August 15, 2020
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Burying The Past

Despite its anti-India biases, Pakistan's post-1971 generation watches Zee TV, loves Madhuri Dixit and advocates peace

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Burying The Past

THEY were not on the train to death. Neither did they witness the air raids and blackouts of three bitterly fought wars. They may have their prejudices and subscribe to the "two-nation theory", but Pakistan's post-1971 generation feels it is about time India and Pakistan resolved their differences. Even the Kashmir issue, they believe, should not stand in the way of peace and economic cooperation.

This generation squarely blames politicians on both sides of the border for the present state of affairs. They want the two governments to reduce defence expenditures and expedite solutions to common problems like health, illiteracy and poverty. Tension between the South Asian neighbors, they say, helps no one except the arms industry in the West. Relations between the two countries must be on a give-and-take basis, points out Yahya Farooqui, a business administration student in Karachi. "Both countries have joined hands in the name of SAARC but they refuse to go beyond that to form an economic forum like ASEAN," he says.

Young Pakistanis have a cultural affinity with India and relish Bollywood films and music, but they resent India's "refusal to accept" Pakistan as an independent state. Many believe that Pakistan too needs to shed its "hangover of the past". "We should thrash out these issues and move on," says 19-year-old Mehvesh Mumtaz of Lahore, an international-level debater who is headed for the London School of Economics this year. he believes that Indians have the same problems as Pakistanis, "maybe more, but they are not as entrenched in the past. They don't let the Kashmir dispute affect them like we do with our strikes and days off. That doesn't bather India, it just hurts OUT own economy. "

Moazzam Khan, a commerce student who hangs out with his friends at a billiards club in Lahore, condemns both governments for their antagonistic stand. "Our army gets so much money by harping on Indo-Pakistan tension. India is our neighbour and we should improve relations for reasons of trade and security."

What is past is past, these youngsters feel, and the need of the hour is statesmanship, not Politics. Says the 1971-born 'Tariq Sheikh, fresh out of Lahore's University of Engineering and Technology." A statesman does not try to justify the injustices of the past but looks to the future; a politician harps on the past. We need statesmen. We need to reduce our defence budgets, forget what is past and solve our problems. If Israelis and Palestinians can do it, why can't we?" Adds Shakir Siddique, a student of architecture at Lahore's National College of Arts (NCA): "We are ideologically different but we should develop trade links and look at India in the broader global perspective.

Though born in 1971 or after, this generation of Pakistanis is not unaffected by the ravages of the war their country fought with India that year. Rut Mohammad Sarfaraz, 25, who lost his father and uncle in the war, does not blame just one side. "Obviously I'll curse the Bengalis and the Indians but also, partly, the Pakistanis for destroying our lives," says Sarfaraz, who lives in a rented house and gives tuition to support himself and his widowed mother. His mother Qudsia Begum, who brought the one-year-old Sarfaraz and her two other children safely across to Pakistan, suppresses those memories with tranquillisers.

THE war of 1971 remains a bitter memory for the people of Sindh's vast Thar desert. "Whenever anyone talks about tension between India and Pakistan, I hear sounds of bombardment and gunfire. I never want that to happen again," says Mohammad Nawaz, a labourer, whose family has lived in the Thar for generations. Although too young really to have actually comprehended the horrors of the last conflict, the young generation feels war should be a thing of the past.

The sentiment is echoed by Sheikh. "Our defence budgets are too high. 'The most important thing is freedom, and we're both free. There is more poverty in India, but here we have peanuts for development." He dislikes the hypocrisy underlying the official anti-India rhetoric parroted by his friends, one of whom even hates a particular snack bar in Lahore which recently introduced a vegetarian thali, Indian-style. "But he, and many others like him, always watch Zee TV and Indian movies--even on holidays like Defence of Pakistan Day."

Ahmed All, 22, who hails from Tando Allahyar, a village in Sindh, finds older Pakistani Punjabis much more India-conscious than the Sindhis. "For young people, all that matters is films, especially Indian, how good Indian advertisements are or Madhuri Dixit's latest dance number," says All, an NCA student.

Young Sindhis and Punjabis also have different perceptions about India. "Sindhis only think of Sindh now," explains All. "Indo-Pak relations are not an issue, but Karachi is. According to the Urdu press, India's Research and Analysis Wing is at work there, but you only read about it in the Urdu press. There is no mention of it in the Sindhi papers. We have no quarrel with India, we ourselves are going backwards."

