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My battle with bad Pakistan won me some good friends

Last updated on: May 9, 2012 20:59 IST

My battle with a bad Pakistan won me some good friends

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Tarun Vijay

The number of people in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad daring to stand up before the hate, anti-India junta and the ISI is quite small. They need to be saluted and supported, says Tarun Vijay after a recent visit to Pakistan.

It happened in the most unexpected way. I had always tried to see the good Pakistan through interactions with my best friend amongst Pakistani editors, Mahmood Shaam, and a little difference was made when lawyer-politician Aitzaz Ahsan presented me a copy of his celebrated book Indus Saga.

Still it was impossible not to see Pakistan as the land of Ajmal Kasab.

It is only Hafiz Saeed of the Jama'at-ud-Da'wah, Dawood Ibrahim and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba's war cries coupled with Da'wah's hate, that has defined Pakistan for us.

But the meeting that we had at the fag end of a recent Islamabad-Lahore visit, especially with columnist Harris Khalique and slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer's family members, made me say that if this is also Pakistan, it is welcome.

The Indian Air Force flew us to Islamabad. The airport reception at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto airport's special area was warm and cordial.

It was a memorable visit for us all, no doubt. We were part of a delegation of parliamentarians belonging to different parties of both Houses (Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, Birendra Prasad Baishya, Inder Singh Namdhari, Madan Lal Sharma, Sheikh Saidul Haque and myself) led by the ever smiling Speaker of the Lok Sabha Meira Kumar.

It was a landmark visit -- the first ever by any Indian Speaker to Pakistan at an invitation by an equally suave and articulate speaker of the Pakistan senate, Dr Fehmida Mirza.

Meira Kumar spoke such fluent and cultured Urdu that left the Pakistanis pleasantly surprised. 'Even we don't speak such chaste Urdu here,' commented a leader from Balochistan.

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Image: Disembarking at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto airport
Photographs: Tarun Vijay

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The famous Pakistani hospitality charmed us everywhere

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We were taken to Islamabad, Taxila and Lahore, on the five-day trip. We met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, acting Vice-President Yakub Naik, Pakistan Muslim League President Chaudhry Shujat Hussain, Punjab Governor Sardar Muhammad Latif Khan Khosa, Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif (Mian Nawaz Sharif's brother) and Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal.

The famous Pakistani hospitality charmed us everywhere. The chaotic welcome in the Punjab assembly reminded us of the shared legacy too. Words flowed like a river of honey -- 'We are brothers and sisters, one race, one people, one ancestors, one history binds us together. We speak the same language, share the same songs in marriages and festivals. We celebrate Basant. The Indus civilisation and thousands of years of history run through our blood.'

Everywhere we went we were under the strict gaze and protection of Pakistan's elite Anti Terrorist Squad and were forbidden to go anywhere, even to the market without them. 'We have a responsibility to send you back home safe,' was the polite reply by our ISI protectors, every time we wished to see the local market.

The love and warmth was too overwhelming. Maybe the Meira Kumar magic was in action there too.

Having heard them, I felt as if it was the reunion of twin brothers lost in a fair. I couldn't feel -- even for a second -- that we treat Pakistan as a bad, terror-exporting, country. Perhaps we treat Pakistan wrongly, I thought.

Such warm, peace loving leaders can't wage a war. They want progress, prosperity and higher education in science and technology. Maybe the next time around, we should send Nandan Nilekani with his secular technologists in the media to help our good neighbour, I thought.

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Image: A Kathak performance by a Pakistani artist
Photographs: Tarun Vijay

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Someone had to ask questions that perturb Indians

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I wanted to ask, sheepishly though, that if all was so rosy, then what was the problem?

Sir, if all this is so sincere, why do we fight? Why was it necessary for you to drag us to war four times? And the Kargil misadventure?

Why the bloodshed?

Why the bloody jihad and terrorism in the name of faith? Why does the killing, maiming, raping and abductions of Hindus still continue?

But the warmth was so sincere and overwhelming that I would caution myself again and again not to let my tongue slip and say 'Can we have the honour to have tea with dear brother Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed? Can we visit the respected parents of Kasab?'

We want to tell them that all these years we have held the wrong perception about them. We want to correct ourselves and also promise to correct the perceptions of South Block's warmongers.

Someone should have asked the questions that perturbs the average Indian.

But before we could respond to their perfected lines, they would add, 'We are the biggest victims of terrorism in the world today.'

Prime Minister Gilani used his warm hospitality to live up to Dr Manmohan Singh's famous words about him -- a man of peace. Though our meeting was supposed to be formal and more like a one-to-one discussion, it was suddenly turned into a media event with all of us sitting on both sides of the PM's seat, introducing ourselves in one liners, capped by short and sweet speeches by Meira Kumar, Fehmida Mirza and Yousuf Raza Gilani, with television cameras beaming the whole show live on PTV.

Gilani spoke of five thousand years of Multan history, the city he belongs to, the sweet mangoes of Multan and the Saraiki language spoken there. At a post event tea, I referred to the famous sun temple of Multan and he gave a vivid account of Jehangir, and the Sufi, Syed tradition of the area explaining affectionately that if there are Muslims in your delegation, they will understand it better.

We smiled. And smiled again.

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Image: Pakistan's elite Anti Terrorist Squad at guard on the Taxila campus
Photographs: Tarun Vijay

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No other country can be a sincere friend of Pakistan except India

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The farewell lunch with a dynamic 'Vajpayee fan' -- Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif -- virtually turned into a live mushaira, a poetry session with our Speaker Meira Kumar winning unanimously.

