The tensions that exist in the Asian subcontinent are not just political ones as many may expect, but rather they cover many grounds such as politics, religion, culture and media. No single article can do justice to the decades of tension that has existed, and like I said I am no politics pro so I will avoid getting into that. While attending this session, I learned a lot not only about the current situation, but a lot about the historical situation. The numerous wars that have taken place, the ongoing tensions of Kashmir, the hostility between nationalists and the now more frequently appearing attempt at friendship between the two nations.
I would like to tackle many angles of interpretation of the problem that were brought forth. The room was filled with Canadians of Pakistani and Indian descent as well as some who were neither. Many fresh perspectives were put on the table and I was thankful that we reside in such a tolerant and accepting community.
The obvious and the most frequently mentioned issue discussed was that of Kashmir. Kashmir was described as the unfinished business of Pakistani independence from India. The dispute has been an ongoing one which seems to have no end in the near future. The people of Kashmir are being oppressed and are having to fight for the right to the land they wish to call their own. The Kashmir issue is a complex one which does not have a simple solution. Throughout the discussion it was debated whether solving the Kashmir issue would solve all problems between Indian and Pakistan. The question was consequently posed the other way around as well, if all other problems between India and Pakistan were solved, would the Kashmir issue be solved. The complexity of the issue is great, but the simplification of the logistics of the problem opened up my eyes to a lot. The issue with Kashmir is one of ownership, independence and the military. I personally believe that the greater and more fundamental issues between the nations need to be addressed and by doing this, there will be a natural resolve for Kashmir.
The next point I wanted to touch on was the horrible history of attempts at peace building between the nations. Over the last 6 decades or so, there have been numerous attempts at building the bridges between the two countries. Pakistan separated from India decades ago, but this left a deep wound in the relation between the two nations. Many wars have taken place since Pakistan’s independence from India and none of them fully resolved the issues at hand; Kashmir is the greatest proof of that. The point I wanted to bring up here was that peace building attempts need to be firmer than they have been in the past. Peace needs to be more than a temporary project; it needs to be a long term goal. There have been many periods in Indian-Pakistani history where for a couple of months or years there have been great attempts at rebuilding the friendship between the two nations, and then one incident occurs which brings everyone back to ground zero. An excellent example of this the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The two nations were trying to resolve issues, projects were made namely for the purposes of bridging cultural gaps and showing people that those on the other side of the border are more or less just like them. There were friendly matches and intermixing of players from the Pakistani and Indian cricket teams. Bollywood (Indian) and Lollywood (Pakistani) were using one another’s singers and actors, and some of the greatest stars on Indian T.V. reality shows were Pakistani. All of these attempts were being made, and all it took was one “Mumbai” to take place. The attacks were assumed to be the work of Pakistani extremists, and this misconception tore the relationship between the two nations apart, yet again. It is very unfortunate that the work of a few bad apples could crumble such peace building attempts between two nations.
The tension between India and Pakistan is one that is so strong that the fundamental issues need to be resolved from the roots before we can expect any apparent change. If we continue to put emphasis on superficial change, all it would take is another ‘Mumbai’ to blow the house of cards over. The effort to build peace must be great, but more importantly, the foundation must be strong.
The last point I want to touch upon is that of the importance of human contact in eliminating the tension, especially the tension between the masses. One attendee at the dialogue session who was neither Indian nor Pakistani put the question on the table whether people in India or Pakistan were more intolerant of the other, or were Indians and Pakistanis outside of their respective nations residing in places such as Canada more tolerant of one another. To answer this, I believe it is obviously not right to generalize about any group, but I would say with many reasons that intolerance is greater within the borders of India and Pakistan. The main reason I state this is that there is much greater human contact between Indians and Pakistanis residing outside of the subcontinent than there is within it.
Growing up, my parents have told me that they were always fed the idea of Indians being ‘the bad guys’ and vice versa. My parents have lived in Canada for more than thirty years, so they do not hold the views that many in Pakistan might still hold. An excellent example of this evident in my own life is my sister and brother in law. My brother in law is from India and he came to Canada in his teenage years. Today, eight years later he is married to my sister who belongs to a Pakistani family. He admits that while in India, he would have never even dreamt of ever marrying a Pakistani girl, but the more interaction we have with one another, the more we realize that we are no different from one another. The fact that my parents grew up here made them more accepting of an Indian son in law, as opposed to someone who may still live in Pakistan. After her engagement, my sister went to Pakistan for her wedding shopping and a cousin of my father’s asked my sister about her fiancé. When my sister told my uncle that he was from India, he was enraged and asked if all the Pakistani boys had died and questioned why she had to marry an Indian. This was humorous for us on the outset, but so sad to realize that people still think that way.
Another story which is close to me is that of a dear friend who grew up in Pakistan. He told me that although his parents never taught him Indians were bad, but he grew up with that image as it was the general conception in the media and in the public sphere. Holding onto this thought that he grew up with, he happened to come across Indians while studying in London. When he initially met them, he was hesitant as he expected what he had grown up hearing. After befriending them, he realized they were great individuals and that it was not safe to generalize or judge. Shortly after his newly built friendships were formed, ‘Mumbai’ happened. He feared the backlash from his friends and thought they would turn around and hate him because he was Pakistani. He thought the hidden hatred might surface, but to his surprise his friends were more supportive than even other Pakistanis. They made it clear that it was the work of a few and that the stereotypes and generalizations need to be fought. His friend arranged for him to take a trip to India amidst all of the tension, and to his surprise, the people of India were very welcoming and hospitable. He realized then more than ever before that Indians and Pakistanis alike had a great misconception about one another, and only exposure and contact could break the barriers that stood so strong.
To bring to a close, the issues of Indian and Pakistani relations are still more complex than I have made them seem, but they are still issues that are manmade. They are not innate, nor are they unsolvable. It will take time, but there needs to be a real start. The governments as well as the people of both nations need to realize the importance of building peace between the two nations. The Asian subcontinent has been plagued with the tension of India and Pakistan and that has left no other definitions, at least for the purposes of international politics. We need to work together, in and outside of Indian and Pakistan to build a better future where all religious traditions, political views and ethno cultural backgrounds can thrive and live peacefully with one another.
Attending the Indian-Pakistani dialogue for peace definitely was well worth the time as I got a rough background on the issues and saw many new roads to be discovered. I will study the historic tensions, the present state and with both of them work with others who share the same goals to build a better future.