Dialogue of the Deaf

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Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Hasad ki aag jo seeno mein pai jati hai/Ye aag khud nahi lagti, lagai jati hai” (The fire of envy in the heart is not self-ignited; it is lit by others) can best describe the bilateral relationship between South Asia’s two large neighbors, Pakistan and India. On 14 and 15 August, 2013, both nations celebrated their respective Independence Days with the usual patriotic zeal and fervor. However, this year, the festivities were shrouded in jingoistic outbursts and overarching emotional calls for irrational and virulent measures. The omnipresent media provided fertile ground for pseudo-fanatics to spew out venom over the airwaves. Political activists needed a rabble-rousing justification to get their arsenal ready for the upcoming May 2014 elections in India. Both governments are unable to rein in the ferocious bulls that have played havoc with their china-shop economies. The armed forces need to justify the billions spent on men, machines and perks. More prominently, both nuclear powers were moving at a faster pace towards liberalization of trade, investment and facilitation. All in all, the right time for misguided elements to do the Haka, the traditional Maori war-dance.

The recent hostilities at the border and the resultant uncivilized reaction was not unexpected by the business community. Liberalized trade is a fragile commodity and becomes a punching bag for those who are not comfortable with such initiatives. Conventional wisdom accepts such intrusions and ensuing roadblocks. Nothing new! What is ominous is the fact that while trade-facilitation will enable documentation, transparency and official bilateral trade, the sinister motives of those indulging in informal trade or those who are committing extremist acts or those who fear the loss of their privileged positions continue to prevail over all efforts to bring in some sanity in the peace process.

Although it is the firm belief of most of the citizens that peace between Pakistan and India is tantalisingly elusive, there is always the hope and prayer that this quest for peace will not remain illusory forever. It is beyond rationality and beyond commercial and economical logic why after 66 years is it still a dialogue of the deaf? If one adheres to superstitious beliefs, one could very rightly term it as the sub-continent ritual of kala tika (black mark of kohl on face supposed to ward off evil, but also denotes placing a curse).

It was just recently that the pronouncements of people in the corridors of power were resplendent with the flowery fragrance of confidence and glittering with shiny flecks of optimism. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated at the SAARC Conference in Maldives in November 2011 that “the time has come to write a new chapter in the India-Pakistan relationship and I am glad the business community is writing this chapter” while the then Pakistani Prime Minister expressed optimism at an Indo-Pak meet in Lahore in May 2012 that “the time for prophets of doom and gloom is over.” Even before Premier Nawaz Sharif took the oath of office, he sent out positive signals regarding relations with India. But, in the immortal words of Margaret Thatcher, “what is to be said has been said, but not everyone has said it.”

Inspite of so much highlighted  as well as surreptitious  animosity and trumpeting of confrontational clarion calls, efforts are undertaken by business leaders, social activists and arts and culture supporters to usher in an era of good feelings and reasonableness. The underlying objective is that future generations must not carry the excess baggage of hatred, contentious issues of the past and a roller-coaster bilateral relationship with scary short stops during the ride. If the Berlin Wall can fall down, why can’t the Atari Gate that symbolizes a barrier of rancor, distrust and frenzy be smashed?

So, what next? Will the gains made in the past couple of years to liberalize trade, open up investment and facilitate people-to-people contact and movement become victims of chauvinistic brouhaha or will the recurrence of hostile events be downplayed and discouraged? Will political issues and militaristic thinking continue to dominate channels of communication and actions? Will the denizens of the sub-continent remain vulnerable to the fanatical mindset of radicals extremists like Shiv Sena and Lashkar-e-Jangvi? Alas, this is the black-and-white reality. The frightful legacy this generation may leave for its progeny should arouse the conscience of all who desire to live under a canopy of peace and prosperity.

Is there a way out? This is what those who are in their winter years want to know. If provided an opportunity, many would want to imbibe the aroma of nostalgia by making a trip to their ancestral homes across the border. This is what those who have kith and kin across the border want to know. Emails, Skype or phone calls are middling alternatives for an emotional hug or heartwarming embrace. This is what enlightened businessmen who understand the dynamics of regional trade want to know. They contend that trade between the two nations is a win-win situation and that free and fair trade will dilute the bitterness and malice that still prevail odiously.

In the Indo-Pak context, untruths are often flaunted as patriotism. India has to remove more cobwebs than Pakistan. Without India, Pakistan is more of a roadside tea-junction than a crossroad. The sustainability and critical mass of the SAARC is primarily dependent on where Pakistan and India stand. SAARC countries are also susceptible to three worldwide trends that impact trade, namely slowdown in economies, constraints on trade and finance and the xenophobic rise of protectionism. Hence, SAARC leaders must eliminate the disastrous inheritance that haunts the nearly 1.50 billion Indians and Pakistanis.

Majyd Aziz is a former President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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