Malala Youssef Zai: Can she be a turning point in Indo-Pak relations?

The relationship between India and Pakistan is a very complicated and complex one. The British dramatist, George Bernard Shaw described USA and UK as two nations divided by one language. One might as well define Pakistan and India as two nations divided by one cultural background.

India has often been described as a crucible of civilizations, cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. For a long time, people believed that the Vedic Indians were the earliest inhabitants of India. Now we know better. The discovery of the archaeological remains of Mohen-jo-daro (now in Pakistan) and the Harappan ruins (in India), have revealed a different tale. The earliest Indian natives were perhaps the ancestors of the present-day tribals in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. The Aryans came from outside the Indo-Pak sub-continent. Invaders came from Mongolia, Turkey, Greece, Persia, and other European countries in later years. The current day Indians are descendants of these multifarious invasions. So there is no historical basis to establish that only the Hindus of India are the original inhabitants and all the others are foreigners. The different sects of Hindus form over 80% of the population, the largest religious minority is the Muslim community. One of the invaders into India who mostly came from the northwest through the mountain passes, now in Pakistan, were the Turks. Unlike the other invaders the Turks decided to settle down in India and make this their home. They were the founders of the Moghul dynasty. One of the greatest Moghul rulers, Akbar, who married a Hindu (Rajput) princess, tried his best to integrate the two communities. In contrast, in later centuries when the Arab-Muslims invaded Persia, they dominated the religious landscape of Persia and forcibly made it a Muslim country. This led to two developments — the original followers of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia fled, and many sought refuge in the western state of present-day Gujarat in India. They adopted the language of the land, Gujarati, as their own language. Today they are an indisputable and highly respected minority group of India. Another group that fled Persia was the Sufis who were also Muslims, but they distinctly espoused universal love as the fundamental part of their faith. When the Persians were overrun by the Arabic Muslims who were devout followers of Quranic rituals, many of these Sufis migrated to northern parts of Kashmir and spread out to other nearby areas. Over the centuries there has been so much of give-and-take between the various communities that a distinctive variety of Islam has arisen in India. These two communities of Hindus and Muslims have been living in peace in the sub-continent for hundreds of years. They came to identify themselves as one people and one nation. Much later, they fought shoulder-to-shoulder against the British colonial rule during the 1857 revolt which the British called the “sepoy mutiny” and the Indians referred to as the “first war of independence”.

The rift between these two communities seems to have appeared only during the British rule. In 1935, a small measure of self-rule in the form of dyarchy or limited participatory rule in the provincial governments was achieved. At that time the Muslims formed a fair size of the population of the united provinces. But when the candidates were chosen for the election, the proportion of Muslim candidates seemed to be far less than what their numbers warranted. The British colonial rulers who were masters at the art of “divide and rule”, were only too happy to exploit this feeling of injustice amongst the Muslims, and encouraged them to stress their separate identity. Leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who were part of the Indian National Congress, broke away and formed the Indian Muslim League. The Muslim community was made to feel that they could never expect justice in any rule by the majority community of Hindus. They felt that only a separate country with a Muslim majority could safeguard their interests. Gandhiji was one of the few leaders who realized even in those early days that this feeling could grow into a tragic rift. Even as late as in the provisional government of 1946 where both Congress and Muslim League representatives formed the central government, Gandhiji proposed that the finance ministry and/or prime-ministership be offered to the Muslim League, if this could keep the country together. But alas, his was a lonely voice and the country was partitioned. This proved to be a traumatic experience for the peoples of both the countries. This makes one wonder if the Kurukshetra war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, as described in the Maharabarata, was a historical event and perhaps the massacre that followed the 1947 partition was but a sequel to the Kurukshetra war where cousins killed each other for pelf and power.

However, all is not lost. Better sense can prevail even now. The citizens of both countries may yet realize that continuing this heritage of prejudice and enmity promises to bring poverty and misery to all. On the other hand, friendship and co-operation may yet help them to become prosperous and happy nations.

As far as the Indian people are concerned, they should realize that it is not wise to condemn the entire population of Pakistan because of the misdeeds of a few vested interests. They should also realize that it is very difficult to draw a line between the Pakistani army and the Taliban. After all, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) set up by the Pakistani army has been working in close collaboration with the Taliban for long years. The present chief of the Pakistani army was at one time the head of the ISI. It would be unrealistic to expect the army to turn anti-Taliban overnight and fight them. It is for the civil society of Pakistan to assert itself and establish a truly democratic government which assures universal human rights to all citizens, including the right of girls and women to education and participation in the democratic institutions of the country.

To bring about this atmosphere it is essential to deal with the one apparent hurdle in Indo-Pak relations — the Kashmir issue. Perhaps what has been talked about for long years behind closed doors must be brought out into the open — the recognition of the present line of control (LOC) to be established as the international boundary. There doesn’t seem to be any other practical solution that would be acceptable to both the nations. One can only hope that the attack against Malala Youssef Zai would wake up the leaders on both sides of the boundary to the utter futility of encouraging fundamentalism of any sort. Instead they should capitalize on the immense positive potential of the encouragement of democratic forces and upholding universal human rights.

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