THE WAY IT WAS: Friends in the neighbourhood óMian Ijaz Ul Hassan

I am a great believer in Pak-India friendship. If we canít be friends letís at least learn to live in peace. Some of our generals have been at odds with democracy. But the largest democracy in the world has not been able to repress its aggressive chauvinism either. Unless this can be rectified there can be no peace in South Asia

The presence of over seven million soldiers in the occupied Kashmir is mind-boggling. Their very presence ó not to mention the violent consequences of their presence- would invite a reaction; call it resistance or terrorism depends on which side you are. There is a lot of raula rappa or political noise about peace between India and Pakistan. No noise could be more soothing to the ears but all noise after a while starts wearying one. That is why that relentless guttural chatter ó blabber of the mullah ó becomes unbearable to even the most pious among us who are not deaf.

People want peace so why not get on with it? There are individuals who are patiently optimistic; there are others who are optimistic but less patient. If things keep crawling at the slow pace they are moving soon every one will be impatient. That would suit both the establishments but the Indians ideally as they have the qabza. They can get back to Pakistani-bashing and arrogantly parroting the greatness of Indian culture and democracy, till such time the saffron valley is on fire again. The Kashmir issue needs to be settled now, with concurrence of the Kashmiri people, failing which it will continue to smoulder. We may never have better weather than it is now. There is an age old saying: achay kaam mein dayr naheen karni chahiye.

I am an incorrigible optimist but I must relate what Abdul Butt had to tell me the other day. It may be relevant to the occasion. Mr Butt has been mentioned in a couple of my earlier articles. He is a landless farmer, outrageously witty and unsparing. He has a lucid memory and an impeccable sense of timing in coming up with most appropriate akhwans and homilies, often embarrassing to the other personís self esteem. The other day when I was at the village I invited Mr Butt to tea. He was busy celebrating shabrat that evening but came the next afternoon. We exchanged a few pleasantries after which he most amiably disapproved how I continued to manage my farming, and gave me a brief lecture on how things ought to be done; and so on. It was not long before he came out with a gem. I forget the context in which it was narrated but it illustrates rather succinctly the ongoing Indo-Pak meetings.

There were a jackal and a heron that became friends. One fine spring the Jackal invited the heron for a meal. On the appointed day the heron took a dip in the clearest pond in the neighbourhood, shook off the drops of water, spruced itself by putting each feather in its place by its long narrow beak, and then took off to his friendís abode. The heron was very well received by the jackal and then without any further ceremony asked to dinner. Thin soup had been served in a plate garnished according to the jackal with some very special aromatic herbs. While the heron looked up and down wondering what to do and how to partake of the meal, the jackal with his big broad tongue started to lap up the soup. The heron awkwardly dangled in amazement on his two sleek legs, his seedy black eyes protruding from its head. In a matter of minutes to the amazement of the heron the jackal had tucked in all the soup. After the plate had been licked clean the jackal anxiously asked the heron, ďI hope you liked the soup?Ē The heron politely replied, ďIt was nice. It smelled so good.Ē Having said that he spread his right wing touched the jackalís paw and took his leave.

A week later the heron felt obliged to invite the jackal on the basis of reciprocity. One mid-morning he flew to the jackalís den and asked the jackal to come and have a meal with him the following day. The jackal being a good friend readily obliged and punctually turned up at the appointed place. The heron had prepared a delicious gruel marinated with rare herbs picked from within the range of his leisurely flight. The jackalís appetite was greatly stimulated when he sniffed the hot vapours emerging from a brown urn with a long neck in which the gruel had been served, but he was at a loss how to reach it. While the vile jackal pondered over the strategy, the clever heron emptied the whole vessel with its long beak. The jackal didnít even thank the polite heron for the delicious meal before dashing off to his hole. The story of the two friends may not be quite appropriate to the occasion but it does express certain concerns in the context of our past relations.

They say one should not recount puranian gallaan when new things are on their way. Dostoevsky, talking of a manís character, reminds somewhere that a personís conduct in the later half of his life is usually the same as in the first half. Hence people often have slight misgivings about new tidings. India has substantially increased its defence budget recently on the plea that in the last few years it has lost its edge in conventional weapons. This doesnít auger well for the peace process. Does it? Imagine a friend turning up at you house with a birthday present riding a tank. India has an armed force stationed in Kashmir more than the entire Pak army. Why, when we are determined to be friends, waste money that can be more usefully spent on addressing issues concerning hunger, disease and illiteracy, than on buying smart new conventional equipment?

I am a great believer in Pak-India friendship. But if we canít be friends letís at least learn to live in peace. It is a matter of history that some of our generals have been at odds with democracy. It is also a matter of record that the largest democracy in the world has not been able to repress its aggressive chauvinism. It is also true that some of Pakistanís self-serving generals have been belligerently responding to Indian democracyís cherished disposition for hegemony. Unless this can be rectified, in spite of external efforts, there can be no peace in South Asia. A hen cannot hatch a stone even if it endlessly sat on it.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist