Bagh-e-Jinnah is to Lahore what Lodi Garden is to Delhi. Both are iconic parks, laden with history. But the former is bigger and, going by the number of aam aadmi who come there for recreation, less elitist. It was formerly known as Lawrence Gardens, honouring John Lawrence, India's viceroy from 1864 to1869. Along with his older brother, Henry Lawrence, he played a major role in the affairs of the united Punjab during the British Raj, a saga well chronicled by Rajmohan Gandhi in his new book Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten.
An early morning walk from my hotel, Pearl Continental, has brought me to Bagh-e-Jinnah. It being the middle of June, the sun is already up and bright. As in Delhi, a city with which Lahore has so many similarities (both have majestic forts, built by Moghul rulers at a time when Partition was inconceivable), it's hot, which explained to me why there were so few people in the garden. I am a little disappointed, because I have come here as much to meet common Pakistanis as to savour the joy of a morning walk in a garden. My purpose is to have as much of Track III dialogue - conversations leading to contacts between ordinary Indians and Pakistanis - as possible during my brief five-day visit to Pakistan, to complement the Track II dialogue for which I had gone to Islamabad a couple of days back.
For the uninitiated, Track II is that conflict-resolution activity in which some of those who once took part in Track I - official government-to-government talks - but are now retired continue to meet, along with journalists, professionals and peace activists, to seek solutions to the vexed issues between our two countries. Cynics see Track II as a post-retirement opportunity for former diplomats, soldiers, and senior government officials to travel and talk. In his new book Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum, American scholar Stephen P. Cohen writes about a journalist who sarcastically quipped at an Indo-Pak Track II meeting in Salzburg 'where the formers were suddenly and most insistently advocating peace': "We ought to extend the age of retirement, because it seems as if once an official retires he becomes committed to peace with the other side."
But Track II can also disprove cynics by promoting a constructive and hope-giving exchange of views. This was evident at the Pakistan-India Bilateral Dialogue in Islamabad on June 14, organised by the Regional Peace Institute, a non-governmental body founded by Pakistan's former foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, and supported by Hans Seidel Foundation, a German NGO. I was one of the 14 Indian members of a delegation that was led by Mani Shankar Aiyar. Mani, an irrepressible votary of India-Pakistan détente, argues, notwithstanding all the flak he receives from the critics of this argument, that the official Track I dialogue between our two governments must go on in an "uninterrupted and uninterruptible" manner, irrespective any provocation or unpleasant development. The delegation also included our former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid. The Pakistani contingent comprised former minsters and retired diplomats and officials of the army and ISI, besides a few prominent journalists.
I have some experience of being associated with the Track I dialogue between India and Pakistan, having travelled with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his historic Bus Yatra to Lahore in 1999 at the invitation of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's then and present prime minister. I had also accompanied Vajpayee on his visit to Islamabad for the 2004 SAARC summit, on the sidelines of which he had an important meeting with Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's then president. That meeting yielded the path-breaking joint statement in which Pakistan gave a commitment not to "permit any territory under its control to be used to support terrorism in any manner".
In 2005, I had gone with L.K. Advani, who was then president of the BJP, on his visit to Pakistan, which turned out to be historic in its own way. It was neither Track I nor Track II, much less was it Track III. Yet, it made a unique intervention in the tortuous process of Indians and Pakistanis rediscovering each other - and also themselves. His political career no doubt took a grievous hit after his visit to the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Karachi, and his mildly laudatory, yet factually incontrovertible, tribute to the founder of Pakistan. He became the target of a vicious, motivated and ignorant attack by his colleagues in his own Sangh Parivar following his Pakistan visit. I too became a victim of this attack since I was suspected to have "misguided" Advani into making the "pro-Jinnah" comment.
