Articles of the year 2006

The Olive Branch
Published on March 30th, 2006

The Speech given by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been welcomed by many, and criticized by an equal number. While the welcomers are being perceived as the doves, the critics are part of the establishment, and being policy makers, they do matter.

It may be time now to rethink the whole strategy, vis a vis the past, and the position today. To start with, there is no one under the age of 60 who remembers what the good old days in Kashmir were. Even those with fond memories of boating on the lake in moonlight should be reminded that the British ran India (and Pakistan) far far better than we have been able to since being given our independence. Now, I understand the once beautiful lake is a large polluted gutter. Similar to a lake in the famous Roshanara gardens in Delhi, where, as we lived just across the road I learned how to fish. I visited the Gardens again 40years later, and the beautiful lake had not only dried up but was turned into a garbage dump. The population explosion, and mismanagement had taken its toll. And so it is with Indian Kashmir. In not quite the same manner as the destruction of Murree, but close.

Our Kashmir seems to have fared much better than its Indian counterpart, not for any largesse of Islamabad, for it has always been considered an OSD position for any bureaucrat. No, it has thrived because of its Diaspora who were the first to settle in the UK in the sixties and the seventies. Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester, these were all cities with a large Pakistani population—the bulk from Azad Kashmir. It is these Kashmiris who are faithfully remitting money back to their relatives, in fact a significant art of our Pakistani foreign receipts are from these very people. I understand some of the shops in Azad Kashmir have British goods with prices still in Pounds. This would make for a great desire for the Indian Kashmiri to partake in the good fortune of his Pakistani Kashmiri brother. And so it should be, for any immigrant, the yearning for greener grass will always be a very powerful lure. Indian Kashmir has already been emptied of most Hindus so the remnant Muslims, always the economically deprived now see a pot of Gold tantalizingly close. Maybe more buses, with more visas will do the trick. In the Punjab, Islamabad has always been more effusive in showing its hospitality than would be warranted in similar instance for nationals other than Sikhs, possibly trying to wean the Sardars into a roots dilemma, and invoking reciprocal goodwill. All these moves augur well, and would go a long way to make the war movies stale, and a trifle incongruous under the new scenarios being unfolded.

In Sindh, unlike Kashmir and the Sardarji factor, the situation is more complex, and shows that Islamabad is not availing the opportunities that are being offered. The Khokhrapar railway line was opened with much fanfare. The Indian High Commission was cleaned up and given a new paint job. Jaswant Singh made a much publicized trip to Sindh and visited a holy shrine in Baluchistan.. Just as we were all expecting a rush in traffic to and from India using the newly opened Railway, a small statement was issued from the Indian FO which stated that the Pakistan Government would not allow the Indian High Commission in Karachi to issue visas until the Pakistan High Commission was to start functioning in Mumbai, and that both should start simultaneously. While this may be following standard Foreign Office procedures, it does show that somebody in the Foreign Ministry has seriously blundered. The office in Mumbai should have been ready way before the set dates. It is predominantly Muslim travelers who have been suffering all these years in having to go to Islamabad and to Delhi for their visas. Why prolong their agony? Indian or Pakistani, the travelers are invariably Muslims. ( The Sikhs already have MFN status and are treated in a very special way.) The poor Indian Muslims complain bitterly at their treatment at the hands of our officers at the Pakistan Mission in Delhi. Now our Foreign Office in its myopic manner does not realize the suffering of the poor Muslim travelers in not allowing the Karachi office to start . The expression Muslim brother should be honoured in letter and spirit. Perhaps the Foreign Minister should shake up his department, for if left to their devices no visas will ever get issued.