People make peace. Not rulers
I like debating difficult propositions. But running this blog that advocates peace between India and Pakistan has been a trifle exhausting— both emotionally and intellectually. On accounting for exceptions when I touched a chord with some of my readers, the majority view that come out is that I’m being naïve, unrealistic, even outright foolish in showing the flip side of the widely held Indian perceptions of Pakistan.
Much of the prevailing distrust of Pakistan has its genesis in 26/11 when Ajmal Kasab and his hate-driven accomplices attacked Mumbai. The glacial pace at which Islamabad pursued investigations has compounded the prevailing suspicion. Indian opinion has clearly run out of patience and is unwilling to be convinced even by the probe dossier that evidently encouraged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to contemplate resumption of dialogue.
The dossier is a compilation of confessions Pakistan hasn’t ever made on New Delhi’s charge of it being the launching pad for terror-strikes against India. But I’m not the least surprised the people didn’t take it that way and reacted with hostility to the PM’s initiative.
I don’t think the move boomeranged because the joint statement was badly drafted, insinuated an Indian hand in Balochistan and de-linked action against terror from the composite dialogue. It backfired because it was badly timed and lacked popular support that’s key to making peace with a neighbour with whom we’ve fought four wars over six decades— Kargil and the 1947 tribal invasion of Jammu and Kashmir included.
The PM should have known that. He recalled Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace pitch in his impressive defence of Sharm-el-Sheikh in Parliament. But he forgot the way his illustrious predecessor built the right climate for talks to progress, by giving the go ahead for the Indo-Pak friendship cricket series despite strong opposition from rabidly anti-Pak elements within the Sangh Parivar. I round-off this blog with another story I published at that time on another beautiful Pakistani who’s no more:
My man Maqbool
Maqbool, my khansama in Pakistan, is no more. I’m told he died a year after I left that country in early 1994. A drug-addict and a family dropout from Faisalabad, he taught me the meaning of that abstract diplomatic phrase: ‘people-to-people contact’.
Thanks to his addiction, Maqbool was always short of money. He’d often remove small change from my pocket, inflate grocery bills and borrow from my friends in the secure belief that I’d clear his debts. What made me put up with this wayward son of a green-card holder was the fierce loyalty, the genuine respect and love he had for me.
Spending an entire day in the Jumma Bazaar (Friday market), he’d return home to announce that he had lost the Rs 200 I gave him for the weekly stock of vegetables. He was incorrigible, so was I in the fond hope that some day, he’d reform.
After a short visit to India, I discovered that Maqbool had sold as ruddi the back issues of Hindustan Times I used as reference material for my dispatches from Islamabad. That was the only time I lost control of myself and hit Maqbool. Remorse personified, he fell at my feet, his wife Kausar and son Saqib watching in dismay. “Saab ji, mainu maaf karo. Mein mazboor se,” he pleaded, alluding to his crippling addiction.
On another occasion, Maqbool vanished for about a week, claiming to have been picked up by snoopers assigned to keep an eye on me. He said he had annoyed them by refusing to be their mukhbar (informer). That prompted me to encourage Maqbool to do his bit for his motherland. In return, he’d collect a couple of hundred rupees from special branch operatives for the silly details they’d seek for their daily reports on the Indian sahafi (journalist).
One such sleuth went by the name of ‘Kamran’. Astride mobike, he’d spend hours outside my bungalow in Islamabad’s harsh winters. The deal with Maqbool suited him fine for it fetched him advance information on my engagements for the day.
Then came December 6, 1992. As right-wing parties ran amok across Pakistan, one got to understand what minorityism was all about: it has less to do with religion. It’s more about the tyranny of numbers.
In a minority of one in my own house, I was a bit troubled. But not Maqbool. He didn’t bring up the subject till the Jang went to town with a chance conversation I had had with Jamat-e-Islami’s Liaquat Baloch outside the Indian mission. I told Baloch that I had no intellectual defence for Ayodhya. But to me, it wasn’t a Hindu-Muslim issue. I saw it as a face-off between secular and non-secular India in which the former was bound to triumph.
When the Jel leader questioned my prognosis, I cited the examples of VP Singh, Mulayam and Laloo Yadav to drive home Indian Muslims’ unwavering trust of leaders who did not belong to their community. The next morning, I woke up to a flurry of telephone calls. My Pakistani friends had read the Jang, to which I didn’t subscribe because I cannot read Urdu. Maqbool rushed to fetch a copy. As I sat on my bed, wrapped in a quilt, he walked up and took me in his arms: “Saabji, tusi sachmuch bada changa bayan ditta hai.”
As it turned out, Maqbool had been taunted by his friends for being in the service of a Hindu whose clansmen demolished the Babri mosque: “But I told them my Saabji is different. He’s been like a father to me.” On another wintry morning in 1994, neighbours watched as Maqbool, Kausar and Saqib wept inconsolably on seeing me bid adieu. We have since been a divided family, so divided that I don’t even know what killed Maqbool – drugs or penury.