Learning to patch up wounds

Anand K Sahay

With General Pervez Musharraf’s recent visit, the India-Pakistan story has moved forward very rapidly. There has never been a time since 1947 when there has been so great an area of agreement between the leadership of the two countries. But perhaps more importantly, there has never been a time when people on both sides of the border have desired tranquillity

more. In a world moving rapidly toward economic and commercial globalisation, hostilities of the past and the passions that gave rise to them appear distinctly obsolete. When such a strong support for peace is available from the key elements of civil society in both countries, the task of governments engaged in difficult negotiations to bring about peace become that much easier.

In India, when the Vajpayee government earlier sought to build bridges with Pakistan after several false starts, it had the support of the key elements of the then opposition, the Congress and the Left. With the Congress-led UPA in power now, it is heartening to note that the BJP-led NDA has extended full backing to the current dialogues. We are not clear if similar across-the-board political support is available to General Musharraf. But there is little doubt that the key parties in Pakistan — PPP and the two factions of the Muslim League — are in favour of multi-pronged cooperation with India, most notably in the field of the economy, cultural contacts and communications. Moreover, they also advocate “patience” in settling the Kashmir question. Elements of the six-party religious alliance in Pakistan, many of which are keen on “jehadi” activities continuing, are against the current India-Pakistan peace moves. But it is not realised that the JUI, which runs the largest number of madrasas in Pakistan, has long been a votary of India-Pakistan cooperation.

It is perhaps still early to say if peace will actually break out in spite of the many positive signs. A good deal will depend on how Muharraf is able to handle the political and social constituencies back home that still possess the old mind-set. But one thing is certain: once direct trade begins, and trucks carrying goods, and buses, trains and ships carrying passengers, begin to go back and forth in a routine manner, new forces will be created that will have a stake in enhancing normalisation, not sabotaging the effort. When communications

open up, ideas also travel, not merely commodities and people. That is the real revolution, which brings about understanding between even estranged peoples.

Currently, the two-way India-Pakistan trade is less than $500 million, and half of this is either through third countries or through smuggling routes. But once official understanding is put into practice, this figure can easily jump four times in hardly three years time. That shows the sheer scale of the untapped potential. After all, only about 50 years ago, the territories that now form India and Pakistan were part of the same market with well-established economic complementarities. When the British departed in 1947, they broke up the entire South Asia region. If from our own bitter experiences, we are able to learn to patch up our wounded hearts, this region is destined to become the fastest growing part of the world, given its enormous potential and the great capabilities for which its people have justly become

famous throughout the world.

Sahay, a journalist, writes for THT from New Delhi