Guest post by Sonal Tarneja
Panel: New York Times correspondent Declan Walsh, Executive President of the Times Group in India Rahul Kansal, and lawyer and journalist Farooq Bajwa.
Moderated by: Shreela Ghosh, South Asian Arts Director at the British Council.
Date: October 26th, 2013
Starting off as a discussion on the state of reporting across the Indo-Pak border, this session delivered much more than it promised – it offered an insight into what’s going on on both sides of the border, the relevance of Partition today, and a contrast of attitudes, perceptions and ground realities.
Reporting, like most other exchanges across the border, is not easy. With just four Indian journalists – from across all publications – in Pakistan, and an unsaid number of Pakistani journalists in India, cross-border reporting is stifled and poor. What gets reported in India, then, is what sells – a reiteration of young India’s view of Pakistan as an imploding country – “trouble for India”. Whereas until the 1980s one got to see a positive glimpse of Pakistan, especially with television shows like Dhoop Kinarey, which were beyond their times compared to Indian offerings (or lack thereof), more recently news from across the border is unidimensionally and progressively about terrorism. Pakistan, on the other hand, is so absorbed with its own internal problems and near turmoil, and the threat from neighbouring Afghanistan, that India has slid down the list of top news items and priorities over the last 10 years.
So is Partition even relevant today, or have both sides moved on? With 60% of the Indian population less than 30 years old, Partition isn’t very relevant in India today. It’s a part of history. In Pakistan, however, the Partition is about the unfinished business of Kashmir, though not in the top of the current national agenda. With the focus of animosity shifting towards the US since 2001, India is considered far less “bogey” than it used to be. Pakistanis now don’t see India as a threat, and in fact 60-70% want better relations with India.
That said, certain establishments – reportedly the military – are still holding firm. The latest Pakistani film ‘Waar’ reveals an interesting insight. It’s interesting that for a country torn by war, Pakistan’s first attempt at a “Bollywood style blockbuster” portrays India as the trouble maker, when, as a matter of proportion, the issue lies elsewhere.
Overall, on a people to people level, cultural exchanges such as open access to Bollywood films in Pakistan, and consumption of Pakistani music and performances in India, is giving birth to a positive attitude on both sides.
So what is the solution for long-lasting peace? Increased trade can improve things, and is bound to eventually, but the question is when. Even under existing agreements, trade can almost be quadrupled. But with artificial barriers (or “silly bottlenecks”) such as requiring the other side to park its trucks half a kilometer from the border because ‘the road conditions don’t allow for heavy trucks’, a lot more needs to be done. Elimination of tit for tat barriers, easier and less stringent visa requirements, and even helping the other side overcome onion shortages (!) are a great place to start. In the meantime, ‘Aman Ki Asha’, a peace initiative between the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India, is trying to make a small difference.
Sonal lives in London and has a deep interest in South Asian history, with specific focus on the Partition. Her personal blog can be found on sonaltarneja.blogspot.com.
(This is independent coverage of an event at the South Asian Literature Festival in London. DWL is not responsible for the views expressed or relayed in it.)