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Development and decay in Indian PM's Pakistani village

Published Aug 21, 2012 05:13am


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This picture taken on August 4, 2012 shows children in a street in Gah village, where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was born. — Photo by AFP

GAH, Pakistan: For years, Ghulam Muhammad Khan thought his brilliant classmate had been killed in the bloodbath that gave birth to India and Pakistan in 1947, the deadliest end to British colonial rule in history.

But when the world's biggest democracy elected the softly-spoken Manmohan Singh as prime minister in 2004 and he told an interviewer he had been born in a remote Pakistani village, Khan was over the moon.

“He was our class monitor and we played together. He was a gentle and brilliant child. Our teacher always advised us to get his help if we couldn't understand something,” Khan recalled, striding through village maize fields.

Even more incredibly, Singh wanted to help the 2,500 villagers in Gah, on a plateau of muddy rock and bushy forest 100 kilometres southeast of Islamabad near the ultra-modern motorway that runs almost to the Indian border.

“I never imagined Manmohan would one day bring so many blessings to our village. He did what our own government still refuses to do,” recalled Khan, who is Singh's last surviving classmate left in the village.

But the last eight years is a tale of generosity, squandered opportunity and political short-termism that leaves Pakistan with an embarrassing predicament now that President Asif Ali Zardari has invited Singh to visit later this year.

The model village that Singh dreamt of lies in tatters. Buildings that cost tens of thousands of dollars stand empty and unfinished. The only question is what, if anything, will Pakistan do to fix it?

Empty schools, empty hospital

Not long after taking office, Singh wrote to Pakistan's then ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, asking that Gah be earmarked for development.

Musharraf, at the time working on peace talks that he hoped would resolve India and Pakistan's conflict over Kashmir, was happy to oblige.

The provincial government in Punjab built a decent road from the motorway to the village, high schools for boys and girls, a hospital, veterinary clinic and hooked the village up to the water supply.

Singh sent an Indian firm to install solar-powered street lights, solar-powered lights to 51 households that did not have electricity and a water heating system at the mosque close to the site of his destroyed home.

But the project stalled after elections in 2008 swept former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz to power in Punjab, booting out of office Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid and Musharraf stepped down.

The high schools and hospital stand empty. No teacher or doctor has been appointed, because the villagers say, credit for the development would have gone to the previous regime and not the new government.

“We contacted the district administration and members of the ruling party time and again. They say there are no funds for the facilities and that they are trying to get it from the government,” said Ashiq Hussein, the mayor of Gah.

But a Punjab government spokesman said it was “absolutely baseless” to suggest it had abandoned the Gah development project for political reasons.

“No scheme has been stopped anywhere in the province on such a basis,” Pervez Rasheed told AFP.

“The hospital in the village is still under completion and the boundary wall plus equipment is being provided this year. Staff will be recruited when it's completed,” he said, referring to plans to open the high schools in September.

“He is the son of our soil”

Villagers young and old are united in their hope that the return of their lost boy sometime later this year will be the spur.

“Everybody wants to see him and say thank you. We also want him to come soon because we think the abandoned development will be completed for his visit and we will get staff in our schools and hospitals,” Khan said.

The mayor hopes that if Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, attends village celebrations for Singh's 80th birthday in September, development work will resume.

Hussein, whose late uncle Raja Mohammad Ali met Singh in New Delhi, is pushing full steam ahead with preparations to welcome home the “great son” of Gah.

“We are going to bring all the musicians, drum beaters and flute players here to perform at his arrival. We will dance and celebrate.

“We want him to establish an unbreakable friendship between India and Pakistan.”

No matter Pakistan and India's bitter rivalry, most people in Gah are proud of Singh for going on to govern 1.2 billion people in the world's largest democracy.

“He is the son of our soil and we want him to become the hero of India-Pakistan friendship. We would like him to solve the Kashmir issue and I will talk to him about this when he comes here,” Khan said.

In Singh's old primary school, which unlike his home is still standing, his mark sheet has been put up on the wall, exhorting the next generation of children to take his lead, and go ahead and rule the world.


