The softer side of the arch-rivals

Set aside your differences and have a happy meal

The rivalry we have had with our far-fetched cousins (read India) is a family history of about seven decades now.

There have been many instances in this history when we have tried to resolve our matters, but have always met with uninvited calamities; the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 and the murderous rampage in Mumbai in 2008, for example.

We are constantly stuck in this tornado of misunderstandings, unresolved issues and political tension. At the cost of the other, both countries try endlessly to be on the better side of the great power, America. Yet both complain that the other is favoured more. The visit of the PM Nawaz Sharif to Washington could be to reach grounds that India has already reached, yet again proving the constant tussle.

Shiv Sena’s recent anti-Pakistan outburst has also raised many important questions.

Will the political tension never end? Is this just more propaganda or is this the current ruling party’s view? And do most Indians think the same way about Pakistan?

We are constantly stuck in this tornado of misunderstandings, unresolved issues and political tension

Because of the many unresolved matters, there are lots of travel constraints that both sides face, making it nearly impossible to have personal contact with our friends on the other side.

I got my hands on a handful of people who have travelled across this border from both sides, to see if these love-hate relationships and the recent political tension altered their views.

Bina Saeed, a Karachi housewife recalled her visit to Agra: “They could hardly figure out that I wasn’t Indian, it was only during shopping when I bargained I used my ‘I am your guest card’ and that would increase their hospitality.”

Farhat Asrar, a retired banker from Karachi visited India for his wife’s operation’

“There were a lot of pre-conceived notions when I was travelling; that my wife wouldn’t be given the best care, etc. My eyes popped out when I saw that the doctors and the nurses didn’t care where I was from. What mattered was her life, being a Pakistani was a plus point as they were extra courteous towards us,” he said.

The political views of a country do not necessarily depict its people’s views or the other way round.

Madhavi Bansal, a Public Policy student from Dehli, feels “hatred shouldn’t be there, the public display of such things is for image formation. The hatred is the root cause of that. I for one have always met good Pakistanis who are great friends. These things have not and will not alter my opinion about them.”

Programs like Aman-ki-Asha have given a boost to many non-governmental organisations in both countries, which are working hard to increase the person-to-person contacts.

One such programme is Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a collaboration of Mission Bhartiyam and The Catalyst. They work to create unwavering bonds between people, conducting workshops, peace conferences and interactive session with students.

Laraib Abid, an MPhil student, was part of their recent Global Youth Peace Festival, and has bought back many good memories from her four day trip to Chandigar.

“Those who have negative views are the ones who haven’t met people from across the border,” she said. “Having friends in India, interaction and dialogues have made it clear to me that political concerns are just controversy.”

The media role is powerful in catalysing these views and ideas. Had it played positively matters could have been different.

Indian and Pakistani expatriates around the world share lives; some are married, others are batch mates or work in the same office

Tridivesh Singh, a researcher in Jindal, explained his viewpoint.

“It is easier for the media to exploit tensions since the level of people-to-people contact is low, therefore people on both sides have wrong notions,” he said.

“The personal contact may not help in peace or resolving political issues but is helpful in removing misconceptions. Media propaganda can only be blunted if people know each other better.”

The bright side to the Shiv Sena scenario is that the portion of the society that can make a difference are free thinkers, whose mind set isn’t altered easily.

“India is a big country, a large percentage is uneducated here, and these political games are the only way to stay in power. Qualified people know they are being polarised by the political parties to gain sympathy of the innocent public,” said Hassen Chisti, from Imphal.

The task sounds pretty easy but may be a laborious one, but building personal relationships is the ultimate key to peace in the subcontinent.

Indian and Pakistani expatriates around the world share lives; some are married, others are batch mates or work in the same office. The friendship exists as personal levels. This should be expanded and many NGOs are taking such initiatives.

The childish rivalries both have in the name of patriotism or religion do not justify the cause. It is high time the cousins set aside their difference and have a happy meal.


Originally Publish in Pakistan Today

This column has been appreciated across the border too in Imphal Free Press Articles

Read the appreciation column here