“LOVE PAKISTAN”. The first message that I got on the New Year morning, courtesy my favorite newspaper, the Times of India. I must admit, I was shocked for a few moments. Later, I learned that lakhs of people across India shared a similar reaction on reading the message. The message turned out be a part of an elaborate campaign, optimistically called “Aman ki Asha”, which translates into something like “Hope for Lasting Peace”.
Over the next few weeks, it has been very instructive to follow the passage of this initiative undertaken by the Times of India (TOI). I was particularly intrigued by the though process that must have gone into the roll out of this grand campaign. Which ‘bright spark’ ignited the idea, the subsequent brainstorming that must inevitably have taken place, and whether everyone thus involved was in full agreement to the sentiments of the paper are some interesting questions that come up.
Another particularly revealing fact came to light when I was going through the initial reaction of people on the TOI website. Within a couple of days, hundreds of reactions had poured in. The overwhelming response was as I had expected. Everyone expressed surprise, some shared the hope but a vast majority reacted very angrily. A number of people actually threatened to cancel their subscriptions of the venerable newspaper. How can one imagine peace with a neighbor who believes in bleeding you through a thousand cuts, and which comes to the negotiating table with a gun in hand – this was the common refrain.
This reaction of the people in general questioned the very basis of the ‘Aman ki Asha” initiative – that there is an ever growing “constituency of peace” in both the countries, India and Pakistan. The reactions on the other side of the border, on the website of “Jang”, the Pakistani newspaper and a partner in the initiative, are an exact reflection of the Indian reactions. My only contention in this whole story is this – Is lasting peace possible between India and Pakistan only on the strength of the so called “people-to-people” initiative, and by simply bypassing the governments? Yes, the common people in India are peace loving, and I am sure that Pakistani citizens also think in the same way. But does this imply that all the tension between the two countries is fomented by the respective governments?
Past and present events present just one emphatic answer – NO. People to people contacts are noting new between India and Pakistan. Indeed, there are a number of cross border marriages that regularly take place, notwithstanding the tensions between the two countries. Other significant shared passions are cricket and Bollywood. Yet, India and Pakistan have fought four wars, and India has been at the receiving end of a covert war waged by the full support of Pakistani authorities for the last 25 years.
Admittedly, when one talks about the ‘growing constituency for peace’, it is expected that gradually, people will realize the futility of enmity, this realization will gain a critical mass and eventually, the governments will be pressurized into suitable peaceful initiatives. But wait a minute, doesn’t this presume that the government is the based on the people’s will? That means a democracy. At least one of the protagonists in this saga cannot claim to have a democratic government that is in full control of all policy making and decision taking. This implies that such peace initiatives will be easily shot down by the vested interests, a.k.a., the Pakistani Army establishment.
On the other hand, the ‘peace constituency, is also not as strong and numerous as is being asserted. Everyone realizes that this is a mere pipe dream as long as terrorists continue to run amok, as in Mumbai 26/11, or more recently, in Pune. Yes, everyone wants peace, but few are naive enough to believe that a mere overwhelming desire for peace will banish all the problems between India and Pakistan. It is more likely to be the other way round – unless all the outstanding issues are resolved, there will be no peace.