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A 60-year partition of minds

August 14, 2007

Ayesha Siddiqa, author of the recently launched book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy, is a scholar based in Pakistan who analyses defence and security issues. She has been visiting India regularly since 2002 and is a known personality on both sides of the border.

Kuldip Nayar is a senior journalist who has long spoken of the importance of peace between India and Pakistan. Born in west Punjab, he has visited Pakistan more than 50 times and has, for 14 years, organised candlelight vigils on the Wagah border.

As India and Pakistan both celebrate 60 years of Independence -- and division -- Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt put forth a few questions to Siddiqa and Nayar: The young liberal scholar from Pakistan and an ageing Punjabi who migrated to the Indian side. Here are their answers.

How wrong are perceptions on both sides of the Line Of Control? Aren't Indians and Pakistanis living on stereotypes?

Siddiqa: Societies or groups within societies create stereotypes of others for their own survival. Just because we don't want to take the trouble of understanding the other, we create images we can be comfortable with. This has certainly happened in the India-Pakistan subcontinent, especially due to the iron curtain that has existed for 60 years. The establishments on both sides are not really interested in people-to-people contact, lest ordinary people realise the other side is as ordinary as themselves.

I can narrate my own experience of visiting India for the first time in 2002. After my first day, I wanted to return home not because I was mistreated but due to the pain of de-mystification of India as an enemy. You meet people and realise they are as cunning, as simple, as clever, as nasty, as good and as bad as yourself.

Unfortunately, some of the stereotypes have been with us since before Partition. The image of a Hindu or the Hindu's image of a Muslim in Pakistan is based on stereotype to make those in power comfortable and more powerful. These images have been strengthened due to a lack of communication and sharpened because of 60 years of not knowing each other.

After 60 years, these stereotypes have become our respective truths and we can't seem to get rid of them. Whether these images are correct or not is immaterial. As long as we are willing to hold on to them for our power, they will appear as the only truth.

Nayar: India and Pakistan have carried misconceptions for many years because they had almost no contact. Whatever contact existed was between the elite of the two countries and between members of civil society. Lack of contact and communication has led to a strange relationship. Both began living in a fool's paradise in the absence of actual contact. There were no newspapers, books or films to encourage a free flow of information.

Pakistanis thought Muslims were not treated well in India. They alleged Hindu chauvinism existed in India and argued that Muslims were second rate citizens there. But, as more films, magazines, television channels and serials reached Pakistani homes, they were impressed. More than India's economy, Pakistanis have been impressed by Indian democracy.

Now, they know you can change your government without fighting in the streets. They have seen the army dominating their lives but, in India, the army is not a player in politics. They want to emulate India by having their own democracy.

Indians also had misconceptions of Pakistan. First, they thought all Pakistani women wore burkhas and that religion was predominant in their daily lives. They also thought Hindus were unsafe there. I saw that after the Kargil war, perceptions about Pakistan changed. It was the first war that was televised and, when the casualties mounted, the thinking changed.

After liberalisation and progress of the peace process, many Indians have accepted Pakistan as a reality. Many are attracted by the economy of Pakistan. It is possible that economic interests will become vested interests.

Photograph: Pakistanis light candles at the Pakistan-India Wagah border post. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Also read: The growing siege mentality

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