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Home > News > Columnists > Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)

What a visit to Pakistan revealed

June 12, 2007

On May 26, a few Indians and four Pakistanis gathered at Mumbai's MIG Club to commemorate the first anniversary of the Peace Process initiative by the South Asian Free Media Association, or SAFMA.

The initiative had the blessings of both governments and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC. But the long shadow of recent events in Karachi fell on this effort and unlike last year, the guest list from Pakistan was very small.

The initiative, launched with much hope and hype last year, seems to be meeting the same fate as many such initiatives. It is thus a good time to take a long hard look at the peace process and examine likely scenarios.

On May 22 last year, a 33-member Pakistani delegation from Karachi arrived in Mumbai on a four-day visit. On the first day, the delegates kept mostly to themselves and seemed reluctant to even strike up conversations with Indians.

But from the second day, as they got used to freedom in India, all of them, with an odd exception, behaved as if they had just entered a ' de-compression' chamber, doing all the things that are prohibited in a strict Islamic society, from eating ham and bacon at breakfast to guzzling down whisky.

The dominant impressions of the interaction were:

  • Lack of understanding about Indian issues, systems and processes;
  • Nostalgia for bygones;
  • 'Me too' as a constant theme to show that Pakistan is at par with India;
  • Hypocrisy on religious taboos;
  • General dislike of the state of affairs in Pakistan including the domination of the military;
  • Sense of envy about India and Indians due to the freedoms we enjoy and progress we have made.

A Indian delegation, led by Murlidhar Chaini, Chairman, Reliance Industries [Get Quote] and President, Maharashtra Economic Development Council (a kind of state Planning Commission) paid a return trip to Karachi from June 10 to 14, 2006.

Other members of the delegation included Dr Ravi Bapat, former vice-chancellor, Medical University, Dr Nikhil Datar, a leading gynaecologist, Dr Sunil Deshmukh of Bombay University, Chandrashekhar Nene, VP, Kingfisher Airlines, Sulaxana Mahajan, an architect and three journalists from local newspapers. Some delegates were accompanied by their spouses. Loksatta Editor Kumar Ketkar of SAFMA was the coordinator of the delegation. I was part of the delegation as a representative of an NGO involved with the peace process.

Six other persons, mainly artistes from various fields (like poet Javed Akhtar, singer Faiyyaz) were denied visas by the Pakistani high commission in Delhi. All were Indian Muslims.

Conclusions from that visit:

  • There is tremendous dislike of the army dominance while Musharraf is not unpopular.
  • There is a sense of insecurity in city of Karachi; even by 7 pm the city streets are deserted.
  • India is an object of envy for its freedom, independent judiciary, election commission and economic and educational progress.
  • The civil elite is conscious of the fact that in a globalised world only peace and cooperation with India can lift their country out of its present morass.
  • The army does not want the people to come in contact with Indian Muslims as that will give a lie to their propaganda.
  • There is great reluctance to permit free flow of information media and people. The people to people contact is sought to be only confined to the elite, and not the masses.
  • In Karachi the Muttahida Quami Movement's dominance has ended the sway of the Jaamat-e-Islami, Masood Azhar and anti-India jihadi forces who seem to have shifted to Punjab. In the recent terrorists incidents in India there are hardly any links to Karachi-based groups.
  • Karachi is dominated by Pashtuns, with a common refrain being that there are more Pathans in Karachi than in Peshawar.

The overall situation in Karachi, and by proxy, Pakistan, is unstable and any trigger like the capture/killing of Al Qaeda [Images] chieftain Osama bin Laden or Musharraf extending his presidency could trigger events which could threaten the continuance of military rule. The ongoing violence in Waziristan, Baluchistan and Afghanistan only adds to the volatility.

Next: Some possible scenarios

The India Pakistan peace process | More reports from Pakistan

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