Tethered to old positions
HOW soon has Geeta, a deaf and dumb girl, disappeared from newspaper columns and television networks is not surprising. It only shows the depth of hostility between India and Pakistan. Islamabad did make a gesture by returning her. India should have reciprocated more positively and tangibly. Instead, the response was tepid. The media in both the countries dropped the topic quickly as if it was something which should be shunned.
In any other country, such a step would have been analysed and re-analysed to highlight the positive side. Even limited rapprochement between America and Cuba would have been exploited as an opportunity to settle their problems. But the crust of hostility between India and Pakistan could not be broken despite Geeta's return after more than a decade.
A new chapter of friendship should have begun in relations. But there was nothing like that even remotely. The problem is essentially with a large section of people in India who still recall the "vivisection of Bharat Mata".
Pakistan is a reality. It came into being some 70 years ago because the Muslims wanted a country of their own. They felt that they would be overwhelmed by the preponderant majority of Hindus. But the community did not realise the warning sounded out by the eminent leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad that after the establishment of a Muslim state, Hindus would get more consolidated. His wish that there should not be any partition is different from the attitude of disdain and derision that prevails in greater parts of India.
I recall the speech by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Lahore, the city to which he had led a bus, that Pakistan was an entity by itself and required no outside recognition. His words had come as a soothing balm for the Pakistanis who still feel that India has not accepted it. I was present at that civic reception. His words appealed to the Pakistanis so much that one of them, a friend, requested me to tell Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not to give any speech because he could not match the heights which Vajpayee had touched.
Geeta's return is an opportunity for both India and Pakistan to pick up the thread the two had left in Ufa (Russia). The two had agreed that they would tackle terrorism jointly. India's insistence that it would discuss only terrorism is following the agreement in letter, not in spirit.
The cause of terrorism, according to Pakistan, is the absence of a solution on the Kashmir problem. Islamabad made the mistake at that time of demanding the specific mention of Kashmir. It should have agreed to discuss terrorism and brought in Kashmir on the plea that terrorism cannot be stopped until Kashmir is discussed.
It was childish on the part of both prime ministers when they were avoiding each other while staying at the same hotel in New York where they had gone to attend the UN General Assembly session. Both delegations were probably making sure that they would not meet. There came a chance when they ran into each other. But they could not help but raise their hands in recognition at the time, since they were within a whispering distance. At least they showed a modicum of maturity then.
Former Prime Minister Vajpayee would often say that you could change your friends but not your neighbours. Even when his party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), vehemently opposed to having any truck with Pakistan, he took the initiative to break the ice. He arranged for a meeting in Agra between him and General Musharraf. Vajpayee wanted the two countries to contain hostility. It is another matter that he could not make any headway. It is said that the present Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had raised some objections to the formula that the foreign secretaries of both countries had devised after sitting for the entire night.
The current situation is becoming curiouser and curiouser. Both countries do not talk to each other and still avow that they want good relations. I am sure that the talks must be taking place through the back channel. But there is nothing to show that things are improving. Ceasefire violations have increased and there are no letups in acquiring arms. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accused India in New York of buying more weapons, and defended his country if it were to do so.
Establishments on both sides should realise that they are denying their people schools, healthcare centres and panchayat ghars by diverting money from development to defence. Even purchasing a bomb ware would increase their economic backwardness and it would, in no way, help the betterment of the common man.
If the Geeta episode can reverse the trend, it would be a miracle. Otherwise, both sides will continue to wallow in poverty. The choice is not between do and die but sustenance and survival. The two countries continue their traditional animosity. It depends on Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif to break the vicious circle of enmity and arms. The prospects are very little and not rosy.
The Geeta incident has created an atmosphere of goodwill. But this has been spoilt by some irresponsible remarks. One Pakistani dignitary said that India should return the prisoners languishing in Indian jails. Another remarked that people like Geeta living in India should be given back to Pakistan.
But what they do not realise is that Geeta was not a prisoner and her return is to her own country. In the melee or argument, some 15 years have been lost. Both countries have already consumed 70 years in their futile stand. It is time they relalised that the public have borne the brunt of this enmity on two sides and continue to suffer backwardness. They deserve a better deal.
The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.