Hopes of peace, amidst doubts created by history

Hopes of peace, amidst doubts created by history

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

The brief visit of Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi to Pakistan was so dramatic that it raised hopes of India and Pakistan finally deciding to live in peace.  Certainly the two leaders’ warm handshakes and unprecedented hugs suggest that, if these two had their way, friendly relations would replace conflicts. But there are powerful forces blocking such attempts.

Remember Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Karachi in 1960 to sign the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistani President Ayub Khan. That produced such euphoria that newspapermen asked Nehru whether the two countries would pursue identical foreign policies and a joint defense pact. That bubble burst abruptly. Ayub pleaded with Nehru to settle the Kashmir dispute, arguing that an agreement would be far tougher to get after they were gone. Nehru  allowed Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah in 1964 to confer with Pakistani leaders and then go to Azad (Pakistan) Kashmir to test the waters. But then Nehru died and Indian leaders jailed Abdullah. He later again became Indian Kashmir’s premier, but his dreams of autonomy for Indian Kashmir were shattered along with hopes of an agreement with Pakistan.

Such zigzags have marked relations between India and Pakistan and before that between Hindu and Muslim leaders. The father of Pakistan Mohammed Ali Jinnah had served as secretary of the Congress party and worked for Hindu-Muslim amity. Nehru himself was a friend of Muslims. The bitterest opponent of the country’s partition was the Muslim cabinet minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The Northwest Frontier Province’s most popular leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, was called the Frontier Gandhi. In the Punjab and other provinces it was the Congress party that defeated the Muslim League. The 1940 resolution that called for the creation of Pakistan was moved by the Bengali premier A. K. Fazlul Haq. Years later he would be accused of treason by the Pakistanis and East Pakistan would fight a fierce battle with Pakistani forces and form their own country, Bangladesh, with Indian help.

Ironically, India has as many Muslims today as has Pakistan. Three of India’s top film stars are Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Amir Khan, all Muslim. The most popular bhajans or Hindu religious songs were produced in the film Baiju Bawra, the lyricist being Shakeel Badayuni, the music director Naushad and the singer Mohammed Rafi, all Muslim.

Pakistan, too, appointed a Hindu to its first cabinet. He was Jogendra Nath Mandal, minister of law and labor and then minister of Commonwealth and Kashmir affairs. However, he moved to India alleging anti-Hindu bias in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s national poet, Muhammad Iqbal, wrote the poem that is considered a masterpiece: “Saray Jahan say achcha Hindustan hamara, hum bulbulayn hayn iski yeh gulsitan hamara” (Our India is better than the whole world, we are its nightingales and this is our garden.) The poem  includes the powerful words, “mazhab naheen sikhata apas main bair rukhna, Hindi hain hum watan hay Hindustan hamara”  (religion does not teach enmity among us. We are Indians and India is our country). It was published in the journal, Ittehad (unity) and Iqbal recited it in public functions. Now it is sometimes played by Indian military bands with music composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar.

I witnessed some of these human links and ironies in Manila, Ankara and Karachi. In Manila the  head of the Indian mission was Rashid Ali Baig. In Ankara Osman Ali Baig headed the Central Treaty Organization and in Karachi Sikander Ali Baig served as the foreign secretary and later as high commissioner to Canada. The Ali Baigs are brothers, two of whom came to Pakistan and one opted for India. All were more, in their manners and lifestyles, British rather than Indians or Pakistanis. Rashid Ali Baig, however, was the most desi (Indian), perhaps because his brilliant wife Tara was a Hindu. This diversity extended to sports also; the Nawab of Pataudi and later his son, Tiger, as he was called by friends, became captains of the Indian Cricket team. He married the Hindu film actress, Sharmila Tagore.

Centuries of living together and intermarriages made for close Hindu-Muslim relations. I studied at a Christian-run school in Bhopal, India, only moving to Pakistan after partition. When I was in high school my father chose Badri Narayan Bisarya, a Hindu, as my tutor. At that time we had no ill feelings toward people of other faiths.

But politics intervened and the flames of hate engulfed the subcontinent, claiming millions of victims. Neither Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi nor Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah nor Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had envisaged that there would be such animosity or that the two sister nations would be at each other’s throats instead of living in harmony.

The odds are long but millions in India and Pakistan will pray for Modi and Sharif to finally attain peace between their countries, ending a long, shameful reign of venomous hate and conflict.

— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.