Such contradictions between intent and effect are not uncommon in politics. Nevertheless, history will bear witness to the fact that Advani made one of the boldest and sincerest attempts to break the crust of prejudices that has enveloped Indo-Pak relations. For, as he had so aptly said at a function organised by the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) in Lahore, "There is a little bit of India in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan in every Indian... I dream of the day when divided hearts can be united; when divided families can be reunited; when pilgrims from one country - Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs - can freely go to holy sites located in the other country; and when people can travel and trade freely, while continuing to remain proud and loyal citizens of their respective countries."
Affirmation of the self-evident truth that "there is a bit of India in every Pakistani and a bit of Pakistan in every Indian", which many people on both sides of the border make a herculean effort to forget and deny, is by no means a revanchist call for re-unification of India and Pakistan. Rather, it is a well-reasoned appeal that, being siblings by history and neighbours by geography, our two countries should live in peace and friendship, and not in permanent tension and enmity.
The Track II meet in Islamabad was an effort to reiterate this appeal. A joint declaration adopted at the end of the dialogue welcomed the meeting, followed by a friendly exchange of letters, between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi in May this year. It also urged the two leaders to resume the high-level inter-governmental dialogue between the two countries, stalled for the past five years, and take it to the point of full normalisation of bilateral relations.
Both the official Track I dialogue and the non-official Track II dialogue that seeks to influence the former are the need of the hour. But where is the dialogue between the common people of India and Pakistan? What are their concerns? What are their thoughts? Shouldn't people's voices also reach the ears of prime ministers, ministers, army generals, diplomats and think tank interlocutors on both sides? The vox populi I heard at Bagh-e-Jinnah and elsewhere in Pakistan startled me by the intensity of the plebeian Pakistanis' desire for peace and normal relations with India. To be honest, this desire is not free from many complaints against India, also some ill-informed notions that add to the mountain of prejudices from the past. But, then, isn't this also true about common Indians' attitude towards Pakistan?
"India wants Wasim Akram to coach the winning IPL team, but doesn't want Pakistan players in IPL"
At Bagh-e-Jinnah I admire the architectural beauty of the Lahore Gymkhana, which was the venue of Test cricket in Lahore before the construction of Gaddafi Stadium. A little later, I stop at a badminton court where four persons are playing a doubles game, and one person is doubling up as a score-keeper and a cheer-leader for the good shots played by either side. I sit next to him and slowly strike a conversation. His interest level shoots up upon knowing that I am an Indian - that too, a Hindu. "Wait till the game gets over, so that my friends also can join the discussion," he says.
They all are polite and friendly but once the pleasantries are over, they confront me with a volley of questions. "How can we trust India, whose intentions are never pak (pure)? Look, your Wazir-e-Azam (prime minister) invited our Wazir-e-Azam to attend his swearing-in ceremony in Delhi. Whether Nawaz Sharif should have gone or not is a different matter. Many in Pakistan feel that he shouldn't have gone because your former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh did not visit Pakistan even once in the past ten years, even though he was born in Pakistan. Nevertheless, Nawaz Sharif went to Delhi because leaders of all other SAARC countries had also been invited. But how did your prime minister treat him? Like a mujarim (accused)! He read out a list of commandments - Pakistan must do this, Pakistan must do that. Is this how you treat a guest?"
The world doesn't know what exactly Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif talked. According to one person who was present at the bilateral meeting, it went off quite well, the two leaders quite pleased at establishing a good getting-to-know-each-other chemistry. However, the subsequent press briefing by our foreign secretary was uniformly disliked by all Pakistanis, both officials and commoners who watched it, or read about it, in the media. According to them, our foreign secretary gave an impression that Modi read a riot act to Sharif.
The badminton players' second complaint was amusing. "India knows how to make use of Pakistani talent but doesn't want the world to know they're better than Indians." I asked them how. "Look, you don't want Pakistani cricketers in IPL. You only want a good coach like Wasim Akram, who can train Indian players well so that their team can win IPL."
