Friday, January 1, 2010

Times of India Frontpage

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Give Tomorrow A Chance

Jaideep Bose

  History is what we inherit. The future is what we make of it.
The Partition, for millions of Indians, remains the most traumatic chapter in living memory — a raw, deep wound in the body and soul of this nation that the passage of six decades has not helped heal.
    India and Pakistan have fought four wars (including Kargil), been on the perilous brink of a fifth, have exchanged heavy border fire countless times, and continue to view each other with suspicion and hostility. The 26/11 Mumbai assault confirmed what New Delhi has believed for a while — that Pak-based groups have been involved in recruiting, training and financing terrorists who’ve struck Indian cities with chilling regularity, killing hundreds of innocent people. There’s a sense on this side of the border that these terrorists have, at least in the past, been used, unofficially or semi-officially, as proxies in an undeclared, low-intensity war against India.
    Against such a backdrop, it is but natural for the Indian government to move with caution on reopening negotiations with Islamabad. Nor can it be blamed for wanting to first ascertain if the Pakistan government is serious about cracking down on crossborder terrorism. Anything else would be seen as a weak-kneed response to a terrible threat to the Indian state — one that could compromise the safety of its citizens and betray the memory of the many lives so wantonly snuffed out.
    And yet, the need for aman has never been greater. Shouldn’t someone, somewhere try to take a bold, even if tiny, step towards breaking this unending cycle of enmity and violence? Chances are that such an effort will be heaped with ridicule by the naysayers and dismissed as naive by the skeptics.
    Does that mean we say ‘no’ to giving peace a fighting chance? That we play into the hands of warmongers, who want nothing more than to keep the two nations at each other’s throat? And condemn our children, grandchildren and the generations thereafter to a life of strife?
    As it is, we live in what is widely described as the ‘most dangerous neighbourhood’ in the world — two nuclear powers who share a border and a history of hate. With Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan in tur
moil, there’s a danger that the region could descend into bloody chaos, even pass fully into the hands of the Taliban.
    The price of doing nothing is too high to contemplate, for both India and Pakistan.
    Which is why the leading media groups on either side of the border — Jang and The Times of India — have chosen to join hands in a peace initiative called Aman ki Asha. (The Jang Group includes Pakistan’s pre-eminent Urdu newspaper and its second-largest English paper; it’s also No. 1 in television, thanks to Geo TV, radio and music.) We believe the media can serve as facilitators in fostering greater understanding between people. Unfortunately — and TOI cannot entirely escape blame — we tend to focus far too much on the negative. In the process, the good that people do is drowned out by the sensational, and by the constant flow of deathand-destruction headlines.
    Ignorance breeds distrust. What we do not know, we tend not to trust. Decades of Indo-Pak hostility have reduced normal interaction to less than
a bare minimum. Apart from those with relatives on the other side, or those who need to travel on business, there is little traffic between the two countries. The big benefit of the two largest media houses coming together is that it will help open new windows into each other’s world.
    Are we being foolishly romantic, are we tilting at windmills? Perhaps. Will our efforts bear fruit? We can only hope they will. All that we can do is plant as many saplings as possible and pray that they grow deep roots in the ground and strong shoots in the air.
    Ours is by no means the first peace effort — braver men and women have walked the path before us. There have been several efforts at Track II people-to-people diplomacy. But it’s been more stop than go, frequently disrupted by outbreaks of violence and terror.
    So why do we persist? It is our fervent belief — and a poll conducted for Aman ki Asha bears us out
— that an overwhelming majority of Indians and Pakistanis want peace and stability. Also, it is an article of faith with us that the sum of all good must triumph over the sum of all evil — because there is so much more good than evil in this world. Evil exists in pockets of darkness, but has a nasty habit of casting a disproportionately long shadow.
    Those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit Pakistan have come back, almost without exception, brimming with stories of warmth, hospitality and an amazing generosity of spirit. Pakistan is one of the few countries where we are made to feel genuinely welcome, not for our growing economic clout or the buying power of our tourists, but for ourselves. What could be a more powerful bond to build on, than this?
    What we need is wider and deeper engagement to tear down the walls that separate us, and clear the
misconceptions we harbour about each other. There’s an unfortunate notion among some of us in India that Pakistanis rub their hands in glee every time we’re struck by terror. Far from it — 26/11, in particular, left them shocked and saddened. Just as most Indians are moved to tears by the sight of a father in Lahore or Karachi or Multan cradling the body of a daughter killed by a bomb. If India has been at the receiving end of one deadly terror attack after another, so has Pakistan, indeed with far greater frequency.
    And if our hearts go out to each other in times of tragedy, they also beat together in moments of good fortune. There was such joy on this side of the border when Pakistan won the T20 World Cup six months ago — it was the next best thing to an Indian victory. The fact that they triumphed in the face of enormous odds — a country under siege, a team
    that had little time to prepare — made
their victory all the more poignant. There are so many ties that bind us together — social, cultural, civilisational, familial, and above all, emotional — and so many common interests: Pakistan’s love for Bollywood and Hindi TV soaps has to be seen to be believed; equally, there’s deep admiration and respect in India for the great poets, writers and musicians Pakistan has produced.
    In a recent interview to an international magazine, Bill Clinton said, “You have to believe that what we have in common is more important than our differences…” The context in which he spoke may have been different, but it could just as easily have applied to India and Pakistan.
    Peace needs to be underwritten by politicians; at the same time, it’s too important to be left solely to them. Nor is it always a linear process: it needs people who are willing to swim against the tide
of conventional wisdom, and it requires the occasional leap of faith.
    Our efforts can never supplant official government-to-government talks. What we hope to start is a movement that will gradually make its way from the periphery to the centre, a wave of goodwill that will touch the hearts and minds of people on both sides. History shows that even grand, Nobel-winning gestures don’t always lead to long-term peace, not unless they’re backed by popular support and sentiment.
    People need to believe that just as the cost of continued conflict is enormous — in terms of its human and economic toll — the ‘peace dividend’ can be huge too. No wonder the two words, peace and prosperity, are so inextricably linked. There is a multiplier effect of peace: in the immediate term, the defence budget can be pared and the money spent on development instead; more importantly, trust leads to trade, and business blossoms in an environment of security and stability. In the long term, the spread of prosperity will hopefully lighten the burden of poverty that drives many young men to violence, for it is often among the ranks of the poor and the disillusioned that extremist groups find ready recruits (if the stories about Kasab are to be believed, it wasn’t ideology that first drove him into

