Whenever I go out of India, a usual question that I am asked out of courtesy is which country I am from. My immediate reply naturally is India, but I cannot control myself and in the same breath mention that I am Lahore-born. Lahore is now in Pakistan, but such is the sentimental attachment to what is not only my place of birth but where I spent the first 25 years of my life, that, for myself and my generation (of course the number is dwindling), the suggestion that Pakistan is a foreign country, like the USA, is unimaginable. Of course, Pakistan is now an independent and sovereign country and every one in India wishes it well. And therein is the real hope and optimism. But it has taken both the countries a long time to reach this point and we have now to hurry to make up for lost time.
One is delighted to find that wrong notions and misunderstandings are being removed. Thus, it is heartening to find that when school children from each country returned home after an exchange visit to the other country, their spontaneous reaction, when asked by press persons in both countries was the same: ‘Oh, they are like us!’ In that very innocent and spontaneous reaction the hope of Indo-Pak unity stands strengthened.
I have of course watched developments in Pakistan with a deep and friendly interest. I remember when lawyers in Lahore had come out on the streets in support of democratic reforms and against the Zia-ul-Haq regime. I wrote to the then President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association Javed Iqbal, son of the great Urdu poet Alama Iqbal, expressing the sentiments of the Indian legal fraternity, in my capacity as president of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association, without in any way purporting to interfere in the internal struggle in Pakistan.
I went to Lahore for the International Jurist Conference in 1973, along with former Chief Justice Sikri who is also from Lahore. It was a rewarding experience, where we exchanged news on the developments in law with respect to various subjects. This conference was hosted by then prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqhar Ali Bhutto.
There I witnessed an exhilarating independence of judiciary shown by the then chief justice of the Lahore High Court, who summoned the police after a phone complaint by a lawyer who was to participate in the conference. The police had arrested the lawyer to prevent him from attending the conference. The chief justice did not bother about the form of the application, acted in a practical and informal way, and treated it as a habeas corpus petition and immediately ordered the release of the lawyer who then participated in the conference. This informal and prompt redressal was deeply encouraging. In 1992, I was part of an NGO group, Track 2 diplomacy, Journalists, etc. which went to Pakistan. On coming back, I wrote an article headed. ‘Can we not be friends?’, which was published in the Hindustan Times (Sunday Magazine), a national daily on 10 May 1992. I reproduce the same herein, which represented at the time a cry for Indo-Pak friendship, and which I believe represents the sentiment of both countries.
Forty-five years after World War II, the bloodiest of enemies, France and Germany, which fought for the destruction of each other, are now sitting together as part of the European Community like good old friends. As against this, the two parts of this subcontinent, namely, India and Pakistan, which share a close historical, geographical, and cultural continuity, continue to distrust each other. It is a pity because, in fact, there are really no serious or insoluble disputes between the two countries which cannot be sorted out on the basis of mutuality and reciprocity. This conviction was again strengthened on my recent visit to Pakistan as a member of a non-official group which held intensive and frank exchange of views for three days with non-official Pakistani friends as also some Pakistani officials including ex-army generals, jurists, high-ranking civilians, and diplomats.
The first assurance that we could genuinely offer to the Pakistani delegate, was that there was not even a lunatic fringe in this country which in any way wanted to dismember Pakistan or had any design on its territory. The people in Pakistan were relieved to hear this assessment, though their acceptance was tempered with scepticism. Perhaps the bigness of this country and our unfortunate Sri Lankan misadventure, coupled with frequent Pakistan-bashing by the intemperate speeches of our political leaders (of course Pakistani politicians indulge in the same crafty game of one-upmanship to excite masses to protect their political base), was the easy excuse.
Immediate close trade relations and exchange of cultural, professional, and academic groups between the two countries will of necessity lead to better understanding and appreciation of each other’s viewpoints, and be to both their advantage. There is moreover an imminent danger to the agricultural sector of both India and Pakistan if the latest proposals of the director general of GATT, Arthur Dunkels, are accepted. It was therefore suggested to Pakistan’s finance minister, who met our group, that it would be advantageous for both India and Pakistan to evolve a common strategy to meet this danger. He readily agreed. Neither India nor Pakistan has taken any initiative in even evolving a joint strategy. This distrust results in unacceptable levels of defence spending by India at 7 per cent of its GDP (Rs 10 billion) and Pakistan at 10 per cent of its GDP (about Rs 5 billion).