Their other criticism: "Our people see your TV channels all the time. But do you allow our TV channels to be shown in India? Indeed, your TV programmes are having a harmful effect on our people because they are quietly propagating Hindu culture and customs in Pakistan. Our school children tell their mothers before going for exams: "Maa mujhe aashirvaad do ki main achche marks paa sakoon." What is this aashirvaad business? It's anti-Muslim."
The conversation turns to Bollywood, at which one of them says: "We love your actor Om Puri who had the guts to say, after the warm and friendly welcome he received in Lahore recently, that he won't act in any anti-Pakistan film in future. That's good. But doesn't it also mean that India routinely makes anti-Pakistan films?"
I ask them what they think of Narendra Modi becoming India's new prime minister. "The whole world knows that he was anti-Muslim when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. We'll wait and see what he does as the prime minister of India. But we don't have much hope. After all, 30 Muslims were killed in Assam just before the elections." Obviously, Pakistanis follow the news from India, especially news concerning Indian Muslims, quite closely.
(Two days earlier, I had a heard a diametrically different comment on Narendra Modi from a waiter in Hotel Serena in Islamabad, the venue of our seminar. "Narendra Modi is my hero," he had said to me with a radiant smile on his face, upon knowing that I am an Indian. I asked him why. "Why? Because I am a chaiwala and he was also a chaiwala. I am happy and proud that a person who came from such an humble background has risen to become the Wazir-e-Azam of Hindustan.")
I am curious to know from the badminton group what they think are the hurdles in our two countries coming closer. This is the point when the "K" factor enters the discussion. "Jab tak Kashmir ka masla hal nahin hoga, tab tak dosti nahin banegi. (So long as the Kashmir dispute remains unresolved, there can be no friendship)". However, I notice that there is some softening of the usual Pakistani position on this matter. They say: "We know that the Kashmir issue will take time to resolve. But India doesn't relent on any other matter too. It only wants to take, it doesn't want to give anything in return."
This was also the refrain of some Pakistani participants in the Islamabad Track II dialogue. "Without equity and reciprocity, Indo-Pak talks cannot yield the desired results," they said.
The badminton group asks me if it's my first visit to Pakistan. No, I had come to Lahore with our former prime minister on his peace mission in 1999. They remember that bus journey and remark, "Vajpayee was a good man. He wanted to sign an agreement with Pakistan. But his hardline party colleagues opposed him." This was a reference to Musharraf's (false) take on the outcome of the Agra summit in 2001. It was also another indication of how ordinary Pakistanis stay tuned to their media's reportage on all the important developments in the Indo-Pak relations - much more, perhaps, than ordinary Indians do.
I've already spent nearly an hour talking to them, so I try to leave after thanking them for their time. "No, how can you go away like that? You are our mehmaan (guest). Come, we'll treat you to a breakfast." I express my inability to accept their invitation. "I have to get back to my hotel soon. But I want to tell you that I am very happy to have met you all."
They wave back at me and say, "We were also happy meeting you. Come back to Pakistan. Allah Hafiz."
"Modi govt wants to bring all the Hindus from all over the world and settle them in India to further marginalise Muslims"
Sometimes the Pakistani media grossly misreport the situation in India. After bidding goodbye to the badminton group, I take a stroll in the garden and meet a middle-aged person sitting alone on a bench. We get talking, and it is soon clear to me that he dislikes India because of what he calls India's "nainsaafi" (injustice) towards Muslims. I ask him why he thinks so. "Why? Your government doesn't even allow azaan in the mosques there. Don't you know this? Aren't you a Muslim?"
I tell him that I am a Hindu and that his information is completely wrong. I ask him where he got this information from. "I have read it in our newspapers," he tells me. "I have also read that the Modi government is planning to bring all the Hindus from all over the world and make them settle in India. This is meant to drive Muslims out of India or at least to further marginalise them." Again I counter him by saying this is untrue. Obviously, a section of the Pakistani media has given its own mischievous twist to a controversial point in the BJP's election manifesto.
