THE WAY IT WAS: Will the advice be taken? —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

If India continues to have ‘larger concerns’ in the region than peace with its neighbours and needs to have IBMs that can target the United States — instead of CBMs — and Pakistan perceives itself as a national security state, then the people of the two countries and their hopes for peace and friendship can go to hell

Hugging and exchanging puppees at the Wagha-Attari crossing is very nice but improving Pakistan-India relations requires much more than conviviality. Frankly I am all for puppees. I am desperately waiting for my grandchildren to visit me in the winter holidays so that I can hug them to my heart. I also experience enormous warmth while embracing friends and planting a kiss or two for good measure. The last time I took a puppee off my friend Fuad Ali Butt, some of our companions at the golf club thought we were that way inclined. Fuad has abundance of gaiety exuding out of him but as far as I know he is not gay. Most Anglo Saxons think Arabs are gay when they greet each other by touching cheeks. I wonder if Tony Blair would relish greeting a bearded Arab Sheikh in that manner? I am told that cheeks are hygienically cleaner than hands. If this were so would you rather not kiss than shake?

We, men east of the Suez, love to saunter in the streets holding hands of male friends while keeping a respectable distance from our spouses in public places. I know exactly what a gora thinks when he sees two oriental males with hooked arms and interwoven fingers walking along a footpath. I am afraid I cannot admit that some of my best friends are gay but if they were it wouldn’t be considered nice to hold it against them.

But more has to be done than ‘huggies and kichies’ at Wagha and Attari. As I said in my last despatch, people of Pakistan and those of India — excluding fundos and farters — want to intermingle and be friends. Their respective establishments are the major hurdle in their way. Although responsibility for peace and friendship lies equally on the two sides, India has a leading role to play. If India were to unilaterally reduce the size of its army, for instance, the Generals in Pakistan would be under pressure to do the same. They would be unable to assert that Pakistan’s national security was under threat. Incidentally, when I suggested this to a friend in New Delhi over a decade ago he looked at me in a strange way as though I had grossly overreached myself and said something positively stupid. Looking at the distant horizon through a window of the Asoka Hotel he dumbfounded me by remarking: “We have much larger concerns in the region than you!”

If India continues to have ‘larger concerns’ in the region than peace with its neighbours and needs to have IBMs that can target United States — instead of CBMs — and Pakistan perceives itself as a national security state, then the people of the two countries and their hopes for peace and friendship can go to hell. The mere espousal of friendship leads to nothing unless nations allay one another’s fears and act in a manner that is expressive of friendship.

A few years ago I attended the SAARC Painters’ Camp at Kufri in India as a delegate from Pakistan. Kufri is about 20 kilometres north of Simla — or Shimla as it should be properly pronounced. It was at Kufri that the historic meetings leading to the signing of Simla accords were held between Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shrimati Indra Gandhi. The Painter’s Camp was an enriching experience. Artists representing various SAARC countries painted and mingled with each other for a whole week with much satisfaction.

It was at dinner one evening that Krishen came over to the table, when I was about to lift a spoonful of rice off the plate, and babbled something seemingly addressing the bowl of lintels. It was after the celebrated Nepalese artist had repeated himself more than once that I roughly gathered what he was saying. India had stopped the export of daal to Nepal and now the lintels were being imported from Pakistan. “Why should India do this?” I asked. I was told that it was because India was pressuring Nepal to renew a treaty pertaining to bilateral terms of trade that had been agreed upon a couple of decades earlier to India’s considerable advantage and was expiring later that year.

This, I thought, was rather sloppy conduct, unbecoming mighty India, considering that Nepal is virtually at its mercy. Would this help allay the fears of India’s other neighbours? I am not recalling this to show India in a bad light — not at all. I am writing because I firmly believe that a better South Asia cannot be achieved without India changing its imperial outlook and embracing a broad democratic vision. Divided we may fall; together we can rise.

Let me end this plea with a story about a horse. The horse was owned by a mirasi who wanted to sell it. The mirasis carry a long witty tongue and have traditionally specialised in singing and pandering to the rural notables. They are also gifted in committing to memory the history of worthy and wealthy families in their range and reach. They also have an awful habit of slipping out awkward information and divulging secrets to persons they were to be guarded against. Socially it is of tremendous advantage to have them on your side for they can praise a person and his ancestors to the skies and with a gibe reduce to dust the reputation of his opponents.

Traditionally the mirasis also engaged in contracting marriages. The function was often performed in the cities by naiees (barbers) who had access to a large cross-section of society. All, including emperors, as they say, have to bend their heads before them. It is for this reason that mirasis needed a horse in the old days to travel long distances to undertake matrimonial chores. They seldom went wrong in their work.

The mirasi of our present narrative was getting too old for fixing matches so he decided to sell off his horse. A kumhar (potter) from the neighbouring village who owned a donkey for carrying his load aspired to expand his business and had heard from a pheri wala who went about villages selling an assortment of utilities that the mirasi’s horse was up for sale. The kumhar liked the horse and was very keen to make the purchase so that everything was settled in the very first meeting. But just when the kumhar got up to take the reins and ride off to his village the mirasi asked him to stop and informed him that he was not parting with the reins. The kumhar argued that the reins were of no use to the mirasi but the mirasi insisted that there was no way he was giving them away. As a result, the deal annulled and the greatly disappointed kumhar left on foot.

It so happened that the same night the horse fell dead. The next day at dawn the villagers were surprised to see that the mirasi had packed up his entire belongings and was about to depart to another village. His close neighbours were greatly intrigued. They gathered around him in a crowd and asked him to explain what he was about. The mirasi replied in great anger, that since he had no further business left in the village he was leaving. “Why? But why?” asked his neighbours in a chorus. The angry mirasi replied, “Why? You ask me why? There was not one in this village to advise me and tell me I was being stupid. How could the kumhar have ridden the horse back to his village without the reins?”

If the mirasi was around he would have been pleased to learn that villages and cities on both side of the Wagah-Attari boarder are jointly advising peace and friendship. In this case the advice is being given. The question is will it be taken?

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