May be they should have installed a closed circuit TV camera inside the hall sending live feeds over the Web. That could have saved millions of people from confusion. No one knows for sure what exactly happened inside Hyderabad House, a New Delhi landmark, where foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan held talks on Thursday. After the talks held out of the media glare were over, the leaders of the delegations went to address the press separately to provide conflicting details of the talks. Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said the discussions were mainly focused on the issue of terrorism and briefly touched Kashmir while her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir stated the exact opposite. The same contrast was splashed all over the front pages of newspapers of both countries on Friday with Indian media persons blaming the Pakistani side for trying to score points over the talks and their Pakistani counterparts stating that no progress was made at the meeting as India “engaged in a game of doubletalk, saying one thing while meaning the other”.
Nothing different was expected, in fact, from both sides as we know they have very different concerns and priorities. While terrorism is an issue of the topmost importance to India, Pakistan can’t put Kashmir aside. India wants Hafiz Saeed, a man it thinks plotted and executed the Mumbai attack, to be arrested and tried in Pakistan. India said that it submitted three dossiers to Pakistan detailing anti-India activities of terrorists based in Pakistan. Maintaining that the talks shouldn’t be limited to the issue of terror, Pakistan, on the other hand, wanted to discuss India’s violations of the Indus Water Treaty that concerns sharing the water of six rivers that flow into Pakistan through India’s Jammu and Kashmir.
Despite their contrasting interests, I believe, Indians and Pakistanis should get some inspiration from the Oscar-nominated movie Invictus that is now being screened around the world. I am well aware that cinemas and international diplomacy are two different things. But then this movie is based on a true story, and this is the part of the subcontinent where movies are integrated deeply into the people’s lifestyles. Based on Nelson Mandela’s effort to unify his racially divided post-apartheid South Africa by using the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the movie depicts how people can rebuild a society by choosing to forgive the enemy and appreciate one another. Blacks hate whites and whites dislike blacks. Blacks are in a majority, whites control the economy. Whites jailed him for years in a small cell, blacks voted him to the mammoth presidential palace. Demonstrating true leadership, Mandela persuades his black compatriots by example to forget the past, forgive the enemy and join hands with them to build a nation, the rainbow nation.
While travelling around India, I have experienced firsthand the deep resentment that many ordinary Indians harbour against Pakistanis, in many cases for no convincing reason. I am sure the same happens with ordinary Pakistanis. A receptionist at a Mumbai hotel in July told me he would cut a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi into pieces if they ever came to his hotel. “I am neither of them, but also not an Indian,” I said. “I am from Nepal. Am I welcome here?”
“Arre yar, Nepali toh apne hi hey,” he said. (Nepalis are our own, my friend.)
I was relieved to hear that; nevertheless, I remained disturbed for several days by the man’s hatred against his other neighbours. That was the same kind of hatred that existed for many years in South African society even after the end of apartheid.
The Thursday talks might not have been a ground breaking event, but they have certainly paved the way for future talks and negotiations between the two powerful neighbours. The South Asian rivals were officially talking for the first time after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that almost pushed them into war. Hawks in India were talking about “bombing Pakistan in retaliation” while their counterparts on the other side of the border were no less enthusiastic about fighting. As time passed, all that raw emotion and anger evaporated and common sense prevailed even though the main opposition party in India, the BJP, is opposing the diplomatic move arguing that not talking (to Pakistan) can also be an option. Many fundamentalists in Pakistan are also voicing the same, disappointing many others who see engaging with India as the only means to build a better relationship. The recent Pune attacks provided hardliners and anti-talk camps yet another reason to reassert their stand.
But that didn’t discourage the Indian prime minister from initiating the process of dialogue with Pakistan. Some say India initiated the dialogue process only after “a gentle prodding” or “a sustained pressure” from the Americans. Whatever the propeller may be, something good has started which hopefully will reduce the hostility that exists between the neighbours.
This article first appeared on today’s Op-Ed of the Kathmandu Post