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Former Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar speaks at a session of the KLF on Sunday.—White Star
Former Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar speaks at a session of the KLF on Sunday.—White Star

KARACHI: Impassioned speeches by the panelists on Indo-Pak relations in a post-lunch session titled ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ had the audience’s undivided attention at the Beach Luxury Hotel on the last day of the 9th Karachi Literature Festival.

To the question of the way forward asked by moderator Khalida Ghaus, Indian politician Mani Shankar Aiyar answered that 20 odd years back a phrase came to him that there’s only way of resolving Indo-Pak issues, and that was by ‘uninterrupted, uninterruptable dialogue’. He was very proud and half sad that the phrase had been accepted as Pakistani policy but not as Indian policy. Referring to the title of the session, he said the full Biblical sentence was ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’. “I love Pakistan because I love India,” he said.

Mr Aiyar said 70 years after India was divided into two and 50 years after it was divided into three it seemed it was not the partition of India that was the most enduring feature of the history of the region but the partition of the Muslim community in the subcontinent. Today, had there been a united India, the Muslim voice would have been of 600 million Indians, but now 600m voices were arguing against one another.

‘I love Pakistan because I love India’

Mr Aiyar said the nation of an independent India was not possible without ending the hostility in the Indian mind between Pakistan and the Indian Muslims. India had seen this ludicrous spectacle in the last three years of the Indian icon Shah Rukh Khan being told to go to Pakistan, and the same absurdity with another Indian icon, Salman Khan, being told to go to Pakistan. “What an absurdity? These are the heroes of the Indian youth.” It’s much in the interest of India than Pakistan that he (Aiyar) argued in favour of love thy neighbour, he commented.

Mr Aiyar was of the view that there’d been a huge change in the mindset of Pakistan: between 1947 and 1965 the most popular slogan in Pakistan was 1,000 years of war with India. Now, over 95 per cent population in Pakistan had moved and said ‘I’m a Pakistani because I’m a Pakistani’.

Mr Aiyar argued we needed to push these changes in the right direction by grappling with the real political issues that divided us. The first was Kashmir. In the three-year period between President Musharraf and Manmohan Singh’s talks, they picked and talked about Kashmir. Musharraf had said we were working towards a four-point solution to the issue and in those four points there were Ts to cross and Is to dot. The second issue was of terrorism directed against India. He concluded his response by saying that whenever there was dialogue, tensions on the border had come down.

The second panelist, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, before his speech said he’d like to dedicate the session to Asma Jehangir, who had passed away an hour before. On the topic, Mr Qazi agreed with Mr Aiyar and emphasised that we thought with our heart not with our brain.

Giving the long-term perception of the issue, Mr Qazi said when he was Pakistan’s ambassador to China a retired Chinese ambassador took him out to dinner to discus Kashmir. He [Chinese official] told him that China had a long history. They [Chinese] had learnt that all problems were to do with three categories; when they got the categories right, they had prosperity and strength. When they made a mistake, there was disunity. The categories were: first, some problems had to be addressed immediately; second, the problem that had a certain degree of complexity; and the third was the problem rooted in history that needed time and probably required to prepare the next generation to deal with it.

Mr Qazi said by 2050 Pakistan’s population would be 400 million. “What are we doing? We will have a convergence of existential crises. Has there been a single cabinet session devoted to these problems?”

The third panelist, Asad Sayeed, said Pakistan and India were like strange siblings living in one compound, with some members of the household stoking the fire of mistrust and the others trying to calm things down. Our DNAs were similar. India and Pakistan had problems like gender disparity and malnutrition.

With respect to trade, Mr Sayeed said South Asians traded the least with each other mainly because of India-Pakistan ties. He reasoned that trade ought to be an end in itself.

When the floor was opened for questions, former senator Javed Jabbar took strong exception to the panelists’ views. He said they were demonising the Pakistani state. His comments were greeted with a round of applause. Mr Aiyar responded that we needed to get away from the polarisation of Indo-Pak relations to Aiyar-Jabbar relationship, because their personal relationship was the way forward.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018

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