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Here is a truth we can all agree on
by Saima Alvi
25 May 2002 22:21 UTC
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Posted from THE GUARDIAN


Here is a truth we can all agree on 

There can't be real friendship between India and Pakistan until two old, 
angry wounds are healed 

Kamila Shamsie

A decade ago, more than 50 of my 96 classmates and I left Karachi to attend 
university in the US and UK. We didn't give much thought to the fact that 
many of us would be meeting Indians for the first time in our lives. It's 
hard now to find anyone among those 50-odd Pakistanis who didn't make at 
least one Indian friend. But what we all discovered was this: we might 
agree with our friends from across the border on everything else - our 
embarrassed attachment to 80s music; our despair at the floundering 
fortunes of the West Indian cricket team; our inability to eat Uncle Ben's 
rice without thinking weepily of basmati; our positions on capital 
punishment, gay rights, abortion, and gun control - but we could not agree, 
not one whit, on the two interrelated wounds of Indo-Pak relations: 
partition and Kashmir. 
There are worse things, I suppose, than discovering at 18 that, no matter 
how many books you read and analytical skills you acquire, your truths will 
never be objective. 

It would be nice to say that, after a decade of talk, those Indo-Pak 
friendships have resulted in a shifting of positions which can serve as an 
example to the politicians of our two countries. Perhaps this is true in 
one or two cases. But, largely, we just learned to stop talking about 
certain things to each other, and accepted that we had grown up with two 
different narratives about the same events. 

If the "two nations, two narratives" issue only centred on the creation of 
Pakistan 55 years ago, I expect we could learn to live with our 
differences. But as long as the situation in Kashmir remains unresolved we 
will continue to see border tensions and doomsday predictions and radically 
differing interpretations arising from a basic set of facts. 

The basic set of facts we are faced with is this: on December 13 there was 
a failed attack on the Indian parliament, and the attackers were killed 
along with several Indian security personnel. 

One narrative surrounding these basic facts goes like this: soon after 
Israel showed how easy it is to milk the "no distinction between terrorists 
and those who harbour them" line, gunmen miraculously got through security 
checks, in a time of heightened alerts, and attempted to destroy the Indian 
parliament. In a further miracle, none of the ministers were hurt and the 
terrorists were killed. The Indian government refused to show the faces of 
the terrorists to reporters, insisted that the terrorists were part of two 
groups fighting for the liberation of Kashmir (though that is not quite how 
the Indians phrased it), and that the attack was planned in training camps 
in Pakistan and involved the collusion of Pakistan's intelligence agency, 
the ISI. Pakistan offered a joint inquiry into the affair, and India 

The other narrative, in which I'm not as well-versed, follows these lines: 
Pakistan decided to take advantage of its newly warmed friendship with the 
world's superpower by launching yet another in a long series of attacks on 
India. Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups attempted to bring the Indian 
government to its knees by blowing up the Indian parliament. The plan was 
foiled and the terrorists were killed. If the war against terrorism is to 
be a global war then surely India must have the right to attack Pakistan. 
But the US cautioned restraint, and Pakistan, in a brazenly cheeky move, 
insisted that it be part of the investigation into the attack. 

Or, here is the condensed version of the two narratives, which can stand in 
for the two narratives during any conflict between India and Pakistan. 

Narrative one: India always lies. 

Narrative two: Pakistan always lies. 

But there is an important third narrative. In the first days after 
President Musharraf came to power in Pakistan more than two years ago, he 
repeatedly expressed his admiration for the aggressively secular Kemal 
Ataturk. And then, abruptly, he went silent. It was widely believed that 
Musharraf was warned against the perils of taking on the hardline religious 
groups. But in a post-September 11 Pakistan the extremists have been dealt 
a severe blow due to their inability to drum up significant support for 
their anti-government rallies, and the president has been speaking openly 
about the need to combat those who have been holding hostage a nation which 
is essentially moderate. 

Pakistan's best chance to move against the extremists is now. But it's one 
thing for Musharraf to root out terrorists; it's quite another for him to 
appear to do so at the behest of India. In government circles, it is being 
said that Musharraf is furious about the attacks on the parliament 
building, and - more importantly - that India's belligerent demands that he 
arrest militants are actually slowing down the crackdown on extremists. 
Perhaps this is the narrative to which more Indians should be paying 

For a moment I thought I could end this column on that previous line. But 
to do so would be to leave out the most important narrative here: that of 
the 70,000 and more (every week, more) who have died since 1990 in the 
struggle for Kashmir's future. When Indo-Pak narratives clash, the fallout 
is almost always in Kashmir. India insists there is no genuine struggle for 
self-determination and that the uprising in Kashmir is Pakistan-sponsored. 
Pakistan insists it offers only moral support to the Kashmiri struggle. 

India lies. 

Pakistan lies. 

But here is a truth we can all agree on: a solution to the Kashmir dispute 
must be found so that the phrase "threat of nuclear war" can be consigned 
to the history books and the next generation of Pakistanis and Indians does 
not become so accustomed to such a phrase that, in the midst of the massive 
build-up of troops along the border, it continues to live its life as 
though nothing out of the ordinary is going on. (I don't know about the 
major cities of India, but in Karachi New Year was a wildly celebratory 
affair, and not just among groups who are associated with fiddling during 

And here is another, no less important truth: a solution must be found for 
the sake of the Kashmiris who have waited far too long already to approve a 
joint narrative of peace. 

 Kamila Shamsie is the author of Salt and Saffron (Bloomsbury, 6.99)

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