How soon Geeta, a deaf and dumb girl, has disappeared from newspaper columns and television networks is not surprising. It only shows the depth of hostility between India and Pakistan. Islamabad did make a gesture by sending her back. India should have reciprocated more positively and tangibly. Instead, the response was tepid. The media in both countries dropped the topic quickly as if it was something which should be shunned.
In any other country, such a step would have been analyzed and re-analyzed to highlight the positive side. Even limited rapprochement between America and Cuba was exploited as an opportunity to settle their problems. But the crust of hostility between India and Pakistan could not be broken despite Geeta&’s return after more than a decade.
A new chapter of friendship should have begun in relations. But there was nothing like that even remotely. The problem is essentially with a large section of people in India who still recall the “vivisection of Bharat Mata”.
Pakistan is a reality. It came into being some 70 years ago because the Muslims wanted a country of their own. They felt that they would be overwhelmed by the preponderant majority of Hindus. But the community did not realize the warning sounded out by the eminent leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad that after the establishment of a Muslim state, Hindus would get more consolidated. His wish that there should not be any partition is different from the attitude of disdain and derision that prevails in greater parts of India.
I recall the speech by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at Lahore, the city to which he had led a bus, that Pakistan was an entity by itself and required no outside recognition. His words had come as a soothing balm for Pakistanis who still feel that India has not accepted it. I was present at that civic reception. His words appealed to the Pakistanis so much that one of them, a friend, requested me to tell Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not to make any speech because he could not match the heights which Vajpayee had touched.
Geeta&’s return is an opportunity for both India and Pakistan to pick up the thread the two had left in Ufa (Russia). The two had agreed that they would tackle terrorism jointly. India&’s insistence that it would discuss only terrorism is following the agreement in letter, not in spirit.
The cause of terrorism, according to Pakistan, is the absence of a solution to the Kashmir problem. Islamabad made the mistake at that time of demanding the specific mention of Kashmir. It should have agreed to discuss terrorism and brought in Kashmir on the plea that terrorism could not be stopped until Kashmir is discussed.
It was childish on the part of both Prime Ministers when avoided each other while staying at the same hotel in New York where they had gone to attend the UN General Assembly session. Both delegations must have been making sure that they would not meet. There came a chance when they ran into each other. But they could not help but raise their hands in recognition at the time since they were within whispering distance. At least they showed a modicum of maturity then.
Vajpayee would often say that you could change your friends but not your neighbours. Even when his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was vehemently opposed to having any truck with Pakistan, he took the initiative to break the ice. He arranged for a meeting at Agra between him and General Musharraf. Vajpayee wanted the two countries to contain hostility. It is another matter that he could not make any headway. It is said that the present foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had raised some objections to the formula which the foreign secretaries of both countries had devised after sitting for the entire night.
The current situation is becoming curiouser and curiouser. Both countries do not talk to each other and still vow that they want good relations. I am sure that the talks must be taking place through the back channel. But there is nothing to show that things are improving. The ceasefire violations have increased and there is no let-up in acquiring arms. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has accused India at New York of buying more weapons and defended his country’s position if it were to do so.
Establishments on both sides should realize that they are denying their people schools, healthcare centres and panchayat ghars by diverting money from development to defence. Even purchasing a bomb would increase their economic backwardness and it in no way helps to better the lot of the common man.
If the Geeta episode can reverse the trend it would be a miracle. Otherwise, both sides would continue to wallow in poverty. The choice is between sustenance and survival. The two countries continue to wear their traditional animosity. It depends on Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif to break the vicious circle of enmity and arms. The prospects are dim and not rosy.
The Geeta incident has created an atmosphere of goodwill. But this has been spoilt by some irresponsible remarks. One Pakistani dignitary said that India should return the prisoners languishing in Indian jails. Another remarked that persons like Geeta living in India should be given back to Pakistan.
But what they do not realize is that Geeta was not a prisoner and her return is to her own country. In the melee or argument, some 15 years have been lost. Both countries have already consumed 70 years in their futile stand. It is time they relalised that the peoples have borne the brunt of this enmity on two sides and continue to suffer backwardness. They deserve a better deal.
The writer is a noted journalist, columnist and commentator.