A long walk in the garden brings me to an enclosure where I meet a mali (gardener). His face is dripping with sweat and his appearance clearly identifies him to a member of Pakistan's proletariat. He is happy to meet a rare visitor from India. I ask him if he thinks that Pakistan should improve its relations with India. His reply is direct, and startling. "Dekhiye, yaa to Hindustan ko Pakistan mein milaa do, nahin to Pakistan ko Hindustan mein mila do. Is batwaare ne bahut nuksaan kiya hai. (Look, either merge India into Pakistan or Pakistan into India. Partition has harmed us a lot.)" He then tells the story of his family, which has its roots in a village near Gurgaon. The Partition riots forced his father to migrate to Lahore. "But the rest of our qabila (clan) remained in India. Since then, there has been no family reunion. Not even once. My father, now very old, carries a deep pain in his heart, for he thinks that he will die without ever again meeting his near and dear ones."
This pain is felt by tens of thousands of Muslim and Hindu families in India and Pakistan. Which is why, the joint declaration at the Islamabad Dialogue said the following on this subject. "There is an urgent need for the two governments to take all such measures as are necessary to expand and deepen social bonds between the people of the two countries. In particular, divided families on both sides of the border should be enabled to reunite by easing the visa procedures. Issuance of visa should also be made simpler, indeed automatic for many categories, to enable a wide range of professionals as well as tourists to travel from one country to the other."
Raja Porus, Bhagat Singh and Jinnah House
My last interlocutor at Bagh-e-Jinnah is a young engineer in the water department. Tired of taking too many selfies with my mobile phone, I stop this morning walker with a request to click me in the garden. He happily obliges me, and this quickly catalyses our conversation. He is overjoyed to meet an Indian for the first time in his life. "Our two countries must become friends. This divide is intolerable," He tells me. "Look, I want to visit Amritsar, which they say is very close to Lahore. But it's impossible to go there because it's impossible to get a visa. Who is benefiting from this rivalry between our two countries? Only the merchants of weapons, who sell them to both India and Pakistan. The armies of our two countries don't want us to come closer, because they have a vested interest."
My young Pakistani friend invites me to watch a play, Raja Porus, at Lahore's iconic Alhamra Art Centre in the evening. "I'll come to your hotel to pick you up. You'll like the play as well as the theatre," he tells me, adding that his friends are staging the play. I decline the invitation as I have some other commitment in the evening. Nevertheless, it pleases me to know that some Pakistanis are beginning to feel proud of Porus, a legendary Hindu king of (the then undivided) Punjab who fought Alexander the Great valiantly, albeit unsuccessfully, on the banks of River Jhelum. I later find the following comment in a review of the play in The News International, a Lahore-based newspaper.
"Since most of the invaders were victorious, the local people find greater solace in being with the conquerors than the conquest. There have been repeated calls to redress this skewed understanding of our past and our position in this part of the world....This simple performance was probably meant to redress the way we treat our past and particularly our heroes who spring from the soil."
One of the great heroes who sprang from the soil of Punjab in modern times was Shaheed Bhagat Singh. He was hanged in Lahore Central Jail, along with Rajguru and Sukhdev Singh, in 1931. The jail doesn't exist anymore. However, the government of Pakistan deserves to be complimented for renaming a nearby roundabout as Bhagat Singh Chowk. This was a longstanding demand of Indians engaged in Track II diplomacy, which was finally accepted in 2012.
There is also a longstanding demand of Pakistanis, raised repeatedly on both Track I and Track II forums, to hand over Jinnah House in Mumbai, the mansion on Malabar Hill where Mohammed Ali Jinnah lived for many years before he left for Karachi just before Partition. Pakistan wants to establish its consulate in that building. The government of India has unnecessarily stonewalled this demand. This matter found expression in the Islamabad joint declaration. "In order to further strengthen the linkages in various fields, India should open a consulate in Karachi and Pakistan should do likewise in Mumbai. As promised by the Indian government in the late seventies, Jinnah House in Mumbai should be handed over to Pakistan to open its consular office there."
