Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Pakistanis are coming…home?

I have for long wished to travel across North India. For the quintessential “thair sadam” (curd rice) type that I am, the North comes across as robust as the amazing paranthas that I’ve savored in my hostels. The friends I’ve made from these parts amaze me with their irrepressible spirit and their zest for life. And the love to live it large perhaps cuts across states -be it the fierce warriors of Rajputana, the earthy UP/Bihari/Jat bhaiyyas or the Punjabis with their ready smile (I’m thinking of dear D and her spouse here!)

Then why did Partition happen?

Was it the hunger for fertile land that drove the madness? Or of men coveting the warm bosoms that were not theirs to embrace? A natural cycle of bloodshed to fertilize the land of the five rivers? Or was History shuffling the cards of social structure –for a fresh game of gin-rummy?

These thoughts rise in my mind in the light of the disturbing incidents that have occurred recently in the NWFP of Pakistan. An immensely strategic region, the use of religion to address perceived and real inequalities and the transition of the old order to the new; all of them together these make a deadly combination. Add to this a powerful foreign power, much maligned after eight years of war-weariness – and you have conditions eerily similar to the pre-Partition era.

The responses to this situation are far from being different. While all concerned parties acknowledge the severity of the problem, far too little is being done to contain it. A concession to the democratic elements in this jigsaw –it is far too unlikely that they have the strength to overcome these forces, weakened as they are by the systematic abuse over the years.

So why should India be concerned? Or involved? Is it not “their” problem? Did “they” not choose Pakistan over India? Or wage war through all means overt and covert through the years? Khalistan, Kashmir and God knows where else – are these not “their” bogeys?

While such extremist thought is admittedly a minority, from most Indians there is little response but tut-tutting. One hopes the Indian administration does not believe in a similar response. The need of the hour is to be fully integrated in a meaningful response – in poker terms we need to go “all in”.

Such a response is justified on several fronts. First, history has shown us that a restive North-West has been the bugbear of stability in the sub-continent. Alexander, Ghazni, Mughals, Mongols, Huns and the list goes on when we discuss the groups who have invaded India through this region. These and other invasions have no doubt created a composite culture, but what has been the tremendous cost to stability?

On an immediate basis, the Af-Pak has turned into a hub of terror; a fact not lost on any world power. As long as this is allowed to thrive any hope of peace and economic goodwill for the countries is a fleeting illusion at best. There is tremendous potential for sustained commercial opportunities here and for this peace has to reign.

Lastly, and importantly, Pakistan has perhaps never been our enemy. Pakistan represents the futility of believing that in the long run, politics can successfully deviate from the will of the people. The cry for freedom was full-throated- from the maulvi and the pandit alike. Partition was a horrific mistake, a tremendous miscalculation and a disastrous compromise. Far from been resolved, trouble has re-emerged with a vengeance and impacted the world irreparably, igniting a “clash of civilizations”. Today Pakistan is in danger of disintegrating into pieces, triggering a second movement of refugees, a reverse Partition of sorts. Does India have a policy and the resources to provide them with solace? And importantly, will India find the reservoir of goodwill to treat Pakistanis for who they really are – brothers estranged for the last 60 years?

The time has come to recognize Partition for what it essentially was – an illusion. For India has to emerge intact, she has to embrace Pakistan in full – body and soul.