Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


As soon as Nawaz Sharif was elected to power in the first democratic transition in Pakistan history last May, he evinced a desire for better relations with India.  The media in India, which, with a few honorable exceptions, has lately become a loud right-wing echo-chamber, regarded this as some kind of a dastardly trick.  More attention instead has been focused on the BJP leaders’ bellicose calls to give a “fitting response” to Pakistan, or on the words of Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, to cut-off the heads of ten Pakistani soldiers for each decapitated Indian jawan.


It is obvious that Pakistan’s government and leadership faces dire contradictions in the light of the increasingly brazen assaults of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) especially on minorities and civic life in the country, the uncertain positions of the Pakistan Army, and the Pakistani public’s response to U.S. drone attacks.  Infiltration of various types of jihadists into Kashmir and attacks on the Indian Army outposts at India-Pakistan borders as well as their brutal attempts to derail any improvement in Indo-Pak relations is something that is expected; what degree of control the state in the shape of the Pakistan Army authorities has over these fundamentalists is unclear. In this context, however, Sharif’s call for dialogue is something that Indian polity needs to respond to positively, particularly in the light of Sharif’s history of pursuing better relations as evinced by his welcome to Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lahore in 1999, an initiative that was unfortunately undercut by the Kargil adventure of the Pakistan Army, which subsequently ousted Sharif in a coup. However, India’s right-wing is no longer represented by the moderate face of Vajpayee but by the more ferocious image of “killer” Modi, its candidate for Prime Minister, and the Indian media’s response reflects that fact.


This media rhetoric was revived more recently last month when Manmohan Singh met Nawaz Sharif briefly on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. Naturally, the Pakistan fundamentalists bitterly opposed it as was to be expected, but the response of much of the Indian media also demonstrated the strength of the right-wing presence in its midst symbolized by the elevation of Modi. That such an extreme, polarizing figure could become a serious candidate to be India’s Prime Minister shows how far the secular ethos of the Indian Republic has fractured.

Meanwhile, the presence of sane people on both sides of the border who welcomed the Singh-Sharif meeting is an encouraging sign.  The Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy issued a statement on October 1 that read as follows:

“We feel encouraged by the decision of the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India, who ensured that the anti-peace forces were not able to derail the talks in New York. The talks have happened despite the fact that the anti-peace forces [in Pakistan] made a bid to spoil the atmosphere by mounting attacks on police posts, army camps and killed many soldiers.. As expected, the Indian counter part of Pakistani war mongers had also started a chorus to stop Dr. Manmohan Singh from meeting Mr. Nawaz Sharif… Keeping in mind the severe acts of sectarian violence being promoted in both Pakistan and India, we demand unanimous commitment from both the governments towards protecting the rights of minorities…It is time that the democratic governments and the people of the two countries unite against these forces in both, India, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world.”

Almost 50 years ago, the well-known progressive poet Sahir Ludhianvi wrote an anti-war poem Ai Shareef Insano (O Decent People); one of its stanzas goes as follows:


Is liye ai shareef insano

Jang talti rahe to behtar hai

Aap aur ham sabhi ke aangan men

Shama jalti rahe to behtar hai


[That is why O decent people

It is better if war is put off

It is better if the light in all of our

Homes keeps burning]


There is a large constituency for peace and good relations between India and Pakistan in both countries; the war-mongers and the fundamentalists are a noisy minority but influential in the media, politics, and the bureaucracy.  Continuing dialogue at the highest level is essential and it is to the credit of both Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Nawaz Sharif that they recognized that fact and went ahead with their meeting despite all the provocations and we salute them for their foresight in doing so.

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