If Jinnah House cannot be given to the Government of Pakistan for locating its consulate, why not establish an India-Pakistan Friendship Centre there?
Candid introspection by a veteran of the Pakistan movement
On a Friday afternoon, the Allama Iqbal international airport in Lahore is, astonishingly, almost empty. There are very few passengers in the lounge waiting for very few flights. Is this the effect of the terror attack on the Karachi airport in the previous week, in which 36 people were killed? I don't know. Anyway, I, along with my fellow Indian participants in the Islamabad seminar - Mani Shankar Aiyar and Amit Baruah of The Hindu, who was the paper's Pakistan correspondent a decade ago - am waiting to board our much-delayed flight to the Pakistani capital. It's a small 30-seater aircraft of Pakistan International Airways (PIA).
A young smartly-dressed Pakistani woman, evidently belonging to the country's westernised elite, is furious that, despite the delay, there is no announcement about when the flight would take off. When her repeated queries at the flight counter prove fruitless, she starts yelling, in accented English, at the person at the counter - "PIA is the worst airline in the world. I shall never take a PIA flight in my life." Her verbal fusillade goes on and on, which provokes an old passenger to start giving it back to her. "You have no manners. You don't know how to speak to a gentleman. When I see arrogant and uncultured young men and women like you, I regret that I, as a young man, took part in the struggle to create Pakistan. People like you are a disgrace to Pakistan."
Finally, when we board the aircraft, I approach the old man and ask him if I could sit in the empty seat next to his. I cannot let go of an opportunity to have a conversation with such an outspoken Pakistani. He welcomes me with a smile. After explaining the purpose of my visit to Islamabad, I ask him about his participation in the Pakistan movement and whether he really regrets it. "I am a proud patriotic Pakistani," he tells me, "the more so because I have served in the army. In fact, I fought the war against India in 1965. I am now 85. It makes me sad to see that some young Pakistanis, especially the so-called educated ones, are individualistic and arrogant. They are too impatient."
He continues: "I was a young man when I joined the Pakistan movement, influenced by the call given by Quaid-e-Azam (Jinnah). The idea of Pakistan was a junoon (obsession) for most Muslims then. But now when I look back and reflect upon all that has happened since 1947, I think that Partition was a mistake. It has not helped either Pakistan or India, even though India is somewhat better off."
I am amazed that he is this candid with me. I ask him what was wrong with Partition. "Look," he says, "we never imagined that there would be an impenetrable wall between our two countries. It has mutilated my province, Punjab. There were Hindus and Sikhs in my village, not far from Lahore. Now there are none. There was so much bhaichara in my childhood years. Those fine traditions are all gone. The culture of Punjab has changed beyond recognition. Now people are only misusing the name of religion for political gains or for settling scores against one another. Who are all these numerous religious groups in our country? Do they even know what true Islam is? They are all anpadh (illiterate). Islam teaches peace, and they are killing fellow Muslims in the name of Islam. They attack mosques and shrines. This is not the Pakistan we had dreamt of, what Quaid-e-Azam had dreamt of."
I ask him what he thinks of Jinnah. "He was a good man, a man of great integrity. Totally incorruptible. He wanted a separate land where Muslims would be in majority. Nothing wrong with that. But he was opposed to mixing religion with politics. Gandhi made a mistake. He mixed religion with politics."
I ask him about the political situation in Pakistan. "I have no faith in any of them," he says. "The tragedy of Pakistan is that, in the name of democracy, people from the lower strata of society with no proper upbringing have suddenly become leaders. And they are amassing money for themselves and their families. Corruption has become rampant."
He stresses that upbringing is important in every profession. "Look, I am a Muslim but I am a Rajput. My family background has taught me what I should do and should not do as a soldier. But these people in politics have no scruples at all because they have no background, no education and no values."
