By Abdul Majeed Abid
September 10 2012
Sixty-five years ago, India was divided into two countries, Pakistan and India. It was a decision taken by an ageing empire, in its season of decline. World War II had broken the financial back of British Empire.
United India had been destabilised due to widespread support for Subhas Chandra Bose’s ‘Indian National Army’ and other incidents such as the sailor’s strike in 1945, and increasing political resentment shown by both the Indian National Congress, All-India Muslim League, and other political parties in India.
It was decided by the British policy makers to let go of India, for Britain’s own good. There was little hesitancy in the transfer of power because India’s nationalist leaders including Nehru, Jinnah and Patel were trained in British constitutionals values and this ensured a continuity of systems. This led to division of India in two halves.
Partition on the map led to mass migration across the newly formed border. Families were separated, valuable land was left behind. Arduous journey to the new countries began with nothing but hope for a better future, and the diabolical bloodshed between all sides made it a bitter memory for most that still live on.
Movement across the border was relatively easy in the initial few years. After the 1965 war, which was a result of the botched attempt i.e. Operation Gibraltar, it became difficult to obtain entry across the Pakistan-India border. After 1971, the trust deficit plunged even lower. Due to isolation from each other and propaganda mongering by hawks on either side, generations of Pakistanis and Indians have hated each other. There are three types of views among Pakistanis about relations with India.
The first one is held by right wing hawks (such as the members of Difa-e-Pakistan council and Zaid Hamid) who make no effort to hide their resentment and animosity towards India. This view is peddled by some Urdu press and to a certain extent by our textbooks.
The second view is held by so-called liberal elite which favours an end to hostilities between the two countries and the borders to be wiped off.
There is a third school of thought, which I subscribe to, that accepts the status quo and wants to establish neighbourly relations with India on equal basis.
It is my firm belief that the only way for normalisation in relations between the two countries is through people-to-people contacts. We do not need to tear down the border but we must tear down the wall of hate separating the two countries.
Unfortunately, the discourse on Pakistan-India relations has been held hostage, since Independence, by militaries and hawks in both countries. It must not be forgotten that the few times of normal relations with India that we enjoyed were, under civilian governments.
The major roadblock to people-to-people contacts is the brutal visa regime of both countries towards each other that is currently functional. People from both sides of the border face difficulties in acquiring visas to visit the other country for either tourism or meeting loved ones.
There have been many high-profile people that suffered due to this regime. Last year, Mohammad Hanif, celebrated Pakistani novelist, had to face a lot of difficulty in obtaining a visa to India for participation in a Literature Festival. Similarly, an Indian journalist based in Islamabad was not allowed to fly to Karachi to take part in the Karachi Literature Festival. In the recently held India-Pakistan social media mela, the participants got their visas at the eleventh hour, that too on intervention of our Interior Minister, Rehman Malik.
Based on interviews with people from Pakistan and India who have travelled across the border, I came to know about the various difficulties faced by them. Visas are not issued till the last moment, police-reporting can be added to the visas making the life of visitors difficult and spooks from respective countries often interrogate and harass them just to be intimidating.
It should be understood that the problem lies with both parties and not just one. India, for instance, recently made it mandatory for Pakistani visitors to have a ‘sponsor’ in India if they want to visit. This is not a very welcoming step and simply adds to the nuisance value.
In Pakistan, there has been an effort by a Lahore-based organisation to get a petition (addressed to the prime minister of Pakistan) signed for a Relaxed Indo-Pak Visa Regime. They had to face numerous difficulties, including some ‘interference’ from our deep state agents.
People in Pakistan and India need to realise what they are losing out on by ignoring each other. India is one of the largest consumer markets in the world right now and Pakistani traders deserve to expand into that market and vice versa.
Hate Speech against India includes references to how India attacked Pakistan in the wee hours of the night on September 6, 1965. We celebrate ‘Defence Day’ each year on September 6. The facts are overlooked in this narrative and the ‘whole truth’ is not provided by the textbooks and mass media. Pakistani forces had infiltrated the border in Kashmir and it was only after their botched attempts to ‘conquer’ Kashmir (Operation Gibraltor) that Indian forced crossed the International Border. This year, Indian Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna arrived in Pakistan on September 7 with the hope of signing a new visa regime during his visit.
Pakistan and India on Saturday, September 8, signed a new and liberalised visa regime giving more concessions and simplifying the procedure to grant visa with a view to promote people-to-people contacts and enhance trade and business activities between two neighbours.
The new visa regime agreement was signed by Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
According to the new visa regime, more concessions have been given to the businessmen from both the countries with giving them multiple entry one year visa with the exemption from the police report and with increasing the number of cities.
It is perhaps a major step in the right direction. There are a few unresolved issues that still need to be addressed with respect to the new visa regime. Apart from businessmen, minors, seniors and artists, relaxation should be provided to the rest of people as well.
Pakistan and India boast a youth with combined strength of about 200 million. How can people-to-people relationships get better if the youth are excluded from visiting each other. I believe that this policy should be considered a stepping stone for better things to come. It requires a show of resolve on part of political governments on both sides to keep this process going and not let it get derailed by tragic incidents such as Kargil, the attack on the Indian Parliament or 26/11. Ultimately, both countries should talk about the elephant in the room i.e. Pakistani establishment’s policy of strategic depth.
People, who advocate normal relations with India, are branded as ‘Pro-Indian’ or ‘Pro-Pakistani’ if they are in India.
This is in spite of the fact that most Indians have never met a Pakistani in their whole lives, nor have the Pakistanis met an Indian.
Most of the people I talked to, about this issue (and who initially branded me as ‘Pro-Indian’), wanted to visit historical places in India, such as Taj Mahal, Old Delhi, Lucknow and Mumbai.
These wishes are reciprocated by Indians who want to visit Lahore, Nankana Sahib, Karachi and Peshawar. It is time that we move on, towards a harmonious future and learn to cohabitate with our neighbors. It is also imperative that the budget we have been spending on our defence purposes for the last 65 years should be diverted towards public developmental schemes.
The writer is a medical student with an interest in History, Political Economy and Literature and blogs here. You can follow him @abdulmajeedabid.
Originally published by Dawn Pakistan