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Comments (55) Closed

Ray Aug 21, 2012 02:34pm
CORRECTION: Likewise, there is NO desire in Pakistan to be re-united with India as well.
rajinder Aug 22, 2012 10:37am
you are corect
Naresh Sharma Aug 21, 2012 09:27am
we don't want to be united with Pakistan... We are happy the way we are and We want peace among Indian Citizens.. That is all we Indians want..
Shivam Aug 25, 2012 07:13am
I wish both brothers, who were the siblings of same mother, unite one day. Being brothers our culture, language and most importantly thinking attitude is same. No power in the world can snatch that from us. The time has separated us and the time will come when we will be one again. The Berlin wall will again be brought down. Thanks to the internet, which has brought our hearts so close otherwise political class had done everything to sow the seeds of poison in our hearts. When India was divided, Hindus and Muslims on both sides equally suffered. May their wounds get solace early. There will be no better occasion than celebrations of our beloved PM in his homeland. May this occasion be celebrated on both sides with enthusiasm. Thank you DAWN.
Sunil Aug 24, 2012 12:30pm
Sorry, I meant to say 'Germans, who call themselves the TRUE Aryans' (I mis-typed 'try' instead of 'true').
Raj Aug 21, 2012 10:25am
Relationship between Pakistan and India should be cordial as it has been with relationships between and USA and Canada and USA and Mexico . There is lot to gain for both countries in terms of trade.
Mohammad Khan Aug 21, 2012 01:20pm
Your few words smell prejudice against Pakistan. Nobody suggesting here that India and Pakistan unite, all they are saying live coordially like some other progressive countries. U want peace and peace is only a relative term. One artilary shell from Pakistan falls in big Indian city and same from India to Pakistan. Now where will be your peace that U want.
Devapratim Mohanty Aug 21, 2012 01:20pm
Brother you hit the nail on the head, uniting with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis will make life very very complicated.
Devapratim Mohanty Aug 21, 2012 01:19pm
I hope Manmohan Singh does something on the swiss bank black money front on his 80th birthday too. I am an Indian and I elected him. So he is answerable to people like me.
Devapratim Mohanty Aug 21, 2012 01:17pm
Absolute 'wishful thinking" my brother, Nothing changes there will be another terror and things will be square one.
Ray Aug 21, 2012 12:38pm
Likewise, there is desire in Pakistan to be re-united with India as well.
anees Aug 22, 2012 10:24am
This desire is not in Pakistan but in your own heart and mind...
abhilash Aug 22, 2012 01:32pm
Good thought by the writer. My eyes were wet when i read this document. Very nice..
Tao Aug 22, 2012 12:35pm
Peace is always better than war no matter who the opponents are.
GIG Aug 22, 2012 12:29pm
every good thing is possible if people stop studying in Madrassas and stop bringing islam religion in each of their activities,law,education,politics, let religion play a less important role like in India or US , Europe , Malaysia,Indonesia etc
Fawad Khan Aug 23, 2012 01:26pm
it's pak army because of which you are able to comment here and still breathing.. Get a life or just dont bring a shame to the civil society..
Lahore Aug 23, 2012 09:02pm
"Villagers young and old are united in their hope that the return of their lost boy sometime later this year will be the spur." It brought tears in my eyes... Mushraf was given same love by Old Delhi's people. Why there is so much divide and pain? I want to invite every Indian brother and sister to come back to Pakistan anytime you want to. You have equal right to visit Pakistan since your forefathers lived, fought, worked for that land. Religious based politics of British, Hindu Congress and Muslim League divided us but hearts can be reunited. It is easier to reunite hearts than borders.Let's not pump that venom of hate in our children and give them a clean slate to make their own mind. My grand parents cross the sea of blood on their way to Pakistan in 1947. Their tales were heart wrenching, sad and blood boiling. I wanted to join army and kill every Indian but my father a wise man helped me clean the slate of my young mind. He helped me understand that Indians are human being who swept way with emotions that caused pain on both side. Now I teach message of love to my children. I encourage them to make friends with Indians and specially Sikhs since our futures are intertwined. Please use Dawn's space to create a momentum that change our future, we lost out past and present, but our future belongs to our children. do not take it away..... Love from Lahore
