In the last overs, as it became clear that India was winning, some visibly frustrated Pakistani supporters handed over a Pakistani flag to my son. The offer was promptly accepted, and on our way home he had two flags in his hand: the Tricolour and its Pakistani equivalent.
Call it the innocence of a nine-year-old, but the Indo-Pak equation has always had a romantic edge. No relationship has been as schizophrenic as that between the two subcontinental neighbours. Where else can you have a heated argument on Kashmir one moment, and then proceed to draw up an all-time best Indo-Pak cricket eleven the very next? How does one explain travelling to the headquarters of the Lashkar during the day, and sitting in the evening in the hotel lobby listening to a pianist play a Lata-Rafi melody?
The dualism was starkly driven home when I was interviewing then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the midst of the Kargil war in 1999. The interview saw a few sharp, testy exchanges over just who was responsible for the war. With the camera off, Sharif was back to being his gregarious self. As we ate a several course feast in the luxurious prime ministerial gardens overlooking the Margalla hills, the tone was anything but bellicose. Instead, Sharif proceeded to reminisce on his favourite Hindi film star, Rajendra Kumar. “Waah, kya actor tha!” (perhaps the only time anyone has recognised ‘Jubilee’ Kumar’s acting capabilities). The conversation then drifted to Sharif’s other great obsession, cricket, and he appeared awe-struck by Tendulkar’s batting. Finally, while leaving, I mentioned that I hadn’t eaten better kebabs. Sharif, the foodie, smiled, “Not as good as the ones I once ate in Purani Dilli. And the gajar halwa was something else!”
Perhaps, the food and conversation was only meant to soften an Indian journalist in a time of war, but the affection has always felt just as real as the enmity over the years. Has 26/11 changed that? Are we now as a people less inclined to give our Pakistani counterparts the benefit of doubt, less prepared to distinguish between the Pakistani State and its civil society, less willing to get carried away by nostalgia and shared interests?
At one level, the end of the jhappi-pappi culture in the Indo-Pak relationship is to be welcomed. Candlelight at Wagah and the sound of guns along the Line of Control were always colliding images that discomfited those whose minds were less cluttered by sentimentalism. Geography and generational change had perhaps something to do with contrasting attitudes. For those who had been affected by Partition, the love-hate relationship with the ‘other side’ was connected with their collective memories of childhood. But for those who lived south of the Vindhyas, with no real connect with Pakistan, the obsessive relationship always seemed a little incongruous.
The romantics were looking for a Veer Zara equation; while the extremists on both sides were keen for a Gadar-like confrontation. The more mature approach lies somewhere in-between, based on a more pragmatic and less emotional assessment of the relationship. Take cricketing ties for example. In the afterglow of that heady 2004 series when chants of “Balaji zara dheere chalo!” were heard across Pakistani stadiums, the romantics believed that there had been a tectonic shift in attitudes, with the average Pakistani ready to embrace the idea of India.
The truth is that cricket has its limitations beyond the boundary. Cricket matches cannot be a substitute for statecraft, an Indian cricketer being cheered by a Pakistani crowd does not mean that the terror infrastructure has been dismantled. It is too much in the first place to have ever expected our cricketers to achieve what politicians on both sides of the border cannot: a permanent peace. You cannot, for example, have a situation where cricket is expected to compensate for our failures to work out a meaningful joint mechanism against terror. It is no use for Pakistan to claim that it, too, is a victim of terror, and then use that as an excuse not to act against Masood Azhar or Dawood Ibrahim. What 26/11 has done is driven home the double-standards of a feeble Pakistani State to the average Indian citizen: how can you play ‘normal’ cricket with a country which is living through an ‘abnormal’ situation by denying the links between a section of its State apparatus and terror groups?
And yet, it is difficult to accept the extreme view that all Indo-Pak sporting and cultural contacts be abandoned as a demonstrable measure of our anger post-26/11. The idea that the social isolation of Pakistan could have the same effect as that of the ostracism of South Africa during the apartheid years is misplaced. The campaign against apartheid worked because it was a global effort. Moreover, apartheid was institutionalised by the South African government while Islamabad retains the fiction of terror being a ‘non-State’ act. Importantly, the only hope for a stable Pakistan lies in the strengthening of its civil society as was seen during the anti-Musharraf lawyers’ protest. We haven’t seen the same kind of nation-wide movement against the jihadis yet.
The challenge then is to strike the right balance. We must hold the stick of sanctions — economic, sporting and cultural — if Pakistan refuses to cooperate with the 26/11 investigation but also offer the carrot of even greater interaction if there is concrete proof that Islamabad is acting against the jihadis. Above all, we must all live in hope that sanity will ultimately prevail. My now teenaged son certainly does: he still has the Pakistani flag in his room.
(Rajdeep Sardesai is editor-in-Chief, IBN Network)