the arms of the LeT; in India too, deprivation has fuelled insurgency).
    Astable, prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest as much as it is in Pakistan’s. It’s also perhaps time we tried to “look at things from the other side”. It’s not easy to do, in any relationship — be it personal, professional, or between nations. But a genuine attempt at it can lead to greater empathy, understanding and perhaps even a congruence of views. Among the educated middle to upper class in Pakistan, there is admiration for India’s economic achievements. But there is also a certain insecurity — of a large and powerful neighbour that has never quite come to terms with what it calls ‘Partition’ and what Pakistan calls ‘Independence’. For many Indians, Jinnah remains a villain; on the other side of the border, he’s Quaid-i-Azam (The Great Leader) and father of the nation.
    Yes, there are differences, but should we let them get in the way of a shared destiny? Must our future remain hostage to our past? We think not. Should the good intentions of hundreds of millions of Indians and Pakistanis be subverted by a few hardliners and radicals? Certainly not.
    Over the past few months, many of us at The Times of India have had the privilege of meeting some very fine people at the Jang Group, and have made some wonderful friends there. We look forward to deepening this relationship in the months and years to come — and spreading the goodwill beyond the confines of our newspapers and TV channels.
    Remember the words of John Lennon’s peace anthem, Imagine? “You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us…” We’d like to believe there are many more ‘dreamers’ like us out there — and that our dream of India and Pakistan living in harmony will come true.
    From all of us here, we wish our friends in Pakistan a peaceful and prosperous new decade. 

