0 comments   |     by Javed Naqvi

Buying Peace at the Grocery

Javed Naqvi

Fellow peace campaigners on both sides of the border would probably disagree with me, but I do believe firmly that neither reviving cricket ties nor boosting bilateral trade is the way to correct the sorry relations between Pakistan and India.

If we can’t let people visit each other freely, don’t blame poor trade or cricket or, as is often the case, the Kashmir dispute. In any case, none should hold the people hostage to this or that tycoon’s greed.

Yes, Indian and Pakistani chambers of commerce must strive to do more business with each other. Such clubs, however, are about seeking profits. Peace and democracy is hardly their forte.

As for cricket, the same people — traders masquerading as industrial magnates, money launderers and punters, directly or indirectly push cricket and politics in both countries, more so in India than in Pakistan. Vulgar nationalism has been harnessed in their marketing gimmick. Use such and such cement, breakfast cereal or soap for the nation’s health. 

I stopped watching cricket years ago when it swapped its gene pool of social graces in a Faustian bargain with nationalist hooliganism. The body language of the players too has changed.

Majid Khan and Gundappa Vishwanath were admired by their generation of cricket lovers for their batting skills but also because they walked before the umpire could raise his finger. We can attribute it to commerce that today’s cricketers, with few exceptions, will defy even the electronic evidence. And then they would leave the crease only with a foul gesture.

They are far removed from Colin Cowdrey, Neil Harvey, Conrad Hunte, M.L. Jaisimha, Hanif Mohammad, the works, who exuded grace on the field. The intemperate burning of the bails on one occasion and the so-called bodyline series marked a brief departure but moulded humorously into the Ashes contest between England and Australia.

Recall the normal neighbourly behaviour until the mid-1960s when neither India nor Pakistan was hankering after improved trade, nor was the Kashmir question settled to anyone’s satisfaction if memory serves right. There were four or five crossing points from where people could travel easily and freely to the other side without let or hindrance. Cricket was a normal game at par with hockey between the two sides.

Then the trader-punter combo took over cricket, overtaking Kerry Packer and Abdur Rehman Bukhatir. It remains there. I remember Dawood Ibrahim waving the Indian flag in Sharjah as he ‘patronised’ cricket matches between the two sides from his VIP enclosure. Pakistani ‘re-export merchants’ were involved too. Some later moved into TV, nationalist TV.

Ordinary people praying for peace between the South Asian neighbours must not yield to the propaganda that a good business climate can heal political ties. If trade could improve ties, relations between India and Nepal would not be in the doldrums. If commerce could usher peace or democracy, we should not have let the East India Company leave our shores. Is China investing billions in Pakistan to shore up sagging friendship? Or is it that time-tested political relations have paved the way between Beijing and Gwadar. The idea that trade constitutes a mandatory prelude to Indians and Pakistanis going to a music concert together seems a devious alibi for bad politics.

It is true that the groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline in concert with politicians of India and Pakistan who did an unexplained about-turn in favour of peace talks, which is good. However, none should blame the hitherto absence of Tapi or a stalled pipeline from Iran for the fact that Pakistan cannot play a match in Mumbai.

Will roaring business make the Shiv Sena change its heart? Was it the poor trade volumes that made Pakistani militants attack Sri Lankan players in Lahore, which makes it difficult to hold a match there, particularly if it involves Indians?

The two countries should sort out the mess, which is a political mess.

There’s doubt though that Nawaz Sharif has successfully tamed the zealots, who were his mass base when they washed the Minar-i-Pakistan after the Hindu prime minister of a maligned country had visited there to usher peace.

Is Narendra Modi planning to disown his brand of religious extremists? That could be more crucial than any formulaic business deals with mealy-mouthed peace overtures. It was Hindutva fanatics who scrubbed Mahatma Gandhi’s shrine to seek its purification after Pervez Musharraf offered flowers there.

And while they can go about setting up as many gas pipelines as they wish they must explain something very clearly to the people. Why must people on both sides huddle like beggars at the visa counters while fat cat business captains are feted in the ante-rooms of power? And only when they give a sated burp, will it convey the signal of normalised relations?

Here’s one way to regard this overemphasis on the peace panacea. In an Indian movie about a Mughal prince and his affair with a courtesan — Pakistanis in packed trains came in droves to watch Mughal-i-Azam in Indian theatres in the 1960s — there is a line that seems nicely relevant to our argument.

Emperor Akbar is opposed to Prince Salim marrying Anarkali. However, his desperate queen suggests that such a tie-up could be a way to help tame their rebellious son. Akbar frames his wife’s suggestion into a blunt query: “Apni aulaad ko paaney ke liye humko ek kaneez ka ehsaan lena hoga?” (To get back our son are we to seek the goodwill of a handmaiden?) Why pass brazen blackmail for sagacious policy, is what Akbar told his wife.

Everyone goes to the corner shop to fetch their daily provisions. That they can buy an ounce of democracy or a bellyful of peace from the grocer is sophistry.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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