By Beena Sarwar
30 June, 2004
the last few months, we have been shown tantalising glimpses of the
possibility of peacebetween Pakistan and India - with Kashmir, the'core
issue' lurking contentiously in the background, bogging down both countries
in their own narrow notions of nationalism and threatening whatever
progress is made towards peace. To emerge from this quagmire, it is
necessary to put aside prejudices, fears and positions, and engage in
a genuine dialogue that breaks through these national versions of the
Kashmir story that have been developed on all sides of the conflict.
This is what the
documentary 'Crossing The Lines: Kashmir, Pakistan, India' (Eqbal Ahmad
Foundation, 2004; 45 minutes) by the well known academics and peace
activists Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian courageously attempts to do.
Screened at private venues in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad over the
last couple of months, the film is a straightforward narrative presented
by Hoodbhoy - far more effectively than in his previous documentary,
'Pakistan and India Under the Nuclear Shadow' (2001), scripted by Mian.
nationalism, borders and boundaries- these are ways of separating people
and land. These are all old ideas, ideas that have failed us again and
again," says Mian, with reference to the Kashmir film. He points
out that there is a new government in India, but no one expects Indian
position on Kashmir to change very much. Similarly in Pakistan, civilian
or military, there is no change on Kashmir. Following up on Gen. Musharraf's
admission that Pakistan cannot realistically hope for a plebiscite to
end the Kashmir dispute and, therefore, is willing to explore other
ways, Hoodbhoy in an article last December had argued that for Pakistan
to insist on plebiscite "is the surest way of guaranteeing that
a bloody stand-off continues."
The film presents
the urgent need for a dialogue to discuss other options, challenging
the people, and civil and military establishments on both sides to break
out of their own national versions of the Kashmir story. There are many
who will remain trapped in these notions, and refuse to see the film
in this spirit. They will attack Hoodbhoy and Mian because they present
both sides of the story in a way that the public in either country never
and difficult to watch are the scenes of a recent bombing, that Hoodbhoy's
cameraman in Kashmir caught by chance, although one would have liked
to see more on struggle of Kashmiri women. Conservative Indian thought
will also resent the film's presentation of the disillusionment of the
Kashmirs with Indian rule, as encapsulated through a candid interview
with the wild-bearded Hizb commander Syed Salahuddin.
The film traces
the background of the conflict, using interviews of key figures and
ordinary people from all sides, rare archival footage and excellent
computer animation. Neither Hoodbhoy nor Mian have ever been afraid
of controversy, or of tackling contentious issues head on, whether
it is to demand equal rights for religious minorities or contest distorted
facts in our history textbooks. Their respective stands on peace with
India and the nuclear issue are well known. In taking on Kashmir, they
continue this tradition, of asking awkward questions that force people
to think about issues that it is more comfortable to ignore.
These issues include
the building of national identity through cultivating prejudice and
hatred towards the other - by both India and Pakistan. The result is
views from both sides that mirror each other. This in fact, is one of
the strong points of the film - its inclusion of footage and interviews
from India and Kashmir. Since the end of the Afghan war, Pakistan's
continued patronage of religious militants has strengthened local and
foreign militants who not only threaten the social fabric in Pakistan
but have also upped the ante in Kashmir. Their conviction that Kashmir
is part of a greater struggle, is reflected by radical Hindu leaders
in India - a side that we in Pakistan don't hear about very often.
Also clear is Hoodbhoy
and Mian's stand on the nuclear issue, as the film shows how the nuclear
tests only served to intensify tensions between both countries. In the
end, one is left with more questions than answers - but perhaps that
is the intention of the filmmakers.
"The past almost
sixty years have brought war and hate, big armies, nuclear weapons and
mass poverty. The past can be no guide to show us the way to the future,"
says Mian. "It's time to make a break with the old ways and the
old dreams. We need to search for new ideas, and find the courage to
take a step forward."
This can happen
if a genuine, open-minded dialogue is initiated, possibly catalysed
by this film through screenings at joint meetings of parliamentarians,
foreign offices and military establishments. Most importantly it needs
to be brought out of private halls, and onto television in both countries
as well as in Kashmir.