Both our countries are sliding into a deeper economic morass because of the senseless nuclear policy being followed by both. The justification in each country for this stupendous drain is stated to be security. How laughable! We are such close neighbours that an atom bomb thrown on either territory will devastate a very substantial population of the other country by its radioactive fallout. Even an averagely intelligent person must realize that India and Pakistan can never engage in nuclear attack. The only sensible course is for India and Pakistan to sit down and mutually disengage from this ruinous race. India is not justified in refusing to talk with Pakistan on this question. The only course for India and Pakistan is to develop a joint action of nuclear-free zone which should be backed by a full cast iron guarantee by the United Nations. Criticism in India of the role of Pakistan in Kashmir and Punjab is mentioned as an unfriendly act. There is legitimate concern in India over the help given by Pakistan to some of the mischievous elements in Kashmir and Punjab, which certainly cannot be called a friendly gesture. But at the same time it is too much of a simplistic analysis if India refuses to accept that problems in Punjab and Kashmir have arisen from the wrong policies followed by the central government. The assistance and help given by Pakistan certainly accentuates the problem, but the problem has not been created by Pakistan. The recognition by Indian policy-makers that the basic problems in Punjab and Kashmir are our internal creation will go a long way in our genuinely trying to find a proper solution. Once that is done, we will be able to talk to Pakistan on a more rational basis. In all public discussions with Pakistan, Kashmir poses a major problem. The violation of human rights in Kashmir is put forth as a complaint against India. One must not treat this complaint as mere propaganda. It is also not true, as some Indians may imagine, that people in Pakistan are not worried about the general violation of human rights and that they are using the issue of violation of human rights in Kashmir as propaganda. That would be grossly unfair to the large number of Pakistani intelligentsia and human rights activists who are genuinely engaged in human rights work. There are publications by human rights activists in Pakistan which strongly criticize the violation of human rights in Sindh and other parts of the country. The reports also expose the violations by the police and other governmental agencies. It is not as if in Pakistan there is no realization of the serious problems which each country internally faces. In this connection, it was encouraging to note that an editorial article in one of the leading newspapers in Islamabad said; What all leaders of Pakistan must do today is to treat Sindh as the country’s problem No. 1. There was also a time when comparison with East Pakistan was felt to be too harsh. It is no longer so.
Pakistan has enough troubles of its own, whether it is Sindh or Baluchistan, or the unfortunate situation in Afghanistan, to seriously think of any combative, aggressive postures against India. It is also now accepted by any impartial critic that army interference in Pakistan is receding. As a matter of fact, the present army chief in Pakistan is considered to be a very reasonable, practical general who gives no indication of being politically ambitious or trying to stretch the army beyond its role under normal democratic civilian rule. The reports in newspapers of the strong criticism of the highest leaders in the government and the exposure of the misdeeds of various state agencies is quite on par with what is reported in the Indian press.
This common interest in preserving human rights should transcend narrow loyalties and become a genuine movement for safeguarding human rights in both our countries. Kashmir and the nuclear problem are the major irritants blocking friendly relations between the two countries, but because of the complexity of the issues, solutions will require time. They will also require the leaders of both countries to give up their rigid and inflexible stands. A dialogue on these questions must be immediately started, but why should we not start a dialogue of friendship between the two countries on other matters of mutual concern? The most immediate task is to have as large a contact between the peoples of the two countries as possible. In this connection, a complaint was made to us in Pakistan about visa restrictions and the abnormally humiliating visa procedures followed by the Indian authorities. This needs to be immediately looked into. But our countries follow a policy of reciprocity even in stupidity. A case in point was the denial of a visa by Pakistani authorities to one of India’s most eminent social workers, Ela Bhat (former member of the Planning Commission of India), to attend a consultative committee meeting of the UNICEF which was held at Karachi in February 1992.
It is unfortunate that even as mutual wrangles between our two countries continue, both countries are at an all-time low in the human development index. According to the UNDP Human Development Report 1992, out of 160 countries Pakistan ranks 120 and India ranks 121 in the human development index.
The wall of suspicion is slowly breaking down. Mutual visits, cricket matches, lawyers’ visits and human rights conferences have eased the path of Indo-Pak goodwill. The progress on Indo-Pak amity and goodwill is irreversible. It is heartening that the candle of diplomacy initiated by the eminent Indian journalist, Kuldip Nayar, on 14 August in 1993 on this side of Wagah border, has how matured into a peoples’ movement drawing thousands of Indians and Pakistanis on the midnight of 14–15 August on both sides of the border to light candles. Thousands of Pakistanis come over to India for Independence Day celebrations on 15 August. Indo-Pak friendship is so firmly founded that partial drawbacks should not in any way halt the march to total Indo-Pak amity, so that the subcontinent can play its part in expediting the formation of an effective South Asia federation which will, by its common ideology of human rights and compassionate development paradigm, play an effective part in the world comity of nations, not as a supplicant but as a leader.