S N Roy Aug 24, 2012 09:30pm
(1) Build Gah into a model village, deploying as much self-help as possible (2) Take Indian social workers, industrialists and Maoists and show them (3) Consider every Indian to be a Pakistani and every Pakistani to be an Indian (4) Consider every Bangladeshi to be an Indian and every Indian to be a Bangladeshi (5) Consider every Pakistani to be a Bangladeshi and every Bangladeshi to be a Pakistani (6) Then let all three countries sit down and resolve the K-issue
Indian Aug 24, 2012 04:38pm
A good article . Shows how much people to people contacts can do to improve relations between the two countries and move to eradicate hatred and also promote friendship and development in the subcontinent
Nirvair Aug 24, 2012 04:38pm
I'm an Indian and i completely agree with you! i would love to visit Pakistan one day, and i would invite any Pakistanis to come visit our country.
raghav Aug 24, 2012 02:10pm
he could have been better if he was independent
foreign pakistani Aug 21, 2012 01:15pm
I respect Manmohan singh for not forgetting his roots and paying a visit to his birth place and neighbors. We welcome him and we welcome Indians. peace and respect for eachother will bring a properity in the region
True Pakistani Aug 21, 2012 11:55am
- the people of india and pakistan have NOTHING against one another, what so ever. it is the pak army that for its own nefarious purposes wants this divide to persist, for ever.
Adnan Aug 21, 2012 12:58pm
Not even a single pakistani bother to be united with india oreven looking forward to it. However if both countries have to move forward, the first condition is to be united, like a Union. We have issues to solve which no one can deny and every one is familiar with poverty and hunger level of india.
Bobby Srinivas Aug 21, 2012 05:59am
Heart warming story! This can well be a beginning to a friendship story. Perhaps, in a foreseeable future India and Pakistan can become lik United States and Canada! Is it a wishful thinking?!
sharma Aug 21, 2012 06:07am
good write up! The former Punjab if united will yield gold again and also golden people like manmohan singh.
True Indian Aug 21, 2012 06:24am
Shyam Kokku Aug 21, 2012 06:26am
One more testimony of true love and innate feelings that people have for one another despite boundaries separating them and governments unfriendly. Many Pakistanis believe that partition was the right thing to have happened and I don't want to debate that. But surely, if we were one nation we could have seen and celebrated many happier moments such as these. Good gesture on the part of Manmohan Singh to visit his birth place on turning 80 and warmer is the reception that awaits him at Gah!
Burjor Aug 21, 2012 06:47am
Manmohan Singh is a great man. a great human being, a great leader. We wish him well, allways.
Raja Aug 22, 2012 11:13am
Manmohan Singh is a sincere and an honest man. he has done nothing but good things for India.
Farooq Aug 21, 2012 03:21pm
So true. Protecting us from the problems created by them to legitimize them.
Naveed Aug 21, 2012 03:28pm
Blood is thicker than the water! Let there be Pakistan and India but let them be sister Nations living in a union. Free trade and no VISA to start with!
Venkata Appa Rao Aug 21, 2012 03:42pm
I hope this Story reaches Dr Manmohan Singh's ears and shall result in action for the villagers of GAH.
Raja Aug 22, 2012 11:11am
always be optimist and hope for the best.
Madan Aug 21, 2012 05:24pm
Gah village residents and the entire potohar region of Pakistan should be proud of our prime minister.Give him a very warm welcome when he visits Pakistan.
Ram Chopra Aug 21, 2012 06:15pm
I am a Punjabi born in Lahore, whose family was forced out on August 17. We could not complete even 24 hours in Pakistan. And yes my entire family, all uncles and aunts and cousins had no plans to leave. Yes our family suffered but finally even my father agreed that division of India was the best thing happened to Indian Hindus - now they could make laws for progress and goodwill.
