Peace in South Asia is a long awaited dream of people of the region. This Peace is very much dependent on Pakistan India, the two Nations who were one, less than a century ago, but decided to part ways on the basis that they were different enough to live independent of eachother. Past 74 years have taught both that they are anything but independent of each other.
History as I understand is a teacher for our future. I first understood this in the context of Pakistan and India during the escalation of 2002. Posted and serving as a company commander I was deployed somewhere deep in the desert. Not getting into the debate of why the two armies came face to face but rather I will touch on some other aspects that might tickle your imagination in relation to “Peace” not war.
The last weeks of December 2001 and the early weeks of January 2002 were specially tense But like all soldiers I was motivated to hold the enemy with my men for as long as I could.
However, sitting awake in cold desert nights, all silent, waiting to hear rumbling of enemy tanks, I started to imagine about my counterpart sitting on the other side of the border, someone maybe with a similar name even.
A Major Sher Singh, maybe same physique as mine, commanding men of similar social & religious backgrounds. As motivated but maybe as lost about the whole issue. I imagined, Major Sher Singh of Indian Army sitting right across the border having lunch, “Daal & Vegetables” with roti, maybe with ‘Achaar’ (pickle) or freshly cut onions or chatni, the way I liked lunch, and thinking about his family, as I was, most probably his sister had tied a ‘Raakhi’ on his wrist as my mother had tied ‘Imam Zamin’ on my arm. He related to same kind of poetry as I did, the folk tunes that made me want to do bhangra were probably his favourite too. We, in my visualisation and in all probability, were so similar that if by some trick we exchanged uniforms, it would be difficult to tell the difference. Our patriotism was same too, we had no doubts that we will defend our country and ideology with our lives no matter what. We both did not induldge in politics, we were soldiers, very similar in our concepts of Patriotism and Martyrdom even. However, if face to face, we will kill each other without a second thought. I have never forgotten that imaginary Major Sher Singh.
Pakistanis and Indians, two nations, so similar yet so different. 74 years of partition, 3 or 4 wars, proxies (I dare say !) disinformation, propoganda, hate and then the want for peace.
It did not make sense to me when I was thinking about my and Major Sher Singh’s situation.
So lets see if we can shed some light on this dilemma hate between different but similar men, ready to fight and kill eachother, whose countries depend on them and whose families pray for their safe return .
Subcontinent for centuries remained a secular region, home of many religions, ethnicities, ruled by one ruler sometimes as part of an empire, or even by separate rulers as independent states. Before British East India company arrived with their trade options, ‘Hindustan’ under Moghuls was a model secular region. Moghul emperors had created a unique harmony between many different nations to create the nationalist concept of “Hindustani”. Moghul court was an example of this uniqueness, where Muslim emperors had Hindu queens, Hindu Rajput generals married into muslim families. Emperor Akbar had Birbal as his most trusted advisors, and many Hindu Rajahs had Muslim generals, advisors. Many famous Muslim sufis had as many Hindu or Sikh followers, as Muslims, if not more.
They fought aggressors together, tilled the lands, laughed & cried as one, enjoyed and respected each other’s religious occasions/ festivals. These many different nations lived together with love and respect for eachother for centuries. Niether Islam nor Hinduism was ever the reason for violence or hate, but rather the opposite.
Till 1857, Muslims, Hindus , Sikhs, considered eachother as part of one nation, and that, they fought the East India company in the “War of Independence “ as one, is irrefutable evidence of that unity. They planned together, fought together, died together and those who survived were shot or hanged together.
1857 – 1947 ninety years of British Rule is where we must search for the roots of hate that is gripping both countries even today. These 90 years polluted the unity of centuries and resulted in a partition that is termed as the bloodiest partition the world has ever seen. The same communities that thrived on respect and love for each other, protected each other’s homes and families, these same communities in just ninety years became so vile and evil towards eachother, killing children, raping women, burning down everything in hate. They were always different, for centuries, but it took the British only 90 years to convert these differences into a total non exceptance of each other’s existence.
The bloodiest of partitions, an unresolved “Kashmir” issue, led to wars in almost every decade. British left in 1947, leaving two independent nations, but the seeds of hate that were sown during their period of rule now became a network of interwined wines spreading in almost every household of the two countries.
Kashmir is the core issue, but why have the two nations not been able to resolve it ? Why even after 74 years the Kashmiris are still living under lockdown? Why war after war, becoming nuclear powers, we have still failed to come to terms with each other’s place in the international community ? Why is it that we are ready to give concessions to nations on the other side of the globe, who are as different from us as “a swan is to a crow”, but we are not ready even talk to each other ?
Geo-political and Geo-economic interests brought British to the subcontinent, these interests guided them to rule the nations of subcontinent under a policy of ‘divide and rule’. It was a matter of survival of their rule and they succeeded in making the best of it. The situation today is no different from the 17th or 18th century. Both nations are hostage to international interests and the hate that has been bred to achieve these interests by international as well as national players.
Disconnecting or remaining independent of international interests was not possible for the Moghuls and is ofcourse not possible for the present day leadership of both Pakistan and India. Both countries in present day world are, whether they accept it or othewise, connected to larger interests of world powers or alliances. For these powers or alliances, bilateral relations of India Pakistan are only relevant in the context of their political or economic strategies for the region and not in context of the indvidual interests of both neighbours.
This is what the leadership as well as the nations must realise in search of options for way forward.