India and Pakistan are not neighbours. They are worlds
By M J Akbar
1947 divided us, but did not separate us. We still met, through family and media. Separation came with war in 1965, instigated by fantasists like General Ayub Khan and Z A Bhutto. It extinguished the flickering embers of trust. Walls of regulations were raised to block knowledge, and then vision. If you do not see a neighbour he is not a neighbour. There are no neighbours in the huge apartment blocks of Mumbai, only adjacent numbers.
The middle class Indian's true neighbour is America, sharing culture, language, consumerism, celebrity-worship and an insatiable desire for upward mobility. He knows more about the intricate processes that make Obama president than it does about the hop, skip and jump that Zardari used to acquire the same title.
India and Pakistan share a past but not a present; the future is vulnerable to imagined realities. Those with goodwill sell notions of excessive, even emotional hospitality. Those with ill will, the preponderant majority, provoke images of demonic horror. The young Pakistani men sent to Mumbai on a killing spree were fed on lies salted with evil; they had no independent reality check.
For four decades an investment in ignorance has nurtured an incremental interest in hatred. Pakistan has become a breeding ground for permanent war against India. Indians have developed a deep aversion for Pakistan. If a poll were taken in India asking whether Pakistan should be relocated in Latin America, the answer would be an unanimous yes.
Neighbours do not need to be permanent friends. France and Germany fought each other with a deadly bitterness that was once synonymous with Europe, but there was always individual, social and intellectual discourse between the two. Neighbours do not need to be equals. The US and Britain have been the best of neighbours since 1918, dining and hunting together. They have replaced each other as Emperor of Most of the World Worth Ruling, and the relationship has survived the trauma of self-appraisal. Neighbours may not share the same language, but they must know how to communicate, to understand what the other is doing, and why. Peace is impossible without understanding. The fog of ignorance only induces conflict through the illusion of victory. Ironically, the real deception is that the deceiver never knows how much he has deceived himself.
Knowledge of the other is impossible without free flow of media.
Newspapers and television stations may be terrible, but they are not terrorists. They may occasionally bore you to death, but they do not actually kill anyone. Indians and Pakistanis can see CNN at the flick of a finger but not each other's channels. So what if media sometimes gets hysterical: it never takes too long for hysterics to make fools of themselves. Sadly, hysteria can also influence policy, so it is important to know what the other is ranting about. Moreover, information cannot really be kept in solitary confinement; it always dribbles out as misinformation. It makes sense to offer it as information.
I saw the January 10 issue of Pakistan's most important English newspaper, Dawn, purely by accident. Page 1 had a report from Lahore about five low-intensity explosions that ripped through five theatres. This was the work of the same fundamentalist minds that sent terrorists to India; their enemy was not just India, but any sign of modernity in Pakistan. No one accused these bombers of being RAW agents.
From Kohat came a story of heavily-armed Sunnis attacking a Shia procession with rockets. Five died. Communal riots do not necessarily need men of different faiths.
The edit page had a brilliant piece by Shandana Khan Mohmand. It asked Pakistan to get real, and acknowledge that terrorist organizations were sustained by popular funds. It also noted, calmly, that "Pakistan needs to accept a very harsh reality - it is not India's equal."
Far from being banned, Dawn should be made compulsory reading in India.
The United States and the Soviet Union also blocked information during their Cold War and paid good money to mislead. But distance reduced flashpoints to a minimum. India and Pakistan have become enemies cursed by a common frontier.
The ground has been frozen on the frontier into a glacier, but the air is still free, albeit polluted. If we want to clear the air - if - we have no option except to use that inconsistent broom called media.
Appeared in Times of India - January 19, 2009