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Pakistan, India must commit to friendship.

Byline: Kuldip Nayar, Special to Gulf News

I was asked the other day at Amritsar whether the lighting of candles on the nights of August 14-15 at Wagha border has lessened the distance between India and Pakistan. My reply was that although people remained biased, the mood had changed, but not to the extent I had expected when a dozen of us lit candles at the border for the first time 15 years ago. I am conscious now that it will take time to dispel the darkness that decades of hatred has created.

For the first time since independence, some 40 people from Pakistan appeared on the other side of the border at midnight last August, exchanged candles with us and shook hands amidst slogans like 'India-Pakistan Dosti Zindabad'.

I must explain that the lighting of candles at the border is not an end in itself. It is part of a movement to awaken people on both sides to their common culture, history and geography so that they don't drift apart. It is a search for peace, an effort to change the outlook. An increasing number of people are ruling out war and seeking to sort things out amicably. The change is slow, but it is taking hold steadily.

The November 26 attacks on Mumbai, however reprehensible, did not create the war hysteria that the attack on Parliament House did. At that time, the forces of the two countries stood eyeball-to-eyeball on the border for 11 months.

Another positive sign is that Pakistan has admitted that the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage are its nationals and that the entire operation was planned on Pakistani soil. It is difficult to admit guilt when the record of the two countries is littered with accusations and counter-accusations. Now even the Inter-Services Intelligence is reportedly keen to initiate dialogue with New Delhi. The agency's chief has reportedly met the Indian intelligence chief.

I am not suggesting that Pakistan has changed its policy. General Pervez Kiyani, the army chief, had previously put the threat posed by India on a par with that posed by the Taliban. But when Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari rules out any danger from India and admits that the Mumbai attacks were orchestrated by people who had been nurtured and trained for years by successive Pakistani governments, it indicates some rethinking has taken place, however limited.

Its Supreme Court's judgment is the biggest thing that has happened to Pakistan. The court has declared all the ordinances issued by former president Musharraf null and void. This is in line with the fresh air of freedom that is blowing in that country. The fact that there has been no comment from the army that encourages me to believe that the latter is beginning to respect the limits to which the armed forces can go in a democratic polity. At this time, the tendency of Indian thinkers and experts to run down Pakistan and heap all the blame on it does not help. Even a bit of change across the border represents a breakthrough.

However, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani continues to put a spoke in the wheel by saying that he had the upper hand at Sharm Al Shaikh, where he signed the joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Gilani is provoking New Delhi and could wreck even the remotest chance of talks between the countries if he continues to speak in this vein.

In the next few days, India and Pakistan will celebrate their 62nd year of independence. Both should use the occasion to consider where their relations are heading. Both are moving relentlessly towards a point where, even if there is no conflict, there will be no settlement.

How I wish Pakistan could start thinking afresh about India. When I accompanied former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his bus trip to Lahore, I could see how determined he was to begin a new chapter to cultivate good relations with Pakistan. We had not yet reached the border when he called me and showed me the message he had received about the killing of Hindus by the militants at Doda. But he decided to complete the mission. This can be judged from what he wrote in the visitors' book at the Minar-e-Pakistan: "India's stability and integrity depended on the stability and integrity of Pakistan".

The effort which some of us have been making for the past 15 years by lighting candles at the Wagha border is towards that end. People in both countries should light candles outside their houses on the night of August 14-15 to show their commitment to friendship between the two nations.


Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian high commissioner to the UK and a former Rajya Sabha member.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Aug 8, 2009
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