The inherent contradictions that surrounded the birth of India and Pakistan have not been resolved in either country despite the passage of over six decades. In Pakistan many people continue to speak of an unfinished agenda whilst in India we either remain puzzled about our coordinates on your country or continue to find an alibi in Pakistan for many if not all of our intractable problems. Periodically your governments seek to invite international attention and even intervention (although unsuccessfully), reminding the world of UN Resolutions whilst we repeat the pious mantra of a bilateral dispute to be settled in the spirit of the Shimla Agreement. We all know what we are looking for, or perhaps are not looking for but over time seem to have forgotten ‘why’. It will be my endeavour to exhume that ‘why’ in order to argue that it is irredeemably linked with a myopia that prevents our two countries from looking into the crystal ball of immense future possibilities. As I speak to you I am conscious that we are the third generation since 1947 and the fourth generation now in their twenties may have little time for what went wrong then and would rather want to know what can be done now.
In dealing with this exciting and excruciating subject I will draw upon our own experiences in India as being analytically better suited to cast light on the mental barriers that prevent meaningful creative thinking on the subject. Thereafter I shall attempt to draw upon your experience (though with greater caution because my knowledge is admittedly second hand) to complete my thesis that we have both become mutual victims of self-induced myopia.
Let us first look at certain ironies: Pakistan has a Muslim population of 178,097,000 (11% of world’s Muslim population) with a small minority of Sikhs, Christians and Hindus; India has a minority population of 18 % of its total population of 1.2 billion. And amongst these Muslims are the largest minority of 177,286,000 or 10.9% of world Muslims. That makes India the third largest population of the world after Indonesia and Pakistan (by some estimates) or even the second according to other estimates. By 2050 we are most likely to the largest Muslim population of the world. We have strenuously striven to preserve ourselves as a secular society but find that Pakistan feels more comfortable thinking of us as Hindu India, referring to India as Bharat, the name that even the BJP often ignores in preferring Hindustan. The Partition of 1947 divided land and families but did not and could not obliterate blood relationships. I am myself part of a family, members of which have served the two countries with unwavering fidelity and distinction. One brother, Dr Zakir Husain, served as President of India whilst the other, Dr Mehmood Husain served as your Education Minister. A cousin of mine, Anwar Husain, was the speechwriter for the then President of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-Haq, while I was writing speeches for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. I believe our family members might well have fought wars against each other. Could there be a greater demand that society can make upon its members? But if that seems unusual let me share with you a story that I was told by a friend, Maroof Raza, who received the sword of honour at the Indian Military Academy and has since gone on to civilian life as a strategic expert. The story he told me (and has subsequently reproduced in print) left me speechless and wondering if the intensity of feeling it evokes will ever be fully realised by people on either side of the border.
At a dinner party in New Delhi, an elegant gentleman walked up to me and asked if I was serving in the Indian Army. My haircut perhaps gave this away, as I answered in the affirmative (I was then an instructor at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun). When I enquired if he had any military connections, he replied ‘yes’; his two elder brothers had both been officers. To this, my natural response was, “What were their regiments?” He then said with a sad smile, “Let me tell you a story.
Several years earlier, he had run into the Pakistani military attaché, one Brigadier Beg, in India at a circuit house (Dak Bungalow) on the Delhi-Ahmedabad highway. During the course of their conversation, and on learning that he was an Indian Muslim, the Pakistani Brigadier admitted that it was only in the 1965 war that he learnt that Muslim officers also served in the Indian Army.
The Indian Army’s armoured (tank) units had made substantial gains in fierce battles in the Sialkot sector of Pakistan’s Punjab. Many well known armoured regiments were part of India’s 1st Armoured Division’s thrust lines, such as Poona and Hodson’s Horse, 2nd Lancers, 3rd, 16 and 18 Cavalry. Pakistan’s Armoured Division, despite its apparently superior tank units, was in retreat and the commanders desperately needed a tactical break.
It was at this stage of the war—around 8 September 1965—that the Pakistani Brigadier, then a young Lieutenant, was summoned by his then Brigade Commander. He was asked to undertake a commando raid into Indian frontline positions around Sialkot and tasked to eliminate one or more Indian tank commanders.
