Soldiers of peace

02 Dec 2018


The writer is a freelance contributor.
The writer is a freelance contributor.

THE year was 1970 and the month August when the planes of India and Pakistan were sizzling in the heat. A group of family members and friends travelled by train from Bombay to Karachi via Delhi, Atari and Lahore. They were all members of my baarat headed for neighbouring Pakistan for my marriage with a Pakistani girl.

In Lahore, we were received by Uncle Mubashir Hasan, then secretary general of the PPP and finance minister in the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government. As he took me around to see the landmarks of this historical city, he exclaimed angrily, “If India comes to play cricket here, I will personally have the pitch dug up … and not allow them to play in Pakistan.”

Sometime later, when Dr Mubashir Hasan became the Pakistan president of the People’s Forum of Peace and Friendship between the two neighbouring countries, I reminded him about his statement. He smiled and said: “Ye sub bhool jao [forget everything], that was then and we should always live in the now.”

One hopes the Kartarpur initiative will meet with success.

Indeed, my marriage was an effort to cement the relationship of our divided family which was the case with thousands of other families living in India and Pakistan.

I moved to Pakistan in 1986 with my wife and 11-year-old daughter and have been here since, for better or for worse.

In 1997, when India and Pakistan were observing the 50th anniversary of their founding as independent nations with distinct identities, Shabih Abbas, the sports officer, suggested that we visit India with our hockey team to mark the occasion. We were fortunate to receive an invitation to India from the late Mr I.K. Gujral, the prime minister of the country. In later years, boys from Karachi’s Habib Public School, of which I was administrator, went on four more India tours, receiving great hospitality from schools and colleges in India. The groups met the prime minister, at least three chief ministers, a large number of vice chancellors and principals, besides a bevy of Indian youngsters. The groups visited Delhi, Agra, Ajmer, Allahabad, Lucknow and other places. On a few occasions, we were allowed into the premises of Indian High Commission to sit with the visa officer and assist him in stamping the passports that he duly and willingly signed for us.

Indeed, goodwill visits to other countries — namely Malaysia, the UAE, Oman and Sri Lanka — were added in order to expand the boys’ horizons and the cultural and sporting ties with their counterparts in those countries. In all, the Habib boys went on 13 overseas tours to six countries.

While the boys benefited from this exposure and had to shell out little money to do so, the management and teachers were not fully appreciative of the initiative taken by the youngsters.

The City Montessori School, Lucknow, that has 35 branches in a single city, in collaboration with Habib School, Karachi launched the programme, Aao Dosti Karein, with a quarterly magazine highlighting the activities to promote friendship and peace between the two schools.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy was officially set up in the two countries with Dr Mubashir Hasan as president of the Pakistan chapter and Admiral Ramdas as president of the India chapter.

Another initiative was the one started by a leading TV channel in Pakistan baptised Aman Ki Asha.

Both these initiatives lost their way because they were spearheaded by retired politicians, bureaucrats and armed forces personnel who were unable to take Track-2 diplomacy much further.

The Kartarpur corridor that was inaugurated earlier this week promises to fare better as it is an initiative of two active persons on either side of the border. There is army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa in Pakistan and Sardar Navjot Singh Sidhu, a member of parliament in Indian Punjab and a popular ex-cricketer and television anchor.

The shrine of Kartarpur sahib is revered by Sikhs all over the world. My wife remembers with emotionally charged words that she has seen the Sikhs on the Indian side first viewing the shrine with binoculars and then folding their hands and bowing in that direction as a mark of respect. That is why one hopes that the initiative to first erect the corridor and later allow pilgrims to cross the border through the corridor and pay their obeisance at the shrine, without having to go through the rigmarole of getting visas and endorsement on passports, will succeed. Will this result in a soft border system like the one prevailing between the United States and Canada? We do not know at the moment.

What we do know is that a symbol of power in Pakistan and a popular figure in India are behind the success of this path to peace. That is why there is hope for a new morrow taken by two ‘soldiers of peace’ while they have still not hung up their boots.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2018