Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised audiences in India and abroad by his conciliatory remarks to the people of Pakistan in his speech in Kozhikode on September 24. This was less than a week after the Uri attack that killed 19 Indian soldiers. Modi was unsparing in his criticism of Pakistan, describing it as the only country in Asia exporting terror globally. He asked why Pakistan wanted Kashmir when it mistreated its Pashtuns, Baloch and the people of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. He called for the people of Pakistan to join their compatriots in India to fight the real challenges both countries face, like unemployment, poverty, infant mortality and maternal deaths.
Modi’s speech was aimed at driving a wedge between Pakistan’s politico-military establishment and its people, who are themselves facing attacks from terrorists backed by the military. This is a continuation of the policy of politically isolating the military, especially in Sind, Balochistan and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, bordering Afghanistan. Atal Bihari Vajpayee followed this policy even during the Kargil conflict, by continuing the Lahore-Delhi bus service and rail travel by Samjhauta Express. We continued issuing visas to the people of Pakistan to meet friends and relatives in India at the height of the Kargil conflict. At the same time, Indian IT companies were advised to stay away from Pakistan and cricketing ties placed on hold.
Modi has gone forward by differentiating between those who follow Sufi practices and those who advocate violence, such as Wahhabi-oriented groups, who regularly target the former. It suits India’s interests to encourage visits of devotees from Pakistan to Sufi shrines like Ajmer, which can be undertaken under the existing visa regime. But this cannot bemextended, in the present context, to sporting links, especially in cricket, where the mood becomes combative. A distinguished Pakistani editor and media baron told me that the problem with his countrymen is that they tend to treat a cricket field like a battlefield and vice versa.
A similar approach has to be adopted in dealing with Indus waters, where there are differences between Pakistan’s Punjab Province, which consumes a disproportionate share and denies the neighbouring provinces, particularly Sind, their legitimate share. There is a huge discontent in Sind about being denied its share of the Indus waters. Even as we prepare to consume our share of the waters, a diplomatic effort needs to be undertaken, informing people in lower riparian Pakistani provinces about Punjabi domination and depleting of their water, energy and financial resources. We have also to understand the sentiments of people still called “Muhajirs” (refugees), who increasingly recognise that their forefathers made an error in migrating to Pakistan. They are today targets of the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan army, in Karachi and elsewhere.
There is a controversy about issuing visas to Pakistani actors and actresses (mostly from Punjab) who make huge money in India. We should understand that their interest is not in promoting ties between the two countries, but in raking in moolah, returning to Pakistan and then boasting about how they are in demand in India, because they are regarded as being better professionally and in their looks. This only reinforces stereotype about India and Indians in Pakistan. We also need not worry about our films and values not being projected in Pakistan. People there are well versed in accessing satellite TV and getting films and serials from the Internet to view Indian content. Our Bollywood mughals should learn to take the marginal commercial losses in their stride.
The writer is a former diplomat