It was my first time at the LitFest and the principal session I had been invited to speak at was titled “Love Thy Neighbour”. I began my intervention by pointing out that the full Biblical quotation was, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, and, in that light, my main argument in favour of better relations between the two countries was not the good it would do Pakistan or, indeed, the benefit this would yield to both countries, but the indispensability of a viable relationship with Pakistan to enable India to consolidate the post-Partition nationhood of our country. For, I went on to explain, so long as relations between our countries continued to be as bad as they have been since we became independent, there would remain a salience, in at least some Indian minds, between hostility towards Pakistan and hostility towards our own Muslims.
The number of our Muslims, I stressed, almost equaled and, indeed, by some estimates, even exceeded the number of Pakistani Muslims. While the creation of Pakistan in 1947 had led to virtually complete ethnic cleansing in the West, in East Pakistan, there had been slow bleeding that swelled from a trickle and then to a flood of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan. Then came the Partition of Pakistan in 1971. The two Partitions, taken together, meant that, in the end, it was not so much a Partition of India as a Partition of Muslims that had left them in three different countries whose relations with each other remained bitter and divisive. In consequence, where from an undivided India a united voice of 600 million Muslims might have arisen, internecine disputes between the three countries left the world focusing on the disputes and ignoring the numerical strength of this important community.
Yet, the fact remained that, as far as India and her Muslims were concerned, it was as impossible to conceive of India without Islam in the 21st century as it was to conceive of Islam without India. I said it was with pride that I could point to the very substantial integration of Indian Muslims with the mainstream of India’s nationhood. Indeed, our principal youth icons at present were Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and AR Rahman, all of them proud Muslims and proud Indians. Yet, hostile India-Pakistan relations made it possible for some demented Indians to tell Shah Rukh to go to Pakistan, Salman to go to Pakistan, Saif to go to Pakistan, Aamir to go to Pakistan, and Rahman to go to Pakistan, merely because these fringe elements disagreed with something or other that these defining Indians of our day had said.
More seriously, I added, far too often, Indian Muslims were denied their right to identity, their right to security, their right to equality, their right to freedom of expression, their right to property, and their right to equitable opportunity because India-Pakistan hostility translated in some minds into distrust, dislike or even hostility towards our major minority community. Therefore, a key step towards removing the religious label from the label of nationality – the quintessence of secularism – would be to make a determined and sustained effort at reconciling differences between the two countries.
I then said I believed a via media could be found for three principal reasons. First, Kashmir. While at Simla in 1972, Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had agreed that a final settlement of J&K would be sought through bilateral talks, all subsequent attempts at holding a dialogue had proved fitful and transient. Then, in Islamabad in January 2004, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf had initiated a process that enabled Dr Manmohan Singh and Musharraf to supervise a sustained back-channel dialogue on precisely this most difficult and complex issue over a three-year period (2004-07) that resulted in a four-point formula unilaterally made public by the Pakistan President. There were still a few Ts to be crossed and Is to be dotted, but by the time Musharraf’s effective term ended, it had been undeniably demonstrated that even Kashmir was resolvable.
Second, terrorism. The very framework devised by Vajpayee and Musharraf recognized the fact of cross-border terrorism and the Head of the Pakistan state pledged his government to not allowing Pakistani territory to be used for launching terror attacks against India. Yet, terror attacks had repeatedly taken place and were singularly responsible for disrupting any attempt at dialogue. Two individuals and their organizations had been principally responsible for repeatedly violating the agreed framework for dialogue: Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Masood Azahar of the Jaish-e-Mohammed. However, just a few days prior to the LitFest, as many as 1,800 maulvis had issued a fatwa at the instance of the Pakistan government declaring that, in terms of the Koran sharif, the Hadith and the Sharia, only the state can launch ‘jihad’, and no individual or organization is entitled to do so of its own accord. The two principal hold-outs who refused to sign the fatwa were the same Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar who have been targeting India. Therefore, India and Pakistan find themselves, in a sense, on the same platform in acknowledging the damage inflicted on the dialogue process by these two individuals. Could we not leverage that to end terrorism and promote bilateral dialogue?
Third, I said, the civil-military relationship in Pakistan that hung like a shadow over any attempt at dialogue between the democratically elected governments of the two countries. I had learned at the Festival, I said, from some very well-informed Pakistani intellectuals of my acquaintance, that a significant sociological transformation was taking place, particularly in Pakistan Punjab. Whereas earlier, there was a close nexus between the domineering military and the feudal overlords who ran the province (and, thus, the country), the emergence of a series of industrial hubs all over Pakistan Punjab had significantly reduced the vice-like feudal grip of large land-owners over the electorate and this, in turn, had led to the emergence of an urban and semi-urban bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie that had no connection with land or the military, but only with capital and technology. This emerging class had no sympathy with the landlord-military nexus that for decades had defined the political landscape of the country. And it was this that accounted for Pakistan being on the verge of its third successive democratic elections and the apparent disinclination of the military to take on an overtly political role, however influential they remained behind the scenes. This had also facilitated the emergence of a relatively independent judiciary. If, I said, this analysis held water, then conditions appeared promising to facilitate a meaningful direct dialogue between the two democracies.
Thus, I concluded, the time was propitious to take up what, for the past two decades, I have been calling an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue. I believe this is feasible, I believe this is desirable. And I believe that we must frontally take on the most difficult issues as the priority, as Dr. Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf had so courageously and dramatically demonstrated. My parting shot was, “I love Pakistan because I love India”.
There was an explosion of applause in the audience. I was able to play the same theme at two other events in which I was asked to take the floor: the release of Shahryar Khan’s book on the dynasty that ruled Bhopal, and my key note address at the valedictory session. But the most satisfactory moment for me was being asked to participate in a discussion on a book by a former Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (the equivalent of our RBI) titled “Governing the Ungovernable”. I left it to my fellow-panelist, Dr. YV Reddy, former acting Governor of RBI, to speak on the substance of the book (that he had actually read cover-to-cover – and a magnificent job he did of that), while I put it to the audience that the only way of governing the ungovernable was by empowering them to govern themselves. I then took the audience through the evolution of Panchayat Raj in our country. I had not expected much audience interest but was delighted with the response I received.
Over that all-too-brief weekend, I have received hundreds of hugs and plenty of kisses firmly implanted on my cheek, not to mention what seemed to be about a zillion selfies with friends of long standing and scores of new acquaintances, men and women, young and old, but mostly young – the post-Partition generation for whom being Pakistani is a self-evident fact that does not need defining as “I am a Pakistani because I am not an Indian”, as was the case with those who had been Indian before they became Pakistanis. That was the generation that went mad between 1965 and 1971, screaming with their most popular leader ever, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, “We will fight a thousand-year war with India”. The present generation of Pakistanis yearns for a thousand years of peace with India. That is why all Pakistani political parties (with the exception of the largely irrelevant Jama’at-e-Islami) have been pledging themselves publicly to working for peace with India in the last two elections and perhaps will do so again in the forthcoming 2018 elections. Should we not be listening?
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)
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