By Aijaz Zaka Syed
YOU know the world has changed to apocalyptic proportions when you have India and Pakistan agreeing on something. The tragedy that hit cross-border Samjhauta Express, run between India and Pakistan, this week of course was a desperate and cowardly act of terror.
Innocent people have once again paid with their lives as they got caught in a conflict that had nothing to do with them. However, if there is a silver lining to this appalling tragedy, it is the neighbours’ unity in the face of the common challenge confronting them. For a change, the South Asian neighbours have not blamed each other for the attack but have come together to take on the spectre that threatens them both. Not a small feat for the sub-continent twins who for over six decades have lived in a permanent state of conflict with occasional bursts of peace and good-neighbourly bonhomie.This is heartening for the millions of ordinary people like me who would like India and Pakistan to strike genuine peace and bring down the wall of distrust built by a conspiracy of history and geography. It’s this divide that doesn’t allow the two countries and their billion plus population to realise their infinite potential.
And it’s this unfinished business of their shared past that keeps coming back to haunt India and Pakistan from time to time — just as it has done in the terrible attack on Samjhauta Express. Seeing the two entire compartments with their passengers reduced to a charred nothingness and their wailing and devastated survivors, you wonder what the terrorists have after all achieved by all this. All they have managed to do is score another, if rather fine point, over their respective enemies. And they have driven home the message that this is what happens if you do not engage us and pay attention to our demands. For now, it is not clear who did it though. The usual suspects are Kashmiri groups.
But since most of those killed in the Samjhauta tragedy happen to be Pakistani families returning home, theories are also doing the rounds about some shadowy Hindu groups being behind the attack. It’s been pointed out that as in Malegaon blasts in Maharashtra last year, the majority of the victims in this attack happen to be Muslim. But does it really matter who targeted who and whether those at the receiving end were Muslims or Hindus, Christians or Jews? All victims are innocent — unless they are directly responsible and paying for the injustice and suffering they have caused others. So if the utterly helpless and persecuted Palestinians blow themselves up in Jewish settlements built on the land usurped and snatched from them, you understand — if not justify — the desperate action. You don’t have to be a suicide bomber to know how it feels when your home has been taken over by a thug armed to the teeth and then you and your loved ones are abused daily in front of the whole world. Yes, you do understand the infinite helplessness that drives young boys and girls hardly in their teens over the edge. But, how could you explain the targeting of innocents and young children who didn’t even know why they had to die a painful death on that ill-fated train to Pakistan? It was heart-rending to watch parents recount how they saw their children burn to death and could do nothing. Again, how would anyone justify the mindless bombing of the local train network in Mumbai last year that ended the lives of 174 people going to work? Indeed, all those who died in 9/11 or 7/7 terror attacks, or for that matter most terror victims, had nothing to do with the conflicts or issues that ostensibly drove their tormentors. Yet they ended up paying with their lives for the sins and crimes they had never committed. It is so unfair and unreasonable. But then logic and reason cannot always explain the complexities of geopolitics. But wait. Don’t we really know why those innocents on the train to Pakistan had to die? Utterly despicable and deplorable as this act of terror had been, it is not difficult to identify the factors that made this outrage possible and motives of those behind it. I know I am not being entirely ingenious in saying this. But as is the case in all spheres of life, the cause and effect go together in the world of terror too. And when you talk of cause and effect, you cannot ignore the historical reality that the self-serving politicians of India and Pakistan have allowed the Kashmir question, the so-called unfinished business of the Partition, hang fire for so long — for nearly six decades. The Kashmir conflict has not only poisoned the close relationship between the South Asian neighbours but has also prevented the two countries and their people from moving on and progress with the rest of the world. India and Pakistan, despite their impressive growth in recent times, are home to some of the world’s poorest and economically deprived communities.
While the South Asian giants love to strut their stuff and their powerful arsenal including nuclear weapons, a vast majority of their people remain without access to basics such as housing, clean water, electricity, health and education. India has higher levels of malnourished children than Sub-Saharan Africa, a Unicef report this week said. Imagine what a critical difference all those resources — in trillions of dollars — spent on financing the South Asian delusions of military grandeur can make to their people. But the real victims of the India-Pakistan conflict have been the Kashmiri people. They have already paid an incalculable price for owning one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. Impossibly caught in the battle of nerves and egos of the sub-continent giants, the Kashmiris are forever hanging in a political and psychological limbo, like those condemned souls in Dante’s Purgatory, eternally waiting for their deliverance.Unfortunately, both India and Pakistan have been far from reasonable and fair in dealing with Kashmiri people and their legitimate concerns and aspirations. Pakistan has over the years successfully used and exploited the Kashmir question. While the Pak establishment claims to espouse the cause of Kashmiri people, it has indeed been more interested in serving its own interests and scoring diplomatic brownie points over India. If you don’t know what I am talking about, just look at the pathetic state of affairs in Pakistani Kashmir. The so-called Azad Kashmir is as poor and underdeveloped as its Indian counterpart, if not more. On the other hand, the Indian establishment goes on defensive the instant the K word is uttered, shutting out all discussion and dialogue on the issue. It is not prepared to acknowledge or accept the suggestion that there may be trouble in the paradise. As an Indian, I do understand why we are all so touchy about Kashmir and continue to tiptoe around the issue. After all, Kashmir has been the much-celebrated jewel in India’s crown. But how long Kashmiris have to suffer and sacrifice themselves at the altar of vain pride and patriotism? The South Asian neighbours’ inability or unwillingness to resolve the Kashmir tangle and address the genuine aspirations and concerns of Kashmiri people has already taken the region to three disastrous wars. The Kashmiris remain imprisoned and separated from their loved ones in their own land. South Asia’s Berlin wall, the so-called Line of Control, has literally divided thousands of Kashmiri families on either side of the geographical divide. If you’ve ever been to Jammu and Kashmir like I have been, you would see what I mean. The breathtakingly beautiful state has been turned into a large military camp with most of India’s forces being stationed in Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly a hundred thousand people have died over the past decade and half in the insurgency that has been actively supported by Pakistan. Hundreds more have died in staged encounters, as in the case of Abdul Rehman Paddar, a carpenter and father of five from Anantnag who was shot dead as a ‘foreign militant’ by a fellow Kashmiri cop in a hurry to scale the carrier ladder. Is it any wonder then the Kashmiri youths continue to take to extremism? And is it any surprise if terror continues to stalk the India-Pakistan ties? Genuine peace and progress will elude the sub-continent as long as Kashmir remains without peace. India and Pakistan have to confront their past to look to their future. And that is not possible without talking the K word — with complete honesty and without beating about the bush.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and a commentator based in Dubai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org