A Shortcut To Pakistan –– Part One

By Ranjit Rai


New Delhi, 31 March 2006

With an ‘On Foot’ visa provided by the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi for Rs15/-, it takes a senior citizen some Rs 400/- and 60 minutes to cross the 60 km divide from Amritsar to Lahore. It costs more to go from Delhi to Gurgaon! The 60 minutes included the time the large contingents of intelligence, immigration and custom staff on both sides took to enter data into computers and stamp passports.

The border posts at Attari in India and Wagah in Pakistan handle less than 70 travellers on most days. A must see ritual is the ‘gate closing ceremony at Sunset’, which is like a daily competition at the border between India’s BSF and Pakistan’s Rangers –– all participants over 6 feet tall dressed out of a military fashion show, executing foot stamping precision drill not equaled anywhere in the world. Patriotic songs including Iqbal’s Sare Jahan Se Acha coined in Pakistan, blare at each other with higher decibels that even Bose speakers can handle, and huge national flags provided by the BSF and Rangers respectively are waved as the soldiers look at each other two feet apart with Bollywood and Lollywood (Lahore) glares.

Only when one visits Pakistan as a commoner, especially the beautifully lit up Lahore, a twin of Delhi, with almost identical Red Fort, Badshahi mosque, Noor Jehan and Jehangir’s tombs, Arjun Dev and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Samadhi Gurdwaras in good condition and hospitals like Gangaram –– does one realise just how traumatic an experience it must have been for the generation now becoming extinct, to have suddenly received Independence from the British on 15th August 1947 –– and then struggled on both sides to cohese their nations as one. Nehru did that for India but as he neglected economics and failed to settle Kashmir, he is being criticized by an unknowing and ungrateful generation.

Indians today are doing well the world over because of some of his policies and this subject has been elaborated in a book, ‘Indians Why We Are What We Are?’ by Ranjit Rai. India has succeeded far better and Pakistan still comes off as a nation struggling to be one and looking for bearings post 9/11. But make no mistake Pakistan is no failed state, it has inherent attributes which can synergise easily with India, and there is much India can learn from Pakistan and its bureaucrats and textile businessmen. The Punjabi hospitality that Khushwant Singh never stops writing about, has to be experienced to be believed. The goodwill for Indians in Lahore far exceeds ours in Delhi.

To recall, Punjabi and Sindhi brothers who lived together in harmony in undivided Hindustan despite religious differences now yearn to get closer and regret that they were uprooted. The geriatric uniformed recall how they fought in the two great wars for the Allies as one military with great distinction, but their sons became bitter enemies in the three and a half wars that followed. The dichotomy is that the younger generation in both countries want peace but the military and foreign mandarins on both sides do not –– and most youth and military in Pakistan have been indoctrinated anti India. But with people to people contacts, and track 2 initiatives (such as India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative (IPSI) led by Nirmala Despande MP and Gen Moti Dar on this side of the divide and Gen Nasir Akhtar and many colleagues on that side), have done much to bring about some closeness and trust which is badly lacking.

The recent offer of Peace and Security announced by Dr Manmohan Singh when he flagged off the bus to Nankana Sahib (the holy of holies birth place of Guru Nanak –– revered by Sikhs, Punjabis and Sindhis) needs to be supported by all political parties and the military. Earlier India missed the bus when Pakistan offered a no-war pact but that is history. India did not trust US designs then and Pakistan had declared its nuclear capability covertly, while India was hesitant. Now the nuclear issue is a new ball game altogether and USA is India’s friend and wants us to become a global power. The steps India takes with Pakistan could hasten the process.

It has now come out that the gamble earlier taken by PM Vajpayee at Agra to make peace with Musharraf, promote trade and tourism with Pakistan as a big brother whose economy is doing well was thwarted by diehard RSS members. In recent times in the Congress led government MEA mandarins led by former Minister Natwar Singh, myopically see diplomats in missions in Islamabad and Delhi being harassed by intelligence agencies on both sides, and are used to tit for tat policies, which vitiate the atmosphere. The MEA are also used to reciprocity in dealing with visa matters, which has been a drag even in India’s overall tourism, now needs a new look over their shoulders. The feelings of the people need more attention. Senior military brass hats by must make constructive efforts to persuade the MEA to allow them to meet their counterparts in Pakistan. The nine Corps Commanders under Muharraf run Pakistan assisted by the bureaucrats and the press is pretty free as we have seen by our media reporting from Pakistan. So far any military to military contact has been frowned upon by the shapers of our foreign policy, which is a pity.

It is the military contacts with USA, especially the Indian Navy, which has developed an almost incestuous relationship with the US Navy under the guise of interoperability, that has contributed much to the US–India nuclear and other deals in the making. It must be accepted that with tranquility and understanding between India and Pakistan, the officials in the Ministry of External Affairs and the Army too, will lose their importance. But this would greatly ease the budgetary pressure on the Navy and Air Force –– for India to become a global power. The Army too needs to get a grip on the 750,000 paramilitary forces –– now underutilised –– for homeland security duties. This, and years of distrust is the vested interest and driving force on both sides that hinder progress. Today Pakistan is in awe of India and worries for its security with troubles in Afghanistan, Waziristan and Baluchistan, which is engaging its Army even more than the Indian army in Kashmir and North East. Pakistan has also lost what it believed was their defence in depth. On the other hand, with more military officers in the National Security Council to advise Dr Manmohan Singh as Foreign Minster and assist the powerful NSA and PMO, they are today better advised to give inputs and assure Pakistan of its security.

Today by a quirk of fate India and Pakistan are two recognized nuclear missile rattling neighbours whose armies still remain eyeball to eyeball, and both countries’ mission for development is clouded by the disputed territory of Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and the machinations of their intelligence agencies and bureaucrats dealing with foreign affairs. To make sense of India and Pakistan one has to honestly accept that the Hindu culture is influenced also by Chankaya’s teachings. Similarly Pakistan's Muslim compulsions remain of disparate communities, suspicions between Sunni/ Shia, Punjabi/Sindhi and Mohajir segregations. All this is happening at a time when Hindu nationalism in the form of Hindutva is still breathing, and diehards in the RSS and VHP whip up fervour.

In the case of Pakistan its military ruler General Parvez Mushrraf has genuine ambitions of turning Pakistan into a moderate Muslim nation like Turkey, which was transformed by Kamal Atta Turk, but Muslim Mullahs’ commitment to Jehad, the fall out of 9/11, the war on terror in Afghanistan, Taliban’s remains and massive challenges faced by Pakistan’s military in Baluchistan and Wazirstan, keeps Pakistan in turmoil, much more than India. It has taken Condelezza Rice’s clarity to spell out India’s future as a global power, and Pakistan already confused about its identity, is further unsure of how to deal with the changed world when suddenly USA decided to sleep with India in the Indian Ocean and consummate a nuclear deal, goaded by India’s needs for energy security and economic benefits.

Energy security holds many keys to what is the future of this sub continent, where the two warring neighbours still hurl charges against each other.

As a Sindhi my visit to Pakistan was like a pilgrimage back to my home to understand an estranged neighbour and more will follow in my next piece.

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