I am hearing stories from people returning from India who went there to see the cricket game in Chandigarh of the tremendous response they got from Indians. They did not have to pay for their stay or food. Indian families were competing with each other in inviting Pakistanis over to their place for dinner. The Pakistanis were having difficulty in deciding which invitation to accept and which to leave. Indians were welcoming Pakistanis with warmth as they probably do not welcome their own fellow citizens from other parts of India. Similarly when we’re in Pakistan we get a response so overwhelming which probably the Pakistanis would not offer to their own fellow citizens. How strange this is? First we hated each other for over 50 years and then all floodgates of emotions open. Which of the two feelings is real?

At least we have advanced from putting our youth in battle fields against each other to putting them in cricket fields. Cricket fields also used to be like battle fields once. Now we have improved. There is bonhomie which has replaced the feeling of revenge. Victory and loss are no longer a matter of prestige. Our politicians are telling our cricketers to play for diplomacy. Cricket has moved from second last page of newspapers when we were children to the front pages now. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also highlighted the role of cricket and bollywood in improving India-Pakistan relations. It is unfortunate that because of failure of resolution of issues politically we have to resort to a detour using cricket. However, that we’re moving towards the right goal is important.

There are contentious issues between India and Pakistan which need resolution. Prime Minister Saukat Aziz rightly pointed out in a discussion, when I went to see him in Islamabad in connection with our proposed Delhi to Multan Indian Pakistan Peace March scheduled to begin on 23rd March, 2005 from the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya, unless the issue of Kashmir is resolved we cannot hope to have a durable peace between India and Pakistan. He expressed his unhappiness over the way things have unfolded in Baglihar dam talks and admitted that Pakistan was ‘hurt’. These and a number of contentious issues will keep propping up whenever things would start to look bright. However, we have to decide whether we’ll choose to co-exist living with these issues or will perish together bombing each other with state of the art weaponry.

After all, in India we have water disputes between the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Cauvery river. The emotions between the people of two states run as high as between Indian and Pakistanis whenever a contentious issue is discussed. The problem has existed since independence and will probably remain unresolved for a long time to come. But that doesn’t take Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to the brink of bombing each other with nuclear weapons. So, why cannot India and Pakistan peacefully co-exist even if the problems remain unresolved for some time to come?

It is heartening to hear Shaukat Aziz that his Government is interested in resolving the disputes rather than just containing them. His government’s commitment to peace and harmony was amply clear from his confident attitude when he was discussing various contentious issues in a forthright manner. He demonstrated an openness which has not been the hallmark of India Pakistan relations over our independent history.

The decision by governments of India and Pakistan to allow a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar without the requirement of passports is a truly commendable one. Frankly, we had not expected that governments would take such a bold move so soon. If they continue on this path and free Kashmir from the grip of tension and violence by withdrawing their armed forces and helping life return to normalcy, they will do a great service to the people of Kashmir. India and Pakistan can jointly ensure the normalization process in Kashmir. How does lack of resolution of the Kashmir dispute come in the way of ensuring peace in Kashmir? For the people of Kashmir restoration of peace is the most important priority.

Infact, the arms race between India and Pakistan which is often linked to the Kashmir dispute is an independent phenomenon which is based on threat perception of each other. If we can have a relationship based on trust there will be no need for keeping any arms. And in due course of time the outstanding contentious issues will be resolved through the process of dialogue. If making of nuclear weapons has done any good it is that it has made us realize that there can be no military solution to the problem of Kashmir. The Kashmir issue will have to be resolved through a dialogue and that too involving the people of Kashmir, according to their aspirations. This may take some time. The common people of India and Pakistan cannot wait until then. They want the normalization process to continue. When the people don’t feel threatened by each other, as is amply clear by the warmth and bonhomie generated during all exchange visits between citizens of two countries without exception, why should the governments live in suspicion of each other? Is it not the people that comprise any nation? Of course, there are the fundamentalists on both sides. But do they represent the feelings of common people?

Let us not force our youth to put on uniforms and make them face each other with guns in their hands at the border. After all, it is only a difference of few kilometers which determines which side they’ll fight for. It is only a matter of few kilometers which determines whether they’ll be indoctrinated in Indian nationalism or Pakistani nationalism. The outer coat of ideology in the name of nation or religion is what we received only after we were born. The nature did not ordain us to fight. We have more in common than we have differences. The cultural and emotional and more importantly human bondings are much deeper. Let us respect them, rediscover ourselves as peace loving people and learn to live peacefully with our differences.

By Sandeep Pandey