The young Pakistani officer (then a Lieutenant) set out on 8/9 September before dawn and sneaked into his target area as Indian tanks were preparing for another day’s battle around Sialkot. (In those days, in the absence of night vision devices, tank battles were largely fought during daylight). He identified a Squadron Commander’s tank, and climbed atop unnoticed in the loud roar of tank engines. Inside the open cupola, he spotted a Major pouring over maps, planning for another day’s battle. With no time to lose, Lt Beg shot the Indian Major through the head but before leaving the wounded Indian officer, he decided to take along some proof of having accomplished his mission. He unbuttoned the shoulder flaps of the Indian Major, and pulled out the cloth epaulettes of his ranks from his shoulders. On this was also embroidered ‘16 CAV’, the title of his regiment. In the breast pocket of the Major, he also found a holy pendant, His job done, this young Lieutenant with his raid party quickly crossed back over into the territory Pakistani troops were still holding., Lt Beg immediately went to report to his Brigade Commander that he had accomplished his mission pulling out the epaulettes of the rank badges and the holy pendent of the Indian Army Major he had shot. The Brigadier became inexplicably tense. As Lt Beg wondered whether the Brigadier was upset at his having killed an Indian Muslim officer, the latter’s hands began to shake and his emotions swelled. His voice became heavy and his eyes filled with tears as he slumped into the chair. Lt Beg again asked the Brigadier what the problem was. In a voice choked with emotion, the latter replied: “Young man, I hadn’t the foggiest idea that the 16 Cavalry was pitted against us.” Then after a pause he said,”Major MAR Sheikh, whom you have killed, was my younger brother.”
When Lt Beg finished telling the story the attentive listener told the Pakistani officer, “Brigadier, it may surprise you to know that the two brothers you have spoken about were both older to me… I am the youngest of the three.”
And as the he stared in disbelief, the narrator of this tale requested Brigadier Beg to visit his family home—which was only a few hour’s drive from where they were—to meet his aged mother, who had always wanted to meet someone who had fought against her son! When the Pakistani Brigadier met the old begum the next day (who of course didn’t know that her son had died of wounds inflicted by the Brigadier), she seemed pleased that the enemy thought well of him!
Records show that Major Sheikh died of wounds in his head sustained in battle near Sialkot on 10 September 1965. He was posthumously awarded the gallantry award of a Vir Chakra. His brother, the Brigadier, rose on to become a General in Pakistan.
Many stories of loss and tragedy
There are undoubtedly innumerable similar stories of personal loss and tragedy in the landscape of two hostile neighbours who share a past, an invaluable common heritage, links of language, civilisational bonds, etc. but remain uncomfortable in the present and unable grasp a shared destiny. If entire nations can be described as being bi-polar, it is us. We yearn for each other, celebrate our meetings on the cricket and hockey pitches, applaud each other’s artistes and yet remain strangers with deep-rooted suspicion. We snipe at each other at all international fora and pour scarce resources into military preparedness instead of improving the loves of millions of impoverished and disadvantaged citizens. The nuclear arsenals of our two countries are an additional worry for the world despite both sides knowing that we can never use them without causing incalculable damage to ourselves.
Pakistan’s Jammu and Kashmir obsession has caused it to be confined to a single-issue foreign policy, often at a considerable cost to itself as well as to other countries of the region by stultifying the potential of SAARC. Similarly India’s preoccupation with the threat perception despite objective circumstances and the possibility of a prolonged and decisive war having changed irreversibly keeps us self conscious and distracted from a larger role in the changing world. We have demanded of countries like the US to give up treating India in a hyphenated relationship and with great difficulty managed to get some cosmetic satisfaction without actual substance transformation.
Since 1947 the world has found solutions to several intractable disputes and conflicts whilst the India-Pakistan confrontation has remained unchanged. The re-unification of Vietnam, the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany, the resolution of the Irish crisis and the peace agreement with the IRA, are but a few examples of the unthinkable being achieved by a single generation of remarkable statespersons. The end of apartheid in South Africa and the peaceful emergence of the Central Asian Republics from the former Soviet Union are reminders to us in India and Pakistan that peace is not only possible in our lives but also an imperative for humankind.