Though we were cautious not to mention any issue of discord, they would have, in some way, mentioned Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, during all that 'we are brothers' talk and say, if these issues were solved, there is nothing that can prevent us from coming closer.

At an India Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Group meeting, I asked that we should not put the issues that hurt us under the carpet.

The fact is Pakistan instantly reminds us of the Kasabs, Hafiz Saeeds and Dawood Ibrahims.

I said you ask for facilitating more visas, but the security issues prevent the government because thousands of Pakistani visa holders never return.

You speak about shared heritage, I asked, but in spite of my requests made in advance, I couldn't be taken to see a single temple in Lahore, Islamabad or Rawalpindi.

Where is the sincerity in powering modules of bridges and hands of reconciliation?

No other country in the world can be a sincere friend of Pakistan except India. But you offer foreigners the liberty to kill and arrest their most wanted on your soil, and deny those whom you call blood brothers from visiting Kasab's village?

When being a Muslim and more so being a Pakistani was a matter of inviting inconvenient searches and suspicions, it was an Indian, a Shah Rukh Khan who made a movie My Name is Khan with the most powerful argument in favour of peace loving Muslims, who are not terrorists.

Today, when the world says -- if not all Pakistanis are terrorists, all terrorists have a Pakistan connection; it is us, who are visiting you, reaffirming our faith in friendly ties and signing agreements of trade and business.

Who is helping you in the real sense -- we or the dollars from Capitol Hill?

They didn't expect this, but heard with rapt attention, with a touch of cultured class the leader of the Pakistani group commented, 'Now you've spoken like an Opposition leader.'

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Image: Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal at a reception with Maulana Fazlur Rahman
Photographs: Tarun Vijay

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The heat of Pakistani public ire is directed against the ISI and army

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At an evening dinner, a senior Pakistani Muslim leader said, 'Mr Tarun, which world are you living in? If these authorities have no guts to deny permission to a public meeting of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Da'wah just in front of the senate in Islamabad, the very day your delegation arrived, do you think they can sincerely pursue the peace track?'

'LeT collects funds in Lahore, 'Pindi and Karachi, and those who have no control on Pakistan talk peace.' I was astounded with this frankness.

Hafiz Saeed is India's most wanted terrorist who is heading an anti-India terrorist group. So where do we go from here?

Is all this talk of removing distrust and coming closer, maintaining friendly ties and trade relations, a sham?

Should we just shut our doors on them and say, 'Nothing doing till you bring a good conduct certificate stamped by our own agencies and not by Obama'?

Before we come to this conclusion, the other side of Pakistan must also be visited.

The fact is today Pakistan has become a land where the highest number of Muslims are being killed. And the killers are Muslims alone. The sectarian and parochial hatred is engulfing the land of the pure and faithful.

Hundreds, (though some analysts say the number has crossed more than 4,000) of Pakistanis have simply vanished from this earth and their family members protest openly before the senate, alleging that the ISI and army have kidnapped them suspecting their links with Jamaat-e-Islami and Taliban organisations.

The 'missing persons' of Pakistan is the biggest issue of public outcry in Pakistan today, and the heat of public ire is directed against the ISI and army, most feared and most hated by a huge section of Pakistanis.

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Image: Maharaja Ranjit Singh's samadhi in Lahore
Photographs: Tarun Vijay

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We must stop painting all Pakistanis with the same brush

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True, Pakistan remains the epicentre of all terrorism as was mentioned by our foreign minister S M Krishna, yet there is a growing number of bold, fearless and sane Pakistanis who dare to write against the mullahs, the ISI, and the dollar-gobbling army.

It's not as easy as is in India.

They risk their lives and career to say what was considered the forbidden truth some time ago.

If there are unspeakable atrocities against Hindus and Christians, the first voices to condemn the perpetrators, who speak for the victims and take up their cases through human rights organisations are Pakistanis too.

Hate driven Pakistani Muslims killed Hindus first and having almost eliminated them in the most barbaric ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen, they are killing fellow Muslims now.

Shias, Ahamdias, Kadiyanis, pro-American Pakistanis and anti American Pakistanis. Everyone is on the target of the other.

Close to our return back home, 18 Shias were identified in a bus near Peshawar and shot dead. Just visit Shia sites on the Web to feel the anger that engulfes various Muslim sects in Pakistan.

Their president is in a quandary, their prime minister is facing serious charges and has been convicted and punished for 30 seconds by the supreme court, and people talk about the bad dehshat gardi, tauba janab tauba.

Their bad times shouldn't gladden our hearts. It only reminds us that hate begets hate and extremism is a Bhasmasur. It devours its children one day.

There is no way to peace but the Gandhi way, who despite his help to Pakistan at a huge cost, remains ironically an untouchable in the 'land of the pure.'

The number of people in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad daring to stand up before the hate, anti-India junta and the ISI is quite small. They need to be saluted and supported.

Slain governor Salman Taseer's family stands as a great symbol of reason. They also tell us that our over-trumpeted sirens of extremist voices help only the Hafiz Saeeds and the ISI.

Standing firm on combating terrorism and exposing Pakistani links of terror with a resolve to smoke them out is the path we should follow without compromise.

But we must stop painting all Pakistanis with the same brush. Engaging voices of sanity and genuine friendship is the least we can do to move ahead.

Tarun Vijay is a Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Rajya Sabha.


Image: The Buddha at Taxila museum, established in 1928, with artifacts dating back to 600 BC. A century old Godrej safe vault is used to keep the invaluable jewellery in the museum
Photographs: Tarun Vijay

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