| External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee looks at a sculpture of the Buddha at Taxila museum in Pakistan. Picture by Jay Mandal/On Assignment
Taxila, Jan. 14: From the plains of Jangipur to the foothills of Taxila is such a long journey, but on his first trip to Pakistan it seemed as if external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee was traversing this political distance with a healthy dose of both reality and hope.
Walking through the ancient ruins of Taxila, a seat of learning from the time of the Chandragupta Maurya empire, it seemed easy this morning to look at the life and times of India and Pakistan since 1947 with patronising hindsight.
But Mukherjee — even if he didn’t participate in the Punjabi abandon with which his Pakistani counterpart, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, last night greeted the ghazal queen of the subcontinent, Farida Khanum, at a cultural evening put together by the foreign office — certainly lapped up the history tour of Taxila with childlike glee.
“This is the seat from which the mighty Chanakya built the Mauryan empire,” said Mukherjee, clearly pleased at the fact of being here and now.
So when a correspondent, seeking connections of time and space with Murshidabad back home, asked if the Buddhist ruins of Taxila had anything to do with the Karna Suvarna temples in Bengal, Mukherjee happily embarked upon a short history lesson.
That’s when the television cameras intruded into the present, allowing Mukherjee to point out: “We do not live in the dates of contemporary history, there is a continuity from past to present.… We have a common heritage and a common culture, a commonality which brings us together to resolve the present crisis in a spirit of understanding and amity.”
In fact, this “present crisis” — from Siachen to Kashmir, via Sir Creek, and the joint survey of the maritime boundary beginning tomorrow — which dominated the talks between the Pakistani leadership led by Pervez Musharraf and Mukherjee on Saturday continued to surface this morning in the conversation between Pakistani politicians and Mukherjee.
MMA’s Fazlur Rahman, an Islamic leader in coalition with Musharraf’s government, asked about India’s responses to the many Pakistani proposals on resolving the Kashmir dispute, including “joint management and control” of various institutions in the Valley by Musharraf.
Mukherjee pointed out that it was a fact on the ground that borders could not be changed, that it was necessary to take a “step-by-step approach” towards understanding each other, and perhaps the two countries could take a leaf out of the European Union which had built so much common ground over the last 60 years.
“There had been so much cooperation between the two sides during the earthquake, between the two armies helping each other, we should also continue to do the same during normal times,” he said.
Pakistan Muslim League-Q leader Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain, a close friend of Musharraf, who has been pushing for the restoration of the ancient Katasraj temples of Shiva near Lahore, had brought an archaeologist to the meeting with Mukherjee. It turned out that a group of Pakistani archaeologists are soon travelling to India to look at some Indian temple sites, including Pushkar.
Certainly, at the end of his maiden visit to Pakistan lasting just over 24 hours, Mukherjee signed no agreements, nor were there any public breakthroughs. But as he walked the political tightrope, proposing the cleaning up of the Siachen glacier to seeking more information on prisoners of the 1965 and 1971 wars, the last word seemed to belong to Taxila.
“What a great metropolis this must have been!” Mukherjee said at the site. “Taxila gives us a sense of continuity from past to present, and if we are able to understand this, we may be able to find solutions to our present, complex problems.”