Khalid Aug 21, 2012 07:48pm
Where did you Indians get that idea from? All we are saying is we should be friends. Being a regional super power, Indians do not have the mentality of a powerful country. What a shame. Unite with India - hell no!! Pakistan has its problems but IF we start moving in the right direction we will overcome our problems much more quickly than India that has a huge and poverty stricken population.
Ajaya K Dutt Aug 21, 2012 11:46pm
"For years, Ghulam Muhammad Khan thought his brilliant classmate had been killed in the bloodbath that gave birth to "India and Pakistan in 1947". This brilliant classmate wishes prosperity for the land that attacked his father, mother and kins and would have been happy to kill him too. I thank god that at least one this family was one of the few survivors.
singh Aug 21, 2012 11:48pm
manmohan is great consultant not great leader....! consultant just give advice and leader make path to lead others...!
Ganesh Saha Aug 22, 2012 01:32am
It is extremely true that Pakistani military did not want, does not want and will never want friendly relations between India and Pakistan for its vested selfish interests. Pakistani military does not care for the interest and well being of its own people.
Najam A. Najmi Aug 22, 2012 06:54am
Thank you for your goodwill gesture. No it is not a wishful thinking, as long as both conutries consider each other equal, respect each others' teritorial integrity and resolve water sharing and territorial disputes by dialogs and give and take. Both countries need to control their extremists using less educated and destitues to fulfill evil goals.
Zeta Aug 22, 2012 07:22am
Forget about reunion. If anything, Things should be get better by being separate
Khan Aug 22, 2012 04:17pm
Seems like every problem we have is because of intertwining religion and everything else. I dream of a Secular Pakistan one day.
Rana Aug 22, 2012 05:33pm
Absolutely right.
Rana Aug 22, 2012 05:33pm
Rana Aug 22, 2012 05:40pm
see comment by Najmi, please.
Rana Aug 22, 2012 05:47pm
Thanks God. Not to justify it but remember it was Indian side that started killing mulsims and all those bad things, even before August. And unfortuantely the other side of the border did not prove any good either. Two negatives do not make a positive out of maths.
Rana Aug 22, 2012 05:50pm
Very right, and they are trying to be meethi Choori here LOL.
Rana Aug 22, 2012 05:51pm
I hope more people are like you. and also wish peace among all people.
Peace Aug 23, 2012 01:42am
We dont want to unite! We want peace in our beautiful beloved Pakistan!
Ehsan Aug 23, 2012 04:01am
very true....its the Pak army ...which is so "na " Pak
Zeta Aug 23, 2012 06:02am
I don't see "NO VISA" policy within 100 years. There is too much threat
Karthik Aug 23, 2012 07:30am
Manmohan would have been better off being in Pakistan. india would have been saved.
Muhammad Younus Butt Aug 23, 2012 07:35am
Being Anglo Pakistani he is very simple and soft kind hearted mother is too from Amritsar and I wish,I may be given oppurtunity to visit there to see that good place.Anyhow Mr.Manmohan is very nice person and I desire to see him personally,if he invites me,I will visit there.I can be contacted on 03004021667.PM OF INDIA MUST FINANCE GAH VILLAGE ON GOOD WILL GESTURE TOO.
Nav Aug 23, 2012 07:48am
This is the century for the Asians. We have to bring back our Aryan glory back, at the end 80% of indians and pakistanis are Aryans race ( Caucasians). If we would have been together, west could not have ruled the world. Check on google, indians in usa, canada, uk, australia. In most of the countries we are the richest ethnic community and far better than jews. If japanese and koreans can belt them, why not south asians, so wake up we need economy and not wars before it get too late. Believe Indians growth will help Pakistan and stability in pakistan will bring back India in the map of this world. So it is a mutual interest, let not chinese take advantage of our conflicts. Our issues are actually nothing, which can not be resolved by dialogue. Make the noise, trust our children need the right to live with dignity.