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Current Affairs ( 6 Apr 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indo-Pak: The Obvious Road Never Taken

By Zaair Hussain

The states, being by their nature rational entities, have no reason to forgo peace, and not only because there is no profit from war. More quality works on the economic, strategic and diplomatic values of Pak-India cooperation have been ignored than perhaps any other subject in recent history

As I wrote the bulk of this article, a humble game of cricket -- called the mother of all matches -- was bringing the Pakistani and Indian heads of government together for the first time in India since the attacks in Mumbai. The semi-final (with all due respect to Sri Lanka and New Zealand, THE semi-final) loomed just beyond the break of morning. Two nations were electrified with emotion, with excitement and nerves. You could feel it ground itself in the street, and the drawing room, and the workplace. It flashed in every conversation, on every broadcast channel, in every nervous bout of laughter. But no voice lusted after blood. There was a mob -- or rather, two mobs, across the impossibly large stretch of the subcontinent -- but they were calling for runs and wickets. Commentators and pundits from our two shockingly biased media industries came together, to snipe at each other with words. But only with words. 

And as I apply the last touches to this piece, Pakistani hearts were broken and we vowed vengeance -- the vengeance of supporting Sri Lanka, and the vengeance of "next time!" We supported and support still our team of ragtag misfits and sports pariahs, and especially our impossibly good natured and charismatic captain, Shahid Khan Afridi, who fulfilled his incredible promise of bringing a battered team to the semi-finals. All in good fun, and not in bad taste. Sometimes serious, never deadly. No fights, no broken ties. Millions across the border -- and thousands across the stands in Mohali, split into blazing green and sky blue -- had their hearts in their mouths for the best part of a day. A victory, and a loss. No harm, no foul. We make for tragic enemies, but excellent rivals.

Cricket diplomacy works because it plugs into what we have in common, what is a mad everyday passion for us. And indeed, what we have in common in our daily existence is not nearly so split as the far chasm of our abstract grievances.

We glutton ourselves on the same ridiculous fare of Bollywood movies, which often sidestep the brain and go straight to the heart through the gut. Our spices are sharp, our policemen corrupt, our politicians shady. We are fiercely devoted to our parents and yet define our adulthood in rebellion to them. We sprang from the same land and believe in the same herbal remedies, some the distilled wisdom of the ages, some of them the sort of superstitions that would make a voodoo doctor chortle.

We welcome the monsoons like an old and wild friend, and beat a tactical retreat from the advance of summer, that most terrible and regular of invasions. 

Our languages are so alike they could be twins, our English -- or more often, Minglish -- is tinted with a charming lilt that is all our own, we wear saris and kurtas and western clothes with equal aplomb, we hate colonialism but love colonial leftovers and make them our own. 

Our cities and villages have stood, in some cases, for thousands of years. Buildings from the Rajas, the Mughals and the British rub shoulders in a proud but easy stance. They are tapestries of history, each age with its own distinct thread, the whole creating something unique. 

People to people contact, what is known in the oddly dramatic language of bureaucracy as “Track-II” diplomacy, are required for both countries to move forward. This is not a matter of building bridges, but of tearing down walls. There is an important distinction. Bridges are manmade devices to knit people across a natural crevice. Walls are manmade devices to split people across a natural unity.

The states, being by their nature rational entities, have no reason to forgo peace, and not only because there is no profit from war. More quality works on the economic, strategic and diplomatic values of Pak-India cooperation have been ignored than perhaps any other subject in recent history. 

Democracy in Pakistan -- unbroken democracy, suffering as many fools as the ludicrously corrupt parties throw at us -- must be allowed its painful growth; what is good for the state may not be in the interests of the near omnipotent army, whose ideological power rests on having a blank cheque issued by the people of Pakistan, out of fear and hate for our neighbour. 

 But we are no longer tribes or city states, who have the luxury of enmity in seclusion, on a whim. Our enmity on a person to person level makes little sense, and benefits only the worst of us, the Shiv Sena and our own extremists (and their sympathisers), small men who can gain power only through spreading a hateful pack of lies that, for all the differences the groups would claim between each other, are near perfect replicas: that the "other" is unclean, impure, inhuman, that difference is enmity, that infinite violence is eternal justice, that the "they" are all the same, and that there exists no corridor, but only a line, between "with us" and "against us". 

 If we cannot be friends, let us at least do business. I do not ask anyone to open their hearts to love -- that is their own business -- but to open their minds to opportunity. 

 A basic first step has to come from the independent media of both countries, which, stunningly, are more jingoistic than their state counterparts. "The other" is a pathetically easy target, playing to the worst instincts of the domestic audience. For the most ephemeral short term gain, we do ourselves the most grievous lasting injury. They have to talk to one another, even if the conversation is pointed and jeering. 

 In the worst times, anti-other hysteria domestically reaches McCarthyism levels and liberals, who would be the balance, have the centre shift beneath their feet and are looked upon with disgust, and face accusations of unpatriotic thinking. 

 A patriotism defined by exclusion -- "I am X because I despise Y" -- is by its nature weak. A true patriot may lay down his life for his country, but never as first resort, for armed conflict beggars and butchers all, including our own, whom we claim to love. 

 All it took was a cricket match to melt our enmity and reveal the rivalry beneath. Perhaps because the borders between us, hewn out of hate, are far more fragile than our worst would have us all believe.

Source: The Times