Karachi, Dec. 19: Pakistanis appear to desire a wide-ranging relationship with India and do not want the normalisation of ties to become hostage to the Kashmir issue. It is not as if they think that India is right about Kashmir. What they look forward to is a better future for themselves through greater economic, social and cultural cooperation with India. They want a greater focus by their state on improving their quality of life and a secure future for their children. They do not think this is dependent on resolving the Kashmir issue.
The competitive spate of conciliatory statements from both New Delhi and Islamabad has created a sense of euphoria about the possibilities of peace. Qasim Bhai, a taxi driver in Karachi, for example, was all praise for Atal Bihari Vajpayee and thought that peace was around the corner.
He said: “Your Vajpayee is a wise man. He is right to suggest that we should have one currency. We may have become two different countries but we can come together through trade and commerce. If Europe can have euro, why can’t we' I tell you these Americans and Europeans will be afraid of us if we had one currency.”
Kashmir appeared remote to this Karachi resident. “What have the ordinary people got to do with that' We want to get on with our lives. I used to go to Bombay earlier by the Victoria Asian ships for 18 rupees from Karachi. Nobody asked me whether my money was Indian or Pakistani. I want to be able to go again. I don’t make much money driving a taxi. If the going is not good here perhaps I can sell a few things in India, do some business, get stuff which is in demand here,” he said.
Naveed Akhtar, a 27-year-old farmer from Layya, also felt that Vajpayee was right in suggesting a single currency for India and Pakistan.
“Not only should we have a single currency like the euro, we should also encourage free movement across borders. While the India and Pakistan boundary should remain intact, people should be allowed go across by just registering at a check-post,” he said.
On Kashmir, he felt: “This issue should not make us so tense that we are ready to kill each other all the time. Please remember that the greatest religion is insaniyat (humanity). We should become human beings first and contemplate the consequence of our actions. Only animals kill each other. The money India and Pakistan spend on Kashmir and weapons can be used to create jobs for people like me. I am a textile engineer but have been forced to farm as there are no jobs.”
At least one person, who did not want to be identified, asked: “Hum ne duniya bhar ke Musalmano ka theka liya hai kya (Have we taken on the responsibility of all the Muslims of the world)' Are there no injustices in this society that we go seeking them elsewhere'”
The normalisation of ties between India and China, the formation of free trade zones around the region and the threats posed by a globalising economy also seem to be impacting people’s minds. Sharafat Ali, a trade unionist, thus asked: “If India and China can develop economic cooperation by freezing their territorial dispute, why can’t India and Pakistan do the same'”
He said people did not like the prospect of a confrontation. “Our past experience tells us that we have got nothing through confrontation. In 1971, we lost one half of our country as a result of a military conflict,” Ali said.
He felt that “the process of globalisation and the simultaneous emergence of beneficial economic blocs around our region is not going un-noticed. Naturally there is a feeling in the Pakistani masses also that we should sit together with India and sort our differences. Although our industrial base is not on a par with that of India, the two economies can still have beneficial trade”.
Syed Akbar Zaidi, an economist who earlier taught at Karachi University, felt that better relations demanded free trade in South Asia.
“South Asia is the only large regional entity which is not a trading bloc. I think to create a free trade area, India has to unilaterally allow free imports from its neighbours. India is 72 per cent of the entire economy of this region — huge in terms of dominance, market and territory. If we have to make any form of progress as a region — economically or politically — India will have to be magnanimous and give the most.”
Zaidi felt that no other country in the region was capable of taking the initiative to open up in the manner India could. “If India says zero tariffs for all imports from the neighbours, the Pakistani businessmen would want to export and want peace. Neither General Pervez Musharraf nor the jihadis can stop them. If India wants to go step by step, then everything, Sapta (South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement) included, remains a wish-list. It has to be totally free trade. India has to be pro-active for peace.”