Conversations 12: A grounding for reconciliation

I forgot to upload the last few Conversations published in The News on Sunday, Aman ki Asha page in Political Economy. The entire archives are also up at the Aman ki Asha website

A grounding for reconciliation

Dilip D’Souza and Beena Sarwar continue their email discussion, questioning state versions of history and politics

May 20, 2010

Dear Beena,

So here you go – on my wife’s birthday I am taking a couple of hours off to write this to you. Please send whatever brownie points I’m eligible for to various powers that be in our countries.

Facetiousness aside, I’m once more in the hills as I write, this time in the south. Such a clean, quiet, beautiful spot. So peaceful, in fact, given our discussions for several weeks now, I cannot help wondering if such peace is the exception in our part of the world, rather than the rule; and if so, will that ever change? Is it meant only for an incredibly lucky few?

Your ripostes about the three random impressions startled me, and yet I suppose that’s the whole point. I have no answer when you draw the comparison between Hafiz Saeed and Kasab’s two co-accused; yes, what is the difference between your courts saying there’s no evidence against Saeed and our’s saying there’s none against that pair? I have grown up hearing that the unprovoked firing on our borders always starts with Pakistan; clearly you have heard vice versa. And I had no idea – though I should have guessed – that in Pakistan you think the US is soft on India.

What diametrically opposite perceptions we have of the same circumstances!
But having begun with those three, would it be interesting to explore differing perceptions about other things? Tell me about these three, please.

* We think of Jinnah as the architect of Partition and therefore the tortured relationship between our countries for 60 plus years now. How do you perceive him and whom do you hold responsible for Partition?

* Do you even see Partition – and here I specifically refer to the move to divide the country, not the tragic massacres – as something to hold somebody responsible for? Or do you see it as something inevitable, the right thing to do at the time, and now irrevocable?

* What we refer to as “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” (POK) is, I know, what you call “Azad Kashmir”. Yet as far as I know and have been taught, that is part of a state that acceded legitimately to India in 1947. In other words, Pakistan grabbed that stretch of Kashmir from us. How then do you justify calling it “Azad Kashmir” and not returning it to India?

What I’m trying to do is put on Pakistani glasses to look at these events. Because my Indian glasses tell me that they are all, in a sense, Pakistan’s “fault” (or Jinnah’s). If I wear only the Indian ones, I imagine I will stew in the same resentment and hostility that’s characterised the last six decades, and probably for many more decades. Instead, is there a way to come to some shared understanding of events in our past? Especially for what happened so many years ago, can we look back dispassionately, acknowledge mistakes frankly, understand each others’ motives, and use that as a grounding for reconciliation?

I’d like to use our last few exchanges to attempt some of this, before ending with a review of some of the takeaways (the joint memorial, etc). I hope that’s OK with you.

And on that note, I shall remind you again of the brownie points and go sing happy birthday to my wife.



May 21, 2010

Dear Dilip,

Happy belated birthday to Vibha… from Delhi. Yup, while you traipse in cool, peaceful surroundings, I along with millions stew in the sizzling heat of Delhi. I came here for an Aman ki Asha conference of some of Pakistan and India’s top CEOs and entrepreneurs. Several delegates from both sides confessed to initial low expectations that gave way to real optimism due to the encounters they had with colleagues across the border.

I was tickled by your response to my last mail. Why were you so surprised? You must know that our countries have drummed their own doctored versions of history into generations of students, often teaching literally the opposite of what is taught across the border. We need to revise our textbooks to reflect the whole picture. I don’t see that happening in the near future but the discourse must continue.

You picked three crucial points that further illustrate this disconnect.

* Jinnah: in Pakistan we are taught that he fought for a ‘homeland for Indian Muslims’. This is not the whole truth. Those who delve deeper know, from scholars like Ayesha Jalal, that he proposed ‘weightage’ for Indian Muslims, that is, representation on the basis of their political significance rather than numbers (disproportionate 33 per cent representation for Muslims in states where they averaged 15 per cent of the population, and regular representation in states where they formed from over half up to two thirds of the population). The Nehru Report of 1928 rejected this proposal, advancing a new constitution for independent India that would reduce the Muslim majorities to minorities in provinces like Bengal and Punjab.

Jinnah then turned to the idea of a separate state or states for Indian Muslims – within the Indian federation. Congress also rejected this proposal.

* Partition: Perhaps it was inevitable, but there were people responsible – Nehru and the Congress, Jinnah, and most of all, the British for the arbitrary lines they drew on the map. Jinnah did not want a divided Punjab or Bengal but Nehru chose the divisions rather than allowing a weak centre. I don’t see any of that being undone – particularly since we have further consolidated our separate identities as Indians and Pakistanis during this time. That doesn’t mean we have to remain hostile. Look at the European Union. Why can’t we have a South Asian Union?

* Kashmir: The first time I heard the term ‘POK’ was over 15 years ago, when an Indian journalist mentioned it over the telephone, explaining that it stood for “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” when I asked her (I then mentioned ‘I.O.K.’ just to be cussed). By now, you must have guessed that what we are taught about Azad Jammu & Kashmir is that it joined Pakistan voluntarily. It is not for us to ‘return’ it to India. Still, AJK is a sensitive subject in Pakistan. The state suffers from a lack of resources and development and lacks the autonomy it was promised when it ceded to Pakistan. But it has never had a movement demanding to join India.

Still, there have been some gains: the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, the involvement of Kashmiri leaders in talks between India and Pakistan on the issue, the tacit acknowledgement that Kashmir should not be treated as merely a territorial dispute between two countries but as a matter of the rights and aspirations of the Kashmiri people (positions articulated since 1995 by the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy where we first met).

How many of us thought we would see even this in our lifetimes? We need to stay the course and keep pushing for peace.



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