Crossing A Bridge
By Ghazi Salahuddin
10 April, 2005
are times when a simple and natural action such as crossing a bridge
or opening a door or just taking a few steps in a certain direction
can become a moment in history. Usually, such a straightforward move
is less painful and less complicated than taking a U-turn in the midst
of a crisis. And when this happens, you begin to wonder why it had taken
so long. But history, alas, is replete with such deviations, the cost
of which is invariably paid with untold human suffering.
When 49 passengers
of two buses crossed a bridge in Kashmir in both directions on Thursday,
the world watched the spectacle with a great sense of relief. After
all, what are bridges for if we do not keep crossing them? However,
the 220-foot-long bridge on the Line of Control has only just been made
functional. It is now called the Peace Bridge. On Thursday, 30 Kashmiris,
also Pakistanis, walked across on the bridge to the Indian occupied
part of a land that is likened to paradise. Similarly, 19 Kashmiris,
also Indians, walked in the opposite direction to enter Azad Kashmir.
Now, the bus from
Srinagar brought 10 less passengers than those who had acquired permits
to make their journey of a lifetime. They had pulled out because of
the scary terrorist attack in Srinagar on Wednesday on a protected building
in which the intending passengers for Muzaffarabad were lodged. This
attack was a desperate attempt to sabotage the inauguration of a bus
service between the two capitals of a divided Kashmir. In a sense, it
became a thought-provoking reminder of the long-lasting tragedy of Kashmir.
It also demonstrated
that the momentous peace initiative remains somewhat threatened by militants
who may be unwilling to accept the new dictates of history. It might
take them some time to realise the limits of an armed struggle in the
emerging global scenario. We cannot be sure about the pace and quality
of change that Thursdays highly emotional ceremony at the Peace
Bridge will bring about in the context of the resolution of the Kashmir
conflict and relations between Pakistan and India. But we can be certain
that an important bridge has been crossed.
the focus is now on the Kashmiris and the injustices they have suffered
in human terms. It breaks your heart to contemplate the grief and anguish
of families that have lived divided for decades. We were able to witness,
through live television coverage of the event, the show of emotions
on both sides. If people do matter Ð and what else should? Ð
then what can ever justify a policy that would rob them of their happiness?
Seen in a larger
perspective, the crossing of a bridge in Kashmir is one more illustration
of change that is taking place in South Asia. In fact, the entire continent
is in a flux. Just as relations between India and Pakistan are on the
mend, China and India, the two Asian giants who went to war in 1962,
are also coming closer. This emerging relationship is manifested by
the visit to India by Wen Jiabao, Chinas premier. He was also
in Pakistan this week to underline the importance of our traditional
and tested friendship. The name of the game, now, is economy. And for
Pakistan and India, it is also cricket.
It is cricket that
is providing an optimistic follow-up to the crossing of the Line of
Control in Kashmir, with the forthcoming visit to India by President
General Pervez Musharraf to watch the New Delhi one-day international.
This will, no doubt, be an important encounter between the leaders of
the two countries. We can hope for a further strengthening of confidence
building measures in South Asia. The thrust for this development has,
of course, come from the unmistakable desire of the people of both countries
to establish cordial relations. Actually, our governments still seem
hesitant to translate their fervour into concrete diplomatic action.
While an opportunity
for the Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC to meet their relatives is
by all means a landmark event, and it needs to be quickly bolstered,
the die is cast in the Punjab. A surge of brotherly affection on either
side of international frontier in the Punjab has apparently changed
the very dynamics of relations between India and Pakistan. At various
levels, people on both sides are trying to come to terms with the insanity
of the communal carnage that had attended the partition.
Lahore has become
the focal point of what may be described as a spiritually therapeutic
reconciliation with an upsetting past. Consequently, the cultural and
social stature of the city is on the rise. It has become a magnet for
the citizens of the Indian Punjab and adjoining states. We should remember
that it was a formidable centre of culture and history in the pre-partitioned
North India, a counterpoint to Delhi.
These thoughts have
partially been provoked by an article I read in last Sundays The
New York Times, "Going Home to Lahore, and a World Left Behind".
The writer, Parag Khanna, a senior analyst at the Brookings Institution
in Washington, records his visit to Lahore with his parents after his
father said: "Before I die, I want to see where I was born".
Khanna notes that
peacemaking between India and Pakistan has become "trendy".
There is the obvious mention of the ongoing tour of India by the Pakistan
cricket team and the warm hospitality that it has received "reciprocating
Pakistani hospitality when Indias team broke the ice by touring
Pakistan last year". I have previously reviewed, in this space,
the dazzling show of emotion in Lahore when the Indian team was there
in March last year.
When it comes to
reconnecting with ones own or ancestral past, the traffic does
not have to be one-way. When President Musharraf goes to Delhi one more
time, he will be visiting the city of his birth and the Indians are
said to be looking for his birth certificate. Despite these connections,
it has always been very difficult to explain the logic of animosity
that the two governments had nurtured throughout our troubled history
since 1947. Do we now have the wisdom to learn our lessons?
This brings us back
to Kashmir and an environment that bears a resonant message: the way
forward is peace and democracy and not armed conflict. Instructively,
this message is valid for all the major conflicts of our time. It has
repeatedly been asserted that the Kashmir issue cannot be resolved through
war. Nor can militants, whatever be the validity of their zealous emotions,
win any battles with the weapon of violence. In this age, you have to
win your battles in the minds and hearts of ordinary people.
It is in this context
that the crossing of a bridge in Kashmir will have its lasting impact.
In a metaphorical sense, peace itself is a bridge. What happened on
Thursday may not have been possible without the peace dividend drawn
from ceasefire on the LoC since November 2003, after so many years.
That ceasefire allowed Kashmiris on both sides of the river to wave
to each other and to try to throw their greetings above the mighty roar
of the river. Now at least they have a small bridge that can be crossed,
though their journey is yet far from over.