Where then can we, and must we, begin afresh? Look at J & K with a new outlook. Ask yourself why really must Pakistan continue to show special interest in Kashmir? If it is for the Muslim population of the State does it not matter that India’s vast Muslim population does not accept that view and that any adverse consequence in terms of J&K would inevitably have negative impact on the entire minority of India? Indian Muslims have fought and laid down their life for the land and the Idea. Brig Usman and Havaldar Abdul Hameed are names that stand out amongst the legion of martyrs. Fifty years on are you doing justice to the Muslims of India by creating a situation that their allegiance to the land where they were born remains on constant test? It is a strange irony that Indian leaders who are immensely popular in Pakistan from time to time have all been Hindus, from Atal Behari Vajpayee to Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mani Shankar Iyer. Muslim leaders in India neither get similar adulation nor indeed even seek such attention. Are Indian Muslim leaders too self-conscious to seek a favourable constituency in Pakistan and the latter reluctant to acknowledge the latter having dubbed them ‘sarkari musalmans’ for decades? Curiously the interest shown by your leaders and diplomats to reach out to the Hurriyat is not shown even in reduced measure in developing relations with Muslim leaders from the rest of India
Many decades after the Idea of Pakistan (the two-nation theory) and the Idea of India (its total repudiation) clashed and pushed us both to the brink and Partition, truthfully neither Idea has reached absolute fulfilment, although Two decades ago we mustered the courage to objectively examine the state of Muslims in India when the Justice Sachar Committee and the Chief Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission handed down their far-reaching recommendations. Despite sincere effort to implement the recommendations our then government, UPA II, of which I was a member as Cabinet Minister (including the charge of Minority Affairs) we were merely able to take the first steps of the farsighted justice project. The moderate success gave little satisfaction to a community whose expectations suddenly exploded but invited undeserved hostility from the majority egged on by the then main Opposition, the BJP. The ideological resistance of the BJP in power has put the entire justice project in cold storage to await the return of secular politics. Crucial as this is to the Idea of India yet it is not the only dimension that has a lesson for steering our relationship with you. The continuous reworking of the States’ Reorganisation Commission with periodic demands for bifurcation or trifurcation of existing states, this time not on language or cultural differences but due to regional disparities, has some insights for a review of the political approach that led to Partition I (India and Pakistan), Partition II (Pakistan and Bangladesh), and continues to feed the urge for another virtual Partition (J&K). In a similar manner first Punjab and Haryana, then Bihar and Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, not to mention the several states born out of erstwhile Assam, have all emerged into separate existence. The argument that the vast expanse of the erstwhile states made democratic administration difficult, if not impossible, is no longer valid because of modern technology and communications. Yet the demands overwhelm all arguments and efforts to the contrary.
We have not had the opportunity to conduct an exercise to assess the gains made by the bifurcation of States, though there is enough evidence of more rapid growth of the newly created States. But, of course, there are many other aspects of the aspiration and its ultimate fulfilment that scholars and political observers will amplify in due course. Inevitably, the interdependence of the new States will be greater than between those in the previous arrangement. Whether that interdependence will grow into common approaches leading to some form of local federal arrangements, to begin with informal and later more structured and formal, is anyone’s guess. But there is no reason that a similar thing would not happen in assessing what India and Pakistan have gained or lost in parting. Either way, it may not be a rewarding exercise to look at hypotheticals of what might have been our state without Partition and whether Partition was inevitable. Given that history is etched deep in our psyche the analysis can, at best, give us some direction on what we continue to lose because of our inability to repair our estranged relationship. If, as the scholars suggest, the concept of ‘imagined communities’ has remained incomplete for inherent invalidity, must we continue to pay lip service to it?
Possibilities of cooperation
Instead working towards a grand reconciliation may give us the elusive break through we have been looking for. The imagination that caused the rupture between India and Pakistan is the very imagination that can be garnered to create a new reality that assures prosperity and comfort on both sides. The possibilities of cooperative growth between our two countries can be judged by the potential of gas pipelines from Iran and Central Asia across Pakistan to Indian destinations. This would only state the obvious – that there is an unlocked interdependence between India and Pakistan, not to speak of the multiplier effect of our cooperation. Imagination and identity are the primary motivation in the postmodern world where imagination and discovery were to be our constant companions. If this equation goes wrong the noblest of dreams turn into nightmares. We have seen it happen in the Arab Spring; we have seen it happen in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and now in Crimea and Ukraine.
Perhaps Faiz Ahmed Faiz had our predicament in mind when he wrote the following verse:
Gham aur bhi hain duniya mein mohabbatke siwa
Tu jo mil jae to taqdir nigun ho jae,
Yun na tha, main ne faqat chaha tha yun ho jae,
Aur bhi dhuk hain zamane mein mohabbat ke siva
Rahatein aur bhi hain vasl ki rahat ke siva.
It is curious that most seeming breakthroughs between India and Pakistan take place when the Pakistani Army is in direct control of the government machinery in Islamabad. To think that the very institution, whose stated raison d’etre is to protect Pakistan from what is an imaginary threat of India, amongst other objectives, should also be the instrument of better understanding and relations is ironic in the extreme. Of course this might be contested but the fact remains that even now people speak with great confidence of the Musharraf-Vajpayee deal that unfortunately was aborted. The political schizophrenia in Pakistan is explained by the felt dire need of an identified enemy to rally the nation for a common cause when the military is not in government and a display of virtuosity in pulling off diplomatic successes when in government to expand the governance profile beyond domestic politics. Equally the Indian political system remains severely constrained by self-consciousness due to BJP pressure when that party is in opposition but quickly opens up to fresh initiatives once in office.
