By Siraj Wahab
Published in Arab News on Wednesday, September 8, 2004
In its Independence Day Collector’s Issue last month, India’s popular Outlook weekly magazine examined a series of hypothetical questions such as “What if L.K. Advani had been PM? Godse’s Bullets Had Missed Gandhi? India Hadn’t Tested the Nuclear Bomb? Rajiv Gandhi Hadn’t Unlocked Babri Masjid? Indira Gandhi Hadn’t Been PM? Gujarat Hadn’t Happened?”
Brilliant essays — all by some of the best analytical minds in India. But they somehow forgot to throw light on the most pertinent question of our time: What if the Agra summit had succeeded? Would it have changed the political and economic map of the Subcontinent? Would it have assured a second term for Atal Behari Vajpayee? Would it have sounded the death-knell for the Hindu fundamentalists?
The unfortunate failure of that summit in 2001 exploded a long-held myth among a large number of the Subcontinent’s population that a lasting peace between the two archrivals was possible only if there were a hard-line Hindu government in Delhi and a powerful military general in Islamabad. The popular perception was that any give-and-take on Kashmir would not have invited the charge that national interests had been compromised by a Hindu nationalist government. A strong army man in Pakistan would have eventually rallied round the weakened political parties in his country. In short, a popular Indian National Congress and an equally popular Pakistan People’s Party or Pakistan Muslim League would have found it extremely difficult to offer anything besides rhetoric.
Who would have imagined that one day both countries would be ruled by world-class economists whose eyes are fixed firmly on the welfare of their countries? Dr. Manmohan Singh became prime minister under special circumstances and now has the unflinching support of perhaps the most powerful woman in Indian politics, Sonia Gandhi. Pakistani Premier Shaukat Aziz got the top job under equally interesting circumstances and enjoys tremendous support from the most powerful man in Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Both Dr. Singh and Shaukat Aziz are proponents of liberalization. Both want economic reforms with a human touch. Both have lived outside their countries and know very well their nations’ problems. Both know full well the futility of fighting proxy wars. Both want a big chunk of their budgets to go toward alleviating poverty and educating the masses.
Both lack the cunning of politicians and are therefore in a better position to focus on issues of vital interest to their nationals. They will at least try to cut down on burgeoning defense budgets. Whether they succeed or not is another matter. They are a dream team to lead two big nations which have the indisputable potential to become the world’s largest trade zone.
The recent cricket series between the two nations opened the floodgates of goodwill between two different ideologies. Every other day, Bollywood now receives a guest from Lollywood. Every other day Indian newspapers are filled with beaming pictures of Pakistanis arriving in India for heart surgery and other medical treatment. There are similar stories in Pakistani newspapers. The desire for peace with India is perhaps more evident in Pakistan than in India. Pakistani cricket legend Javed Miandad literally took India by storm during his recent Zee TV-sponsored tour.
Everybody thought he was the most hated person in India. He was in for a shock when he met Bal Thackeray. “I am your admirer,” said Thackeray. “I love your game.” Mainstream Indian actors discovered a new-found courage and are increasingly refusing to act in anti-Pakistani films. Perhaps they have been encouraged by a series of failures of such films in theaters all over the country. The verdict is clear: The peoples of the two countries have had enough of the politics of hate.
There is a kind of war fatigue in both India and Pakistan. The hate on which many in both countries were brought up is rapidly turning into something better. The rhetoric is gone. And for good.
This is perhaps the best time in the history of the two nations. Both countries are at ease with themselves. They no longer suffer from the insecurities of the past. Both realize the unwinnability of any future war. Both have two dynamic leaders with refreshing outlooks toward life. Neither carries the usual baggage of popular politicians. When Dr. Singh speaks about improving relations with Pakistan, he sounds convincing. And when Shaukat Aziz talks about converting Pakistan into a giant economic powerhouse, everybody sits up and listens. It is indeed a blessing in disguise that the politicians have been given a much-needed rest. In all probability, what the politicians failed to achieve in 50 years may now be achieved by technocrat prime ministers in three or four years. They will focus less on the disputed border and more on the people who live inside those borders.
Indians and Pakistanis will hopefully no longer have to suffer the sight of hundreds and thousands of hungry and emaciated compatriots lining the streets of their cities and towns as so poignantly described by V.S. Naipaul in “India: A Million Mutinies Now.” As for what would have happened if the Agra summit had succeeded, history would have recorded something very different.