Vinod Mubayi


As the refreshing breeze of normalization of relations between India and Pakistan had started to blow across the two countries, forces hostile to peace and sanity staged the Mumbai terrorist attack to renew hostility; this has placed additional burden on civil society and India-Pakistan friendship organizations to work even more vigorously to foil the designs of hawks on both sides of the border.


In the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, there appeared to be some signs that both the governments and the civil societies in India and Pakistan had shaken off their reflexive, ingrained hostility and were adopting a more caring and neighborly attitude toward each other.  As soon as the evidence emerged that the attackers were Pakistanis, Pakistan President Zardari offered to send the head of the hitherto dreaded ISI to India for consultations and the Indian government welcomed this initiative. Marches in sympathy with the victims were held in Karachi and Lahore.


One month later, the old habits and attitudes have again surfaced aided by the irresponsible and sensation seeking media in India egged on by the BJP and a section of the Pakistani educated elite and media, which, in the words of the Pakistani columnist Haris Gazdar, “substitutes conspiracy theories for analysis…A web of right and left conspiracy theories – involving various combinations of the US, Israel, and India – create a comfort zone that hard facts cannot penetrate.”  The BJP’s aggressive postures are to be expected, with the Lok Sabha elections due in a few months.  The despicable actions of the lunatics, like Maharashtra’s Navnirman Sena, which has gone from assaulting north Indians to now burning CDs of Pakistani singers in the streets of Mumbai, are also predictable. The Indian media, especially television, has been thoroughly criticized for its actions both during and after the crisis. And Pakistan’s democratically elected government has reverted to an ostrich-like head in the sand posture, pressured most likely by elements in the military or others for whom jihad-style actions against India are a legitimate policy option.  The Indian government, barring a few hiccups, has generally responded in a mature fashion.  Despite the intense pressures within the country for a Rambo type of military response, both the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister have reiterated the futility of war as offering any kind of ‘solution’ to the problems of terrorism.


The saddest part of the episode, however, apart from its traumatic effects on the families of the victims and survivors of the massacre, is likely to be its impact on Indo-Pak civil society relations.  Beginning a few years ago, several signs of what the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz called “roshan kahin bahar ke imkan hue to hain” (possibilities of spring have emerged) were visible.  The manifestation of friendship at a people to people level, more so perhaps in Pakistan than in India, was simply too evident to be ignored or cast aside as mere nostalgia. The change in attitudes could not but affect the babus and politicians on both sides; new rail routes were opened, trade was on the verge of being expanded significantly, and, most important, there were even possibilities of fundamental change in the oppressive visa regime that governs the citizens of both countries, mainly as a means of discouraging cross-border travel.


All this relaxation is now under threat.  Civil society groups and the Indo-Pak friendship organizations have the task of redoubling their efforts to ensure that the Mumbai massacre does not lead to a massacre of the hopes of millions towards a more normal existence as friendly neighbors.   

Top - Home