I am surprised at this manifestation of caste consciousness in Pakistani society, and want to explore it further. But our plane is beginning its descent. When our flight lands at the Benazir Bhutto international airport in Islamabad, I introduce my co-passenger to Mani Shankar Aiyar. He is happy to meet a dignitary from India and invites us to dinner at his place. We can't accept his invitation, of course, but thank him warmly and part ways.
A trust deficit that refuses to go away - yet, it must go away
How easy is it to start a dialogue with common Pakistanis! This is what I have experienced in all my four visits so far, the more so this time. I have always felt that Pakistanis, in general, are more open and eager to talk to Indians than the other way round. We distrust them more than they distrust us. And although this may be a recent phenomenon, they now seem to be showing greater desire than us for improved India-Pakistan relations.
Why does this asymmetry exist?
There is, of course, a perfectly understandable reason for the common Indians' lack of trust towards Pakistan. Indians, myself included, feel betrayed that Pakistan responded to Vajpayee's Bus Yatra with war on India at Kargil. One memory of that betrayal is especially etched in my mind and it comes alive as I take a walk to Bagh-e-Jinnah. Located across the garden on the famous Mall Road is the Governor's House, where a memorable reception was hosted in Vajpayee's honour in February 1999. The highlight of that event was the poet-statesman reading out one of his best-known poems at the end of his speech. Titled 'Jang Na Hone Denge', it is about his resolve not to have any more wars between India and Pakistan.
Bharat Pakistan padosi
Saath saath rehna hai
Pyar karein yaa vaar karein
Donon ko hi sehna hai
Teen baar lad chuke ladaayi, kitna mehanga sauda
Jo hum par gujari, bachchon ke sang na hone denge
Jang na hone denge.
(As neighbours, India and Pakistan have to live together. Love or war, both have to experience its consequences. We have fought three wars; how costly they have been! We shall not let our children endure what our generation has endured. We shall not let a war to take place.)
The poem was greeted with thunderous applause, and I could see tears at least in some Pakistani eyes. Yet, within three months, the Pakistani army began the Kargil War. The person who felt betrayed the most was Vajpayee himself.
The sense of betrayal among Indians has turned into anger because of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, which was masterminded in Pakistan. Indeed, the export of terrorism into India from Pakistani soil has been going on since the early 1980s. 26/11, in particular, has completely stalled Track I dialogue between our two countries and many Indians don't want the dialogue to be resumed unless Pakistan demonstrates that it is willing to act against its conspirators.
This Indian intransigence, however, is resented by many Pakistanis. For example, several Pakistani diplomats say that India has adopted a single-point agenda, similar to what Pakistan had followed in the past, "In the past, we Pakistanis used to say that there can be no talk on other issues unless India addresses the issue of Kashmir. Now, you Indians have adopted a similar single-point agenda - no talks with Pakistan unless we address the issue of terrorism."
From an Indian point of view, Pakistan's approach to terrorism has undoubtedly been problematic. Its rulers promoted terrorism - and also the forces of religious extremism that energise and legitimise terrorism as 'jihad' - in pursuit of their geopolitical strategy in India and Afghanistan. But the problem they sought to create for others has begun to plague Pakistan itself. In the wake of the terror attack on the Karachi airport, which is only the latest in a series of sectarian and anti-government violence that has claimed nearly 50,000 lives in the past 15 years, Pakistan's army has been forced to launch an all-out offensive against the Taliban. However, this too has not convinced many Indians that the Pakistani army and government are indeed determined to root out terrorism. One only has to scan the social media to know Indians' scepticism: "Pakistani establishment is fighting only those terrorists who are creating problem inside Pakistan. It is not extending the fight to those terrorist groups that are anti-India."
