When I heard the UNGA speeches from tier-two leadership of both India and Pakistan, it struck me how the rhetoric on both sides has remained unchanged since the early 2000s. Back then, I was a vehement activist on the Kashmir issue and had as a consequence focused my attention on India’s independently verified human rights atrocities. Between then and now three things have changed.
The first was that upon moving to Pakistan, the country’s own deplorable human rights record against its own minority communities took away my locus standi on Kashmir, or at least jolted it. The second was the realisation that there is a vast segment of people who benefit from the war or the threat of war between India and Pakistan that clearly doesn’t include the over a billion masses of the two countries — poor as church mice, uneducated and desolate. The last was that the media echo chamber presents things in a refracted way — bent, skewed unrepresentative of realities. So falling prey to its jingoism was like being brainwashed and numbed out to critical thinking. With fear magnified, one can’t reason nor can there be any ability to rise above the gladiator thrill that our people thrive on.
After Pathankot and Uri, India feels it must retaliate, regardless of the need to substantiate Pakistan’s involvement in those attacks. Pakistan as a small state with a small state nuclear doctrine, behaves thusly. This is volatile. No one seems interested in walking the tightrope so the situation de-escalates. Narendra Modi’s statement on declaring a war on poverty in both countries was not only a welcome move but also one that harbours hope. Yet, the claims of surgical strike that followed from India, which have yet to be independently verified, fester the atmosphere of untrustworthiness and double-speak.
Kashmir still bleeds, the people are blinded by pellets fired by the Indian army, women are raped, most of its young men are either missing or six feet under. The international press has picked up on the horror and carnage. This raises the question whether any of the two countries really wants to resolve Kashmir. It’s become this one epicenter that keeps fulfilling both countries need to validate their national identities.
The thing with this identity is that it is dangerously like a consumer identity — led by an agenda passed down from the powerful at the top. It sometimes rarely, it cuts horizontally and the community is unified by a construct of a better life for its next generations, but often it is shallow and crass — simply self-serving.
As the world integrates, cooperates and opens up to its regional needs, India and Pakistan look inwards, close up and present their limited vision to each other. There is no dreamer, there is no overtly optimistic leader that can make both visualise a future where they are at peace with each other.
Though the founders, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mohandas Gandhi, repeatedly talked of burying the hatchet, their messages of peace and co-existence were thrown aside like a forgotten coat. What we have now are petty insults and hollow threats whose bluff is being called.
When the motorway is closed up to convert it into an airstrip; when all you hear on TV are anchors on steroids; when Twitter is ablaze with a contest on who makes the most offensive chest-thump then you know we are collectively a people with a failed imagination, a failed sense of responsibility and very terrible myopia. Just as there is this thing called a heard immunity, there is such a thing as a pandemic. In terms of protecting ourselves from bad ideas, we are the latter.
We don’t want to second-guess which cities to move our old and young in case of a mushroom cloud. Instead, we want to go marvel at each other’s progress, culture and history. This land of the Indus is ancient and has a strong soul. In honour of this, let’s put down our arms and rest our tongues.