An Idea Whose Time Has Come
A joint statement by the editors of the Jang Group and The Times of India

    Peace between India and Pakistan has been stubbornly elusive and yet tantalizingly inevitable. This vast subcontinent senses the bounties a peace dividend can deliver to its people yet it recoils from claiming a share. The natural impulse would be to break out of the straitjacket of stated positions and embrace an ideal that promises sustained prosperity to the region, yet there is hesitation. There is a collective paralysis of the will, induced by the trauma of birth, amplified by false starts, mistrust, periodic outbreaks of violence, suspicion, misplaced jingoism and diplomatic doublespeak. Hypnotized by their own mantra, the two states are reluctant to move towards normalization until certain terms and certain promises are kept.
In this perennial season of inertia and zerosum calculations prejudices continue to fester, stereotypes are entrenched and myth replaces reality. Tragically, opportunity knocks unheard on doors bolted on the inside. Opportunism, that appeals to atavistic passions, elicits an instant response to every single knock. It is one of history’s ironies that a people who share so much, refuse to acknowledge

their similarities and focus so avidly on their differences. We believe it is time to restore the equilibrium. Public opinion is far too potent a force to be left in the hands of narrow vested interests. The people of today must find its voice and force the rulers to listen. The awaam must write its own placards and fashion its own slogans. The leaders must learn to be led and not blindly followed. Skepticism about the given is often the genesis of faith. This skepticism has been brewing. It can be unleashed to forge a new social compact between
the people of this region. A social compact based on a simple yet powerful impulse — Aman ki Asha. A desire for peace.
    The media in India and Pakistan speaks directly to the hearts and minds and stomachs of the people. It can help in writing a final chapter, adding a happy twist to a story that seemed headed for tragedy. It can do so by shaping the discourse and steering it away from rancour and divisiveness. It has the maturity to recognize the irritants and obstacles to peace and will not take a timid stance towards
the more intractable and contentious issues — whether relating to Kashmir, water disputes or the issue of cross-border terrorism. It can offer solutions and nudge the leadership towards a sustained peace process. It can create an enabling environment where new ideas can germinate and bold initiatives can sprout. The media can begin the conversation where a plurality of views and opinions are not drowned out by shrill voices. It can cleanse polluted mindsets and revive the generosity of spirits which is a distinctive trait of the subcontinent. It can help cool the temperature and wean away the guardians from fortified frontiers. It can argue the case for allocating scarce resources where they are needed the most. It can begin the process of converting swords into plough shares.
    The Times of India Group and the Jang Group have come together to energize the process of peace between our two countries. We believe that this is an intervention whose time has come. We recognize that setbacks will occur but these should not derail the
process. We will need to reach out and pluck the low hanging fruit in the beginning before we aim higher. Issues of trade and commerce, of investments, of financial infrastructure, of cultural exchanges, of religious and medical tourism, of free movement of ideas, of visa regimes, of sporting ties, of connectivity, of reviving existing routes, of market access, of separated families, of the plight of prisoners, will be part of our initial agenda. Through debates, discussions and the telling of stories we will find commonalities and space, for compromise and adjustment, on matters that have bedevilled relations for over 60 years.
    When the two neighbours meet they move almost seamlessly into the shared cultural and human ethos. They talk to each other about food, about music, about poetry, about films, about theatre and about the prolonged absences spawned by lost years. They share anxieties, discuss rising prices, seek advice on their children’s education, gossip about their in-laws, trade anecdotes and laugh at the foibles of politicians. We want to lower the walls so that the conversation continues. We have to nurture the seeds of peace that have nestled, untended, for decades in hostile soil.
    We owe our unborn generations the right to rise out of the depths of poverty, and squalour. It is embarrassing to read the statistics confirming our resistance to positive change in the fields of education, health and poverty alleviation. All social indices are stacked against us and will remain so unless we scatter the war clouds that menace our skies. There are external elements at work in the region that thrive on the animosity between the two neighbours. They have a stake in keeping the region in turmoil. We need to combat them by making them irrelevant.
    A surge of goodwill and flexibility on the part of civil society and the media will push these forces back by denying them the raw material that manufactures hate.
    Our subcontinent needs to follow the footprints left behind by the great poets, sufi saints and the bhakts who preached and practised love and inclusiveness. This is the land of Tagore and Ghalib, of Bulleh Shah and Kabir, of Nanak and Moinuddin Chisti. It is their spirit that will guide us in this journey. The one and half billion people of this region await the dawning of an age where peace, equality and tranquility prevails. This will happen when every heart beats with Aman ki Asha. 

FLAME OF HOPE | Members of Hind-Pak Dosti take part in a candle-light march at the Wagah border 


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