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An Indian perspective: Use human emotions to craft elusive peace

January 25, 2004

Fifty-five years. Thousands of lives lost. Divided families. Estranged brothers. Children orphaned. Friends lost for ever. Tears, suffering, hatred, enmity untold. Hundreds of millions of rupees down the drain. A division that should never have been allowed to happen, a conflict that should never have been allowed to thrive.

Fifty-five years and more of all of this. And all it took is just a month or two of common sense for the leaders of India and Pakistan to usher in a new hope for peace.

Suddenly, everything seems as if it all never happened. The guns have fallen silent. Not a bullet has crossed the Line of Control in the past few weeks. There has been violence in Kashmir, yet no one has blamed Pakistan. Nobody wants to utter a false word and break a peace that is as delicate as it is unbelievable. Emotional statements have replaced angry rhetoric. A few months ago, the leaders of the two nations refused to look at each other. Today a handshake has bonded like never before.

Years ago immediately after the 1971 war, in a border town in Punjab, an uncle in the military told me that, during peacetime, the Indian and Pakistani soldiers floated food to each other on leaves across the river that formed the border. Even at that age the tragedy of war struck me, but that image stayed in my mind through the years like a sad and impossible dream.

When I lived in the Middle East, I made a lot of Pakistani friends. We went through the tension of the nuclear experiments of 1998 and the Kargil War in 1999 together, a little angry with each other, a little pained. I clutched my little dream to myself, rarely talking about it but finding only agreement, however guarded and wistful, whenever I did. Today it may be time to dream openly once again.

But there are still many hurdles to be crossed, not least of which is the vexing question of Kashmir.

It is an issue that brings with it strong emotions and demands an emotional answer. A logical solution is impossible and reference to historical chronology fraught with national prejudice. Today, after 55 years of accusation and counter-accusation, history looks more trampled than a football ground after a match on a rainy day. For every statement in one history book, there is an equal and opposite one in another, each one proclaimed as solemn fact by the author. An enduring peace will require compromise and the adoption of malleable positions, a willingness to give way and make room for the other. This, and only this, will bring the situation to the end it deserves.

Fortunately, the recent utterances of both leaders indicate a descent from the high ground of self-righteous inflexibility.

General Musharraf has always been looked upon with suspicion by India partly because of his alleged role in the Kargil conflict. However, there has been a growing realization during recent months that, given his more secular outlook, he is the only hope for any working co-existence, let alone cooperation. The recent attempts on his life are extremely worrisome, and the fate of future accord hangs on his ability to reign in the fundamentalists in his country and survive their conspiracies against him.

Like a giant who cussedly enjoys his prerogative to occasionally assert his authority over his less fortunate brethren, India has perhaps flaunted its economic and military strength for too long. Its leaders have too often pandered to the more jingoistic elements in its echelons, allowing them to rattle sabers needlessly, generating a feeling of constant and overbearing intimidation. Pakistan may have lost enormously because of the populist need to demonstrate its defiance in return. But India has gained nothing by the constant conflict except a general perception of its hegemonic objectives, when nothing could be farther from its intent.

India, like Pakistan, has enough problems to solve - poverty, education and disease, just to start with. Free of the preoccupation with each other, all those resources can do wonders for people deprived for fifty years.

There is little to distinguish between a Pakistani and an Indian in appearance, in culture and tradition, in language and food. And, as opposed to general perception, there is even great commonality in religion. There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan, and they are as much a part of India and as much Indian as everybody else.

The divisions lie in the scheming of rabble-rousers on both sides, not in the hearts of the people. It was a division founded on emotion, not logic, and only emotion can unravel it. Countless families cannot remain separated merely by a line on a map. The time has come to erase it forever. It is for us to seize this moment in history and make it our own. I fear it will never come again.

Viswam Sundar, a native of India, has lived in Bloomington for three years. He works for a software company there.

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