The truth is that India has a stake in the success of Pakistan far greater than the usefulness of a counter argument against its initial conception. History has long bypassed the latter whilst realpolitik and contemporary world reality points to the former as an imperative. A successful Pakistan would have less reason to search for a unifying external object of hostility whilst it is equally true that a successful India will break free of its convenient obsession with a toxic, imagined Pakistan to address its problems in right earnest. This is no occasion to reflect on a definitive theory of what ultimately caused the Partition of India and there are many different versions. But in any version there inevitably are ingredients of ideology and political tactics. Given the passage of time and dramatic changes in the world ideology need not be diluted but can at least be tested for contextual relevance whilst tactics certainly give way to changed conditions.
My Indian audience would have been concerned that a former External Affairs Minister of India has spoken so long without lodging a legitimate complaint about the pain and distress we continue to suffer at the hands of what are described as non-state actors by the Pakistan establishment and about whom we tirelessly provide reliable evidence of official complicity, not to speak of the common narrative and startling media stories from time to time. Let me right away publicly record my considered opinion that your present Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, is genuinely committed to peace with India and has more than once put himself in considerable discomfort to find an opening beyond pious incantations. I am not entirely sure though how much the larger Pakistani establishment has supported his intentions and effort. Similarly I am somewhat disappointed that the Indian establishment has done precious little in recent months to fortify his endeavour. Both our countries have myopic opponents of the other and this begets them political dividends at home at the cost of huge loss of opportunity for millions of innocent citizens who sadly cannot even calculate their losses even as they are subjected to over dozes of nationalism and patriotism. Young dreams perish even before they can be expressed. India and Pakistan must together convey explicit intent to work on those dreams. Such a commitment, if it were really honest, would have to address attitudinal and perceptional issues but undoubtedly the ambiguity on a permissive approach towards terrorism directed at Indian citizens and interests would have to be curtailed. It is true that terrorism has not spared Pakistan itself and some very shocking incidents have left deep, gory gashes of tragedy. It seems that the source of conflict is about attitudes towards Islam, or at least religion is sought to be used for political ambitions. This seems contrary to the Qaid-e-Azam’s vision of securing cultural Islam and indeed seems directed at the annihilation of that very culture. I was pleasantly surprised to read in the newspaper headlines the Prime Minister’s unequivocal pronouncement that minorities in Pakistan need not fear discrimination or acts of hostility. Similarly the official advertisements for Diwali celebrations underscored the spirit of Jinnah’s vision for the future of Pakistan he had struggled to establish.
You are not alone in being subjected to a wave of iconoclastic and disruptive activities. We have our own versions of intolerance that have questioned much that the world associates with Indian civilisation and what many of us consider to be part of the definition of India, enunciated in the Constitution of the Republic and brilliantly expounded by the Supreme Court. The narrative, not surprisingly, involves Pakistan as the compulsory destination of gratuitous advice given to Muslims by none other than important members of the ruling party; as well as warning for the result of misguided election votes that the protagonists unselfconsciously pronounced would lead to celebrations in Pakistan. The recent Bihar Assembly election campaign was explicitly communal in nature and it is a remarkable that the voters, who had eighteen months ago enthusiastically supported Narendra Modi, refused to be influenced by the narrow rhetoric. Even more commendable was the quiet determination of the Muslims who rejected Owaisi’s appeal to show their strength by voting for his party. The result was an unprecedented rout of the BJP leading to several senior leaders of the BJP demanding accountability publicly. How this will impact the government and its social policy is still very early to predict. It has to be noted that Prime Minister Modi had no experience of defeat for two decades till Bihar happened. Similarly he has little experience of conversations with people other than his admirers or those who are accustomed to merely taking orders. Diplomatic challenges are often quite different in the nature of conversations that need to be undertaken. Since Pakistan has to deal with him for the next three years or so its leadership will need to understand their counterpart. We will wait to see whether Prime Minister Modi figures out that the diplomacy he has to conduct will be vastly different from the politics he has successfully done so far. Whether Bihar will convince him that he must change his politics as well remains the big question dependent on the imponderables of Indian politics. Allow me to simply conclude by saying that India and Pakistan need to look beyond now and here, certainly beyond yesterday, towards a remarkable future they can share. I must acknowledge that the Jinnah Institute is doing great service towards that cause by ensuring that objective dialogue is not disrupted even if at times adversaries of peace seem to gain an upper hand.
This is the text of a lecture given by Salman Khurshid, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Former Minister of External Affairs at the Jinnah Institute, Islamabad, Pakistan on November 12, 2015.