Being an Asia Society fellow from its India and Pakistan Young Leaders Programme for 2013-14, I am going to be travelling to Delhi very soon along with other fellows both from the 2013-14 and 2014-15 batches. Our class had kicked off with a two-day meeting last year in Islamabad organised by the Jinnah Institute and Asia Society. Given that the dates of the Delhi leg are immediately after Eid, I was tasked with picking up the passports of some of the other fellows from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. After receiving the passports, my car was stopped by a few intimidating looking men a few hundred metres from the High Commission. They asked me to hand over the passports to them to record the names. I asked them which agency they were from. To this, one of them said, “You can stand for hours outside the High Commission of an enemy country but you have a problem with us?” When I insisted that they identify themselves, they replied, “We are not sitting here selling vegetables.” Not one to let a loose delivery go unpunished, I said that they sure looked like they were vegetable sellers. At this point they refused to hand me back the passports. The upshot was that, after a long back and forth with a rather unparliamentary exchange of hot words, they agreed to give me back the passports promising retribution upon me.
Now there are many problems with this incident. First and foremost, we are not a police state but a democracy. Just because Mr X comes up and asks me to surrender my property or the property I hold in trust for inspection does not mean I am under any legal obligation to do so. Secondly, they cannot ‘confiscate’ property under the law. I, for one, will be very happy to cooperate with any official of the state if he so identifies himself but the identification has to come first. The biggest problem however is this constant identification of India as the enemy state. Is this how we wish to see our eastern neighbour for all times to come?
Apologies for continuously pressing the point but this identification of India as the enemy is entirely contradictory to the idea Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had of Indo-Pak relations. Jinnah had envisaged a US-Canada like relationship between India and Pakistan, with permeable borders and easy access. When Tahira Mazhar Ali, the mother of the activist and writer Tariq Ali, complained to Jinnah about partition, Jinnah said that things would be as before, that she should be able to cycle to Amritsar whenever she liked and that he, Jinnah, would be spending his holidays in Bombay. The Quaid had sent a message to Pandit Nehru saying that he intended to return to Bombay after retiring from the office of governor general. It is also well known that Jinnah offered Nehru a joint defence pact against external aggression.
Despite the fact that the joint defence pact did not materialise and in spite of the acrimony that accompanied the partition of India, Pakistan and India enjoyed largely open borders in the first two decades of independence. A bookseller in Urdu Bazaar would easily take a bus from Lahore to Amritsar to buy books if they were out of print in Pakistan. Hotel chains like the Oberoi and the like owned hotels in Pakistan and vice versa. Families lived on both sides of the border and would visit each other often. One could even drive one’s own vehicle from one country to another with a special pass. Another Asia Society fellow Tridivesh Singh Maini and I have sought to investigate when and how these links were severed. What we have established is that the wars in 1965 and 1971 sealed the fate of the relationship. Reciprocal enemy property legislations in India and Pakistan emerged during this period, further dirtying the waters. Still, there is nothing static in international politics. Jinnah told his new nation that, over time, nations could fight many wars and still become the best of friends. We do not choose our neighbours but we can choose how to behave with them.
Those who have followed my articles in this space have, from time to time, accused me of being too patriotic. I have always accepted the charge without objection and have made no effort to ever conceal the fact that my Pakistani identity is extremely important to me. Consequently, the comments section beneath my article is always populated by right-wing Indian nationalist commentators from India attacking and abusing me. To then have my patriotism questioned by a bunch of goons who have neither the depth of feeling I have for Pakistan nor can appreciate that one does not have to hate another country to love one’s own is an unkind cut.
Something needs to be said about improving the training of the (un)intelligence operatives both in terms of sensitivity, education and just simple manners.
Even those among us who do not offer prayers five times a day find the Friday congregation ...