c8c1045729d7036ec193e94810e1ee7e-2It has been an interesting spring in South Asia. The ongoing cricket series between India and Pakistan will close soon with a final one-day tally tied at the time of this writing (after the Tests series had ended in a draw). On the other hand is the continuing “Peace Offensive,” which both India and Pakistan have launched simultaneously beyond the cricket field, via visiting artists, enhanced people-to-people contacts, and most importantly with Kashmir’s new bus service.

Giving the divided Kashmiris a way to meet each other after decades, without the use of passports, is nothing less than revolutionary. Let us hope that small steps like these will lead us to the larger challenge before us—the possibility of a permanent peace between India and Pakistan, and a welcome final closure to the Kashmir problem.

There are certainly many skeptics amongst us. This writer does wonder (as do many Indians) if there is another Kargil (flashpoint leading to war) on the horizon! But the times have changed post 9/11. Islamist-oriented movements are being looked upon with suspicion and little sympathy. And the Kashmir problem has been going on for so long that fatigue is setting in on all sides.

Thousands of lives have been lost and hundreds of thousands have been directly impacted. The world, especially the United States, is asking both India and Pakistan to grow up and move on by receding from their maximal positions and to look for solutions that will satisfy their minimum requirements for peace. And this time it might just be the suffering Kashmiris themselves who will show the rest of us a way out of this mess.

The Cold War is over. Not only has Washington had a change of heart after 9/11, but it no longer has to worry about an opposing superpower getting in the way of its policy implementation. It also does not need to pursue the conflict dividends that came in handy while it battled communism. But that does not mean that America’s role has become easy, especially with regards to problem resolution between old and embittered enemies such as India and Pakistan. It is very difficult to teach old warriors new tricks, especially within these two nuclear-weapon states which have been fighting over Kashmir for the past 58 years.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently had a first-hand look at the two and one can only wonder if what she saw and heard there has given us any reason for optimism. The offer of F-16 planes (to both sides) will not solve the problem, but it will certainly help thousands of workers keep their jobs in Fort Worth, Texas, where President Bush would like to remain popular.

But returning to South Asia, the question to ask is why are India and Pakistan choosing to be civil to each other now? And is the prospect of peace a fantasy?

The nudging of two by the world community, especially the United States, the European Union, and even China, is evident. But “It’s the economy, stupid” may also have a great deal to do with it. India wants to be a global power and Pakistan is tired of being poor. What has changed recently is the growing realization by both nations that to achieve their objectives they need to cooperate with the other.

India needs resources (oil and gas) to feed its growing economic engine and realizes that Pakistan is geographically located between it and the Central Asian or Iranian energy suppliers. Pakistan too will benefit from the same sources but what it needs immediately is more water to satisfy the thirst of its growing population and to irrigate its increasingly dusty plains. India controls Pakistan’s water source in Kashmir and unless more accommodations are made, the scarcity of water in the near future just might re-ignite old hostilities not only between India and Pakistan but within Pakistan itself. Realism, and not the power of astrology, are at work here. But will it all last?

General Pervez Musharraf was once known as “The Architect of Kargil.” Today he is in an unenviable position due to his stand on war against the Al Qaeda and (surprisingly) on peace between India and Pakistan. Despite what the Western media portrays, it is not just one man but the higher echelons of the Pakistan Army, the Pakistani bureaucracy, and the recovering political establishment in Pakistan that now have a converging vested interest in settling disputes with India. Even a number of people in Pakistan’s religious leadership are not being as critical of India today as they have been in the past. A few die-hards will continue to play their same old tune but their future relevance will be diminished if India itself can check or prevent incidents such as the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat. The communal fires in India and the sectarian fires in Pakistan are devilishly similar.

Being of the democratic persuasion, I find it difficult to give General Musharraf my unqualified support on issues related to constitutionality. But on peace with India I am urging Pakistani Americans to go the distance with him. He also appears to have the support of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at this critical juncture (on this subject). Bhutto has shown much statesmanship recently and is proving to be a mature leader. And she is not alone, as I discovered during a recent visit to South Asia.

On Dec. 27, 2004, I was a guest at a dinner in Karachi hosted by Tariq and Ghazala Sohail. The Sohails run a medical college in Karachi and are known for their social work. This event was held to welcome a group (on a goodwill mission) made up of visiting Indians and Pakistanis who now make the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom their home. The image that I once had about the Pakistani elite being too busy consuming illegally imported Scotch and not caring about society in general was laid to rest at this venue.

There to meet the visitors were the former governor of Sindh province, a lieutenant general, representatives of human rights organizations, and several leading columnists and writers from the two largest English newspapers in Pakistan—Dawn and The News. Everyone appeared to be on the same peace wavelength. A sizable number of South Asian Christian visitors were in the group of overseas guests along with Hindus and Muslims. And there were no demonstrators anywhere, only concerned human beings who wished for a long overdue peace.

But where will all this momentum lead us? One cannot really predict. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s General Musharraf will meet informally to discuss many issues, including Kashmir. Let us urge all Indians and Pakistanis worldwide to pray for the success of these talks and to send their encouragement. Because if this writer, a longtime Pakistani-American activist can change his perceptions after a trip to India, so can others.

I do not know exactly when that change of heart occurred. Was it at our ancestral family graveyard in India when the wall started tumbling down? Or when I walked with my aging mother though the campus of Aligarh Muslim University and searched for my father’s long-faded footsteps? It could also have been at his grave in Karachi. But more than likely it was when I viewed for the first time the true faces of “the enemy” that I actually became a little embarrassed. The distantly familiar and cute faces belonged to my cousin sisters N, M, G, and C, whose parents never left India for Pakistan at the time of Partition as mine did. I had never seen them before that day. Cousin N was getting ready for her wedding as everyone present at her henna ceremony looked at us with equal wonderment. I made my personal peace with India that day and can now imagine how the Kashmiris on this new bus service feel when they meet their kinfolk after all these years.

As General Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh meet to discuss various issues, let us Indian and Pakistani people worldwide extend our support to them for the normalization of relations between the two countries. And if during these talks they run into difficulty with the geography of this conflict, let us urge them to look for a permanent solution within the contours of its humanity, an element that we have so callously overlooked since 1947.

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