But their government's relations with India draw flak. "Their rhetoric is anti-India, but they have no qualms about buying onions from India and contributing to its economy," says Sheikh.

HOWEVER, he admits that he and his family are not above contradictions. He explains: "My uncle bought me a pair of jeans from India, which I never wore. I guess it's just too deeply entrenched in my psyche. And my mother never wears Indian saris. She also refused an Indian achaar that my aunt brought from the US, although Pakistanis and Indians abroad have no such qualms. We don't publicly posture against India but we have our convictions."

Sheikh subscribes strongly to the two-nation theory. He says: "Our culture may be the same, but it goes against the two-nation theory." Yet he feels that even while maintaining separate identities, India and Pakistan should cooperate economically.

So, is the Hindu-Muslim divide an insurmountable hurdle in bettering bilateral relations? "There is a socio-psychological problem of being two different nations; being Hindu and Muslim has been drummed into people's psyche," says Faryal Rashid, 22, a political science student at Karachi University.

However, Ali points out that before the Partition there was no concept of Hindus and Muslims being separate people. "It was only when the slogan was raised that many people went for it blindly. Outsiders deliberately created trouble, putting a burnt Quran at a Muslim's door, or a bleeding cow in front of a Hindu's house." He remembers the annual Rama Pir Mandir mela in Tando Allahyar which Indians also attended. "We always celebrated it, like we celebrated Holi and Diwali, with the 50-60 Hindu families there. We have always lived in peace with our Hindu neighbours, but after the Babri Masjid incident, outsiders came and attacked the mandir and broke its murtis (idols) and put up the Mohajir Qaumi Movement flag."

The two-nation theory holds little meaning for All. "The Sindhi Hindus speak the language, they know Shah Latif (a Sindhi Sufi poet), and our literature. The only difference is that they don't eat beef, so Muslims didn't slaughter cows." Tension in Sindh today, he adds, is ethnic rather than religious. Siddiqui, the architecture student, believes that religion has been made an issue between the two nations by politicians. "Islam does not bar us from developing ties with non-believers," he says.

Rashid's parents, both doctors, migrated after the Partition with their families from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. But her belief that Hindu-Muslim relations are irreconcilable does not stop her from playing rang with coloured water, like Hindus do on Holi. She and her friends also enjoy dancing the Gujarati dandiya and wearing lehngas, cholis or saris.

They exchange "friend bands" with their male friends, like the Hindu custom of rakhi. "We have certain customs in common," admits Rashid, "but I don't go for puja or take part in the Ganapati procession." Recognizing the secular traditions of the subcontinent, she reasons, "if Hindus and Muslims can visit the shrines of Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, and share meals at their langars, why can't there be peace between India and Pakistan?"

MUMTAZ was 13 when she last visited India along with her father, a senior Pakistan Railways official. During the trip, she became friends with the daughters of an Indian Railways officer in Delhi. She recalls: "We couldn't figure out how we were different from each other and discussed why our countries had separated. We could have lived together, we were so alike."

Most young Pakistanis single out Kashmir as the main point of contention between India and Pakistan. "Half the problem will be resolved once that issue is settled. Only the Kashmiris have the right to rule over their land. India and Pakistan are interfering for nothing," says Zainab, 16, a schoolgirl. Moazzam Khan and his friends at the billiards club agree. So does Rashid, who adds that the tension between Pakistan and India has only given western powers room to intervene in the "mystic land of the subcontinent".

Sheikh supports the Kashmir uprising which he looks upon as a irhurl. Siddiqui, who has visited what Pakistan calls "Azad Kashmir", says India has "no right to suppress" Kashmiris and that "free and fair elections" in accordance with UN resolutions is the best solution.

However, Mumtaz and her friends are not particularly concerned with India. For them, the turmoil in Karachi is far more important, though "the Kashmir issue should be sorted out. It is not as if they want to join us anyway. Right now, given our own political situation, we can't handle it," they say.

Farooqui adds that, apart from the main dispute over Kashmir, which "neither country is sincere" about resolving, the rise of fundamentalist Hindu parties like the BJP and the Shiv Sena in India also hampers prospects of peace. "Fundamentalist leaders like Bal Thackeray and L.K. Advani justify our elders' decision to migrate from India."

But then, is Islamic extremism in Pakistan not responsible, at least partly, for the corresponding growth in religious militancy in India? "it could be," reckons Sheikh. "Unless both countries solve their problems, such issues will remain." But, as Ali points out, "things cannot progress without a dialogue.

Is anyone listening?


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