A historic opportunity before Narendra Modi: "India should act like an elder brother, and not like a big brother"
All this should not blind us to some silver linings on the dark sky. Firstly, unlike in the past, fewer and fewer people in Pakistan blame India whenever a terror attack takes place in their country. They know, and have come to accept, that the source of the malaise is within and not without. They also know that homegrown terrorism and sectarian violence have not only given Pakistan a bad name globally, but also adversely impacted investments and economic growth leading to unemployment and frustration among the youth.
Secondly, Pakistan's disillusionment with the West is growing rapidly, and it extends to almost all sections of its society. They have come to realise that neither the United States nor other countries in the West are reliable allies of Pakistan.
Thirdly, the instability and violent conflicts in Arab countries do not inspire much confidence among thinking Pakistanis. For a long time after its creation, Pakistan used to look west to identify itself with the Arab world. The Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore is a symbol of that past. Yet, Gaddafi's fall is also symbolic of Pakistanis' disillusionment with the dictatorships in the Arab world at a time when Pakistan itself is making progress on the road to democracy. One reason why Pakistanis are now beginning to look east is because of the robustness of India's democracy. Thus, when they contemplate about the future of Pakistan, more and more of them are led to conclude that the tomorrow of Pakistan is intricately linked to its yesterday - namely, its organic cultural and historical bonds with India.
Fourthly, India's growing economic strength, seen in the context of the relative decline of the western economies, has made many Pakistanis realise that improved trade and business relations with India are better for them.
These are some of the reasons why many common Pakistanis are now realising that anti-Indianism should not remain the basis of the self-identity of Pakistan. Slowly, but perceptibly, a pro-India sentiment is gaining ground. To borrow the words that Advani used in his speech at the SAFMA speech in Lahore nine years ago, an increasing number of Pakistanis are beginning to realise that there is more than a little bit of India in every Pakistani, even though, sadly, we Indians are not reciprocating that sentiment in equal measure.
How do we move from here?
It is important for the Indian government and Indian people to recognise that Pakistanis' attitude towards India is changing - for the better. It is now time for India to reciprocate, with a proper and sympathetic understanding of the complexity of the problems our neighbour is facing. Just as we Indians think that Pakistanis should be responsive towards our concerns, I strongly think that Indians too should be sensitive and responsive towards Pakistani's concerns. There are several things we need to do. Most importantly, India should credibly assure Pakistan that we want it to survive and thrive as a united, sovereign, stable and independent nation and that it has nothing to fear from India on this score. Even while conveying our legitimate grievances, India should treat Pakistan as a friend, one in whose peace, prosperity and progress we have a vital stake. India should also treat Pakistan as an equal. Reciprocity counts for a lot in the eyes of Pakistanis.
My good friend Dr. Vedpratap Vaidik, a veteran Hindi journalist and writer who was also a member of the Indian delegation at the Islamabad meet, and who has been passionately active in Indo-Pak conversations for the past three decades, has a sage advice for fellow Indians - both Indian government officials engaged in Track I dialogue and others who are into Track II and Track III dialogues. He says, "India should act like an elder brother, and not like a big brother, towards Pakistan and other SAARC neighbours."
I hope these wise words guide Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his attempts to evolve a new vision for SAARC with India as its nucleus. His invitation to SAARC leaders, including his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, to attend his swearing in ceremony in New Delhi on May 16 was certainly statesmanlike. Both in Islamabad and Lahore, I could sense that Modi has created high expectations not only in India but also in Pakistan. There are of course cynics, sceptics and critics - just as there are in India - but the number of Pakistanis who wish and expect to see a real breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations is not inconsiderable, and it is growing.
Modi should know that this is an opportunity for him to achieve real progress - and perhaps create history - in India's relations with our most important neighbour.
The sun is getting hotter as I step out of Bagh-e-Jinnah. The young engineer who invited me to the play on Raja Porus bids goodbye to me with these words that still reverberate in my ears: "We should get rid of these check-posts at Wagah border. People like me want to visit Amritsar and see the other side of Punjab. We want to see India. And we want people like you to come to Pakistan."
When will that blessed day arrive?
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