“The fault, dear Brutus”, Cassius says in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar,” is not in our stars, but in ourselves”.
Years and years of ‘Aman ke Aashas’ and cabinet level meetings, of confidence-building measures and sari exchanges, of showing up at swearing-in ceremonies and civil society initiatives ... and then they all come tumbling down.
Slowly, painfully, assiduously we pick up the beads and start threading them. Each pearl is accounted for, each step pondered over, but then one slip and the process has to start afresh.
Extravagant, excessive preparations are made to make an omelette of reconciliation. Then a singular egg turns out to be bad, and the food gets spoilt.
It is not that we do not comprehend the need to establish friendly relations. The inevitable falling back to the narratives of peace and of building goodwill, the talks of overcoming the barriers and the friendly gestures all betray the understanding of the necessity of peace that persists among members of the public. If there was a lack of will, these processes would never have initiated, ab initio.
When the anger subsides, the realisation returns that belligerence is not a sustainable model; it cannot persevere, it has to stop.
Why, then, do these initiatives fail time and again?
It is because the animosity is too deep, the sentiments too fragile, the composure too fickle and the hurdles too many. It is this peculiarity which exists in men the world over, but most of all in the men of the subcontinent – the unyielding hubris, and the vanity. That is all it takes to lose focus of the objectives.
All it demands is a single brainwashed soldier, who knows nothing better, and a moment of inhumanity that clouds the mind, to undo years of hard work.
This then gets shared, accumulates airtime, gains public attention and plays on the minds of the two nations – the nations, mind you, who are not wary of barbaric reactions themselves.
Gojra and Gujrat; Babri mosque in Ayodhya and Sri Krishna Ram temple in Karachi; the forced conversions in Uttar Pradesh and the forced conversions in Upper Sindh; all indicate to one aspect of the two nations: despite the animosity, and the overbearing pride in individuality, we are not too different.
We are more alike in treating our minorities than we would feel comfortable to admit.
In the hands of zealots and fanatics, the stories become an argument against all peace initiatives, making the journey all the more strenuous.
Patriotism becomes analogous to war cries, and public representatives, forever ready to pounce on a chance to gain some cheap publicity, dish out threatening statements, basking in their bubbles and relishing the short-lasting pertinence.
Unfortunately, the hawks always take over the narrative in these moments. The cardinal rule of perception is that the more intense, the more enduring statements would be perceived more readily by the public. These bring in ratings, and popularity. They ring home with the fable that has been etched in the conscience of the two countries. In the river of peace, the few ripples of pugnacity get noticed, and the relative sustaining calm gets easily ignored.
Philosophy believes the solutions do exist. Saadi Sherazi, the Persian poet had written:
Garat Khoway man amad nasazawar;
Tu khoway naik-e-khawaish az dast maguzar
[If my nature does not bode well with you, you don’t have to lose your own good nature because of it.]
Or like Marcus Aurelius, one of the five good emperors of Machiavelli, puts it: “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury”.
One of the two nations would have to show magnanimity; one of the two would have to sacrifice; and one of the two would have to take a leap of faith.
The warmongering would have to take a backseat, despite the excesses from the other side. Hearts would have to be won, foremost. Paranoia would have to be placated. Without this, the current state of affairs would persist.
Building any relationship requires working, but the one that comes with this much baggage requires the most. This is a rut, escaping from which requires considerable courage, ability to forgive and a lot more forbearance than we have shown the capability of.
The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.