Song Of The Sufi
By Sagarika Ghose
The Indian Express
04 July, 2003
An Indian parliamentary delegation has come beaming across the Wagah
border. The bus service to Lahore is about to begin. And the new Pakistani
High Commissioner accompanied by his trendy young wife have rolled into
New Delhi. Perhaps this is the beginning of those exclusive jet set
gatherings that are known as Confidence Building Measures between India
and Pakistan. Confidence Building Measures, People to People contact
or Track II diplomacy is supposed to feed into official diplomacy and
create a public peace constituency. Yet after at least a decade of these
People to People exchanges, we still find hostility under the small
talk, we have fought the Kargil war, terrorism continues on the border,
diplomats have been publicly expelled, and official tu tu main main
has never been worse notwithstanding the jhappiyan pappiyan at ghazal
functions. Have Confidence Building Measures become trapped in sentimentality,
Sufism and the chota peg?
A predictable escapism surrounds
the People to People process. They invariably take place in air-conditioned
resorts where the subcontinent only intrudes in the shape of waiters
serving chilled juice and other prohibited beverages. Journalists retreat
to Italian towns like Bellagio, academics and retired bureaucrats head
to scenic mountain hotels in Nathiagali, Kathmandu or the Pearl Continental
Hotel at Bhurban to pretend that they are solving the Kashmir dispute.
Mushairas are sung wafted by the breeze of the Delhi Golf Club at soirees
that take place under a mushroom cloud of cigarette smoke. Various excellent
Sufis are pressed into service, their undoubtedly beautiful lyrics set
in sharp contrast with the brutal insanity of the political leadership.
People to People contact is simply not reaching out to real people.
Given the inescapable reality
of geography, there can be no doubt about the value of Track II. In
fact, it is precisely because such interactions are so important that
they shouldnt be frittered away in mushairas. There have been
and are many valuable exchange programmes between India and Pakistan.
University students have been taken to each others countries.
Schoolchildren from Habib Public School in Karachi have visited India
and gone not just to Delhi and Mumbai but to meet kids in Panipat. Anti-nuclear
activists have formed associations across the border and there are examples
of Indian and Pakistani scholarly collaboration in areas like natural
history and modern fiction.
But one of the chief reasons
why Track II diplomacy simply hasnt acquired the muscle it should
have is the cussedness of both the Indian and the Pakistani states.
Pakistans civil society is stunted and feudal army rule means
that the activities of the small intelligentsia are all futile. People
to People contacts are naturally irrelevant in a country where the people
or their views simply dont matter. But the Indian governments
mentality on CBMs also remains provincial, narrow-minded and suspicious.
Its stinginess on visas is crazy considering that unlike Pakistan, which
is run by the army, we are apparently governed by a poet prime minister
and a scientist president. Yet MEA babus operate on the basis of some
crazy reciprocity which completely negates the
fact that as the bigger, confident democratic state India should facilitate
much more wide-ranging social contact.
CBMs are rigidly monopolised
by the same group of eminent ageing liberal citizens invariably all
resident in Delhi. When womens activists went in bus loads to
Pakistan, once again, it was the left leaning liberals who traveled.
Why not create a more democratic exchange? What about teachers from
Coimbatore, software engineers from Bangalore, entrepreneurs from Jaipur?
Why is it the same small liberal chic group who have nothing to bring
to the table but their romanticism who keep going back and forth across
Why not simply cut out the
sentimental waffle and find innovative ways in which young people from
both countries can know more about each other instead of simply stopping
at the level of: Hey, they too have two arms and two legs and
they also love Bollywood! How many Indians know for example that
Pakistan has the one of the worlds highest rates of per capita
irrigated land in the world? We know little of the history of the Pak
Tea House in Lahore, we know little of the programmes at the Alahambra
Arts Complex at Lahore, we know even less about Pakistani divorce rates
or about the Lahore University of Management Studies (LUMS). There is
also a failure to recognise the deep cultural competitiveness that inevitably
exists between the Indian and the Pakistani.
In fact, some younger Pakistanis
sometimes tend to be even more hardline and anti-Indian than the older
Partition generation. They call Indian churidar kurtas spandex
suits and are scornful about the Ambassador car. Tourist
guides in Lahore point out how much better protected historical monuments
are in Pakistan than in India, how dirty the Nizamuddin Auliya shrine
is and how theres nothing to Agra beyond the Taj Mahal and even
that is not all that great. Many young foreign-returned Pakistanis said
all they see in India are thin starving people and all you get in the
shops are boring saris. In fact a Pakistani programme officer with USIS
said in an interview with your humble columnist that her younger cousins
are much more hawkish and militarist than older family members. So lets
Getting real about People
to People contacts means dropping the sentimentality like a hot potato.
Lets face it, Indo-Pak is an inherently problematic relationship
where the burden of apology cannot ever be on one or the other side.
Having said that, there are a wide range of contacts to be created in
science, technology, energy, software and culture but its ridiculous
to think that any of this can prevent another war or lives being lost.
It is thus crucially important that Track Two diplomacy shakes off the
song of the Sufi and concentrates on specific issues of public welfare.
Why not a combined group of social workers to undertake the upliftment
of war widows in both countries? Or why not a jointly run hospital with
Indian and Pakistani doctors caring for soldiers fighting our mutual
war? Bizarre? Absurd? Lets think anew, lets think boldly.