On-Again-Off- Again

So they clicked a picture together, and they shook hands, and they released a joint statement. Two leaders of their respective countries met, sat, talked, and left.


India and Pakistan have been at it for years. Nothing much has come of their talks. They remain nuclear-armed rivals, with fingers on the trigger at all times, a hair’s-breadth from turning South Asia into a nuclear wasteland.


France and Britain have fought atrociously-long wars – so many, that they started naming them after their duration. Hence, the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, and so on before their rivalry became outsourced to the Colonies. France and Germany have fought for centuries over territorial disputes, before their rivalry ended with the end of the Second World War. European disputes were settled with wars in the past, but not so now. The destruction and death of the Second World War, especially the massive, never-seen-before civilian death toll, forced the governments of most of the countries to establish supra-national mechanisms to prevent conflict, integrate their societies, and cooperate and live together. Literally, the grandparents of the current generations of Europeans, who now have an entire continent to live and work in together, would have been shooting and killing each other. Does that happen anymore?


It is unfortunate that Indian politicians have taken to uttering the word ‘Pakistan’ as a form of abuse. No wonder that ‘Go to Pakistan’ is used in Parliament as a derogatory remark, meant to convey that ‘you do not belong here, leave.’ It is used for Muslim-bashing whenever it suits politicians. Now, with a Hindu-rightist government at the Centre, it is easy to throw this term about – so Pakistan, the label and Pakistan, the country are used for local political purposes as the moment demands. Pakistan is the place for beef-eaters. It is also a ‘neighbouring country’ that has resorted to ‘terrorism’ because it is weak. It is also a country against whom India fights ‘terrorism with terrorism.’ When it suits the moment, it is also the country whose Prime Minister deserves a felicitation call on Ramadan. And when international fora beckon, a country whose Prime Minister India can talk to.


India and Indian politicians need to take lessons from Europe, and also nearer, the ASEAN nations, who have successfully put centuries of bickering behind them, and closely cooperated with each other to make the lives of their citizens better by establishing peace. The lives of hundreds of millions of people have been held hostage to the final, peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue.


Both countries need to go beyond local, micro-managed politics and see the bigger picture. The potential for trade, tourism, and transport are immense. Billions of dollars worth of merchandise can be traded across the borders, millions of people can travel across the borders every year. An example – together, the UK and France have a population less than that of Uttar Pradesh, and only a little more than that of Punjab in Pakistan. Twenty million people cross the Channel Tunnel between the two countries every year, and there are hundreds of daily flights between Paris and London alone.


But for that, we need leaders with vision on both sides – leaders who will take the rough road, make the tough decisions, and bring about permanent change in India and Pakistan and Kashmir.