mahima Chaudhary is working in Dobara, which sees Pakistani actor Muammar Rana do a guest appearance, Mahesh Bhatt has started a film, Nazar with Pakistani actress Meera. He is also planning to make a film set during Partition where a Muslim saves a Hindu girl. “However the bigger challenge is Lal Haveli, which is based on a real story,” say Bhatt, who wants to shoot the film in Lahore. “I am still waiting for the clearances to come through,” he says. That apart, Pakistan’s Sajjad Gul of Ever New Pictures has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Indian producer Ashok Khemka to jointly produce a film called Ek Filmmakers like Satish Kaushik, Saawan Kumar Tak and actors like Suniel Shetty are also planning to make joint Indo-Pak films. Efforts are also on the ensure release of Indian films in Pakistan.

The current state of bonhomie notwithstanding, Indian and Pakistan artists have been performing on the same stage for years. They have been crossing borders for concerts and shows. Even at the height of tensions when Indian artists could not go to Pakistan, the shows were held in Dubai. Besides, Pakistani singers and musicians have been performing in Indian films just as Indian singers have sung in Pakistan films though their names didn’t figure in the credits because of the tension between the two countries. Says filmmaker and designer Muzaffar Ali, “Pakistani sufi singer Abida Parveen has been coming to Jashn-e-Khusro which I organise every year, for many years now. Even when there were no air or train links, she travelled nine hours via Dubai to come to India.” Ironically, Pakistan seldom reciprocated these gestures of inviting Indian artists to Pakistan which led to a few Indian singers, led by Kagjit Singh and Abhijeet, to demand a ban on Pakistani artists in India. The demand, however, didn’t find many supporters in India.

The situation has changed now Suddenly Indian artists are finding them selves with multiple invitations to perform in Pakistan. Sonu Nigam escaped a bomb blast on his arrival in Pakistan but that did not deter him from performing there. In a stage show, actress Shilpa Shetty danced holding Indian and Pakistani flag and concluded her number by kissing the Pakistani flag. Kathak danseuse Uma Sharma is just back form Pakistan after four dance recitals, two each in Lahore and Islamabad.

“I few from Delhi and was in Lahore in 45 minutes,” she gushes. “The people there loved me and want me to come back for another performance in Karachi. A lot of Pakistani children told me that they want to learn kathak from me. In fact, once boy is coming to Delhi to learn from me. I have already spoken to Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to grant him a scholarship,” she says, Pakistani children have been coming to India, even when the relations were sour through the circuitous Dubai route, for heart surgeries. In the latest CBMs offered by India. The government actually offered free medical treatment for 20 Pakistani children.

But sceptics have their own problems, Despite the general air of love and friendship, the niggling doubles remain. How long will the summer last? Can people to people contact ever acquire so much importance that it can exert some pressure on both governments to talk seriously about lasting peace? Bhatt says, “There is no denying the fact that such contacts can have a rippling effect, which is why successive governments have made travel, communication and correspondence so difficult between the people, “In an obvious reference to the protest by some Indian artists against Pakistani performers. Ali says, “Artists driven by art and love can make a difference. But those who are driven by economics can further jeopardise the process.”

One cannot overemphasise the people to people contacts for the simple reason that the people from both sides have always interacted warmly with each other. And they have always refrained from bringing up the K-word in their conversations. Bhatt says, Kashmir causes the tempers to rise and friendships to sour. By making films and singing love songs together we are only attacking the branches, the roots remain intact.”

Another voice of scepticism comes from Ayesha Javed Akram, an editor with Daily Times, Pakistan, “I don’t think the people of either country ever had a problem with each other. In Pakistan, we have always been fans of Bollywood, bhel puri and Ritu Kumar. The Indians that I have met over the years have been generous in their praise of Abida Parveen and Mehdi Hasan. At the height of tensions between the two countries when the only way to travel was via Dubai, two huge Indo-Pak gatherings took place in Pakistan. The first was the Bridal Asia event in Karachi which featured Rina Dhaka, Ritu Kumar and J.J Valaya from India and the second was the launch of a daily paper which took place in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and featured talks by Arundhati Roy, N. Ram (Editor, The Hindu) and Shekhar Gupta (Editor, The Indian Express). Both these events generated a warm and encouraging response from the public here. But if people to people contact has not made a difference so far, there is not much of a chance of it doing so in the future.”

Not quite the politically correct thing to say at the moment. But the truth remains that people to people contact between the two countries has an elitist quality to them. Apart from that only people with families on either side have sentiments about Indo Pak relations. But for middle and the lower middle-class people who actually have the loudest voice when it comes to propaganda Kashmir remains a sore point. These are also the people who still nurse the Partition wounds. The number of such people on both sides remains substantial. For them, India, because of its sheer size and history, is threatening, Peace is a labour of love and calls for great sacrifices. One will just have to wait and see if the new leadership in India and the old guard in Pakistan have the capacity to accept the challenge.


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