First Person | Peace and Poetry

India-Pakistan need more than that for a lasting resolution of outstanding issues

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

If indeed evidence was needed, the recent fiasco of the Indian Premier League (IPL), laid bare the volatility of India-Pakistan relationship. Just when a new peace anthem was being sung, artists from Pakistan were visiting India and seminars on peace being organised, creating an overall illusion of goodwill and harmony, came the incident of IPL buying of cricket players for teams owned by Indian industrialists and film stars and in one swift swoop knocked the bonhomie out of the way. None of the Pakistani players on offer were picked up by the Indian teams prompting the government of Pakistan to return the favour in kind by cancelling the visit of Pakistani parliamentarians to India. Such is the sensitivity on both sides that even on an issue like cricket the governments have to join in the cacophony.

But then, that is the truth about India and Pakistan, where everything is in the realms of government. People can only hope for peace, and they have done so in the last 60 years (after all, people don’t wage wars), but only the government can enforce it. Those who use the example of Germany and the European Union forget that the overwhelming will of the people did not prevail; it was enforced by the respective governments. People’s power can only do so much, after that the governments step in, to repress or resolve.

However, taking one thing at a time, even the so-called desire for peace among the people of both countries is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, everyone wants peace. There is not a single person who says that he or she prefers violence over peace. But the question is, peace at what cost? This is where the distinction between the people of India and Pakistan comes: The price that either of us is willing to pay for peace. The truth is none wants to pay a price that will cause even a short-term unease or subsuming of ego.

The interesting thing about Indo-Pak ties is that peace is an over-hyped constituency among the people. It lacks candour and consistency, which is why, during the immediate aftermath of 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, people on both sides (including the media) were urging their governments to wage a war to teach the other side a lesson. Sure, there was shock in Pakistan initially, but no sooner the clamour of taking action against Islamabad grew in India (that was the least we could do given that we were the victims) the people in Pakistan also joined in with eye-for-an-eye comments.

Because there is no honesty among the people on the two sides, they cannot relentlessly pursue peace, and fatigue sets in pretty fast. Which is why, the whole people to people initiative is a bit of a sham. When Indians say that we are victims of terrorism, the Pakistanis join in saying that even we are victims of terrorism. This makes for a comfortable drawing room talk, with the lilting strains of Mehdi Hasan thrown in the background, but is this the recipe for resolving differences? Seriously not. Indians are victim of terrorism because Pakistan is the perpetrator, but the Pakistani people are victim not because of India. There is a world of difference in our victimhood. And this difference would determine what kind of peace we can have.

To my mind, the only kind possible between the two countries is official peace. And the road to that runs through Kashmir. A case in point is the ceasefire on the Line of Control. Since the government of Pakistan wills it, it holds. Hence, when the government of Pakistan, whether the uniformed or the sherwani variety, insist that Kashmir is the core issue; it is. No amount of trade, resolution of Siachen, Sir Creek or Wullar Barrage will change that reality. Even resumption of dialogue would mean little if it does not put Kashmir on the table in substantive, forward-going way. And the utopian dream of fighting terrorism together would remain just that.

Like ballads of love, poetry of peace has a haunting, wistful quality to it. It touches the heart-strings like no other sensation, which is why the strains of cross-border love move one deeply. But what is the surprise in this. After all, that is one of the purposes of literature. Unfortunately, politics of India-Pakistan belongs to the crude realms of the bazaar, where refinement of poetry, art and music are forbidden. Therefore, before we start releasing the doves, a reality check may be in order. Will we still sing the same songs if there is another attack on mainland India?


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