The Ties That Bind

This Wednesday, I attended a dinner in the Mural Room with Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani. Eloquent, humorous, and like every other diplomat I’ve met, well prepared, Mr. Haqqani spent the hour answering our questions. He wasn’t radical or fanatically religious, seemed open-minded and was very much familiar with American customs. However, I felt that within his airbrushed conversations of decreasing nuclear weapons throughout the world and moving towards an era where nations would not compete so viciously against each other but align in constructive mutual success, there lay the evidence of certain age-old animosities, specifically having to do with India. A recent example of this would be after the devastating floods in Pakistan. India offered aid to help with recovery. However, it took much deliberation before the Pakistanis could accept the funds. Eventually, as Mr. Haqqani stated himself, the money had to be routed through the United Nations. Mr. Haqqani said that the Pakistanis were grateful for this help in a time of utmost crisis and would welcome whatever more India offered, but if this is in fact the complete truth, why did the aid have to pass through the U.N.? Would it have something to do with the pride of not one but both countries refusing to compromise their political beliefs in the face of a crisis? Clearly, there is a problem, one that has existed since before the dawn of the modern world. When asked what Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir is, Mr. Haqqani stated that the goals of his country did not align with those of India, whose objective is to maintain Kashmir as a part of their nation. Mr. Haqqani spoke of Kashmir’s large Islamic population conflicting with the rest of India’s demographics. However, in my opinion, Kashmir’s Muslim predominance is by no means the problem. Muslims have lived in India for centuries, and have completely integrated themselves into the population. Personally, I have always seen India as a beacon of religious tolerance. Although India consists of a predominantly Hindu population, the current Vice-President, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, is a Muslim. One of India’s most powerful politicians, and incidentally Forbes Magazine 2010’s ninth most powerful person on the planet, is Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, a Catholic. The question of present-day India embracing Muslim Kashmiris poses no unsolvable enigma. Indeed, India is the country with the second largest Islamic population in the world. Islam is also the second-most practiced religion in India. In addition, it is the only country in the world where the government subsidizes the airfare for Hajj pilgrims. After discussing Kashmir, Mr. Haqqani started talking about his personal dream for the countries of Southeast Asia to form an alliance resembling the European Union, keeping borders open so it wouldn’t matter whom Kashmir belongs to. Of course, there are many problems with that statement. I believe it is far too optimistic to be considered a rational solution to the issue of Kashmir. For one, as he himself admitted, most Pakistanis don’t share his view. Also, with terrorism on the lurk, centuries of pent-up distrust and gross differences among the wealth, liberties and policies of the various countries, this type of Union is simply not feasible. Instating a Union right now would cause more problems such as immigration in already overpopulated areas and unrest among immigrants and natives. I wish we could present a better solution, one that factors in practicality. Though Mr. Haqqani said that India is a model of success, he also criticized gruesome rural practices and the caste system. But what he pointed out as flawed struck me as odd. Those village traditions belong to an extremely minute fraction of the population, and in actuality, a growing number of people belonging to the “lowest castes” are now making fortunes and headlines. You can tell a person’s caste by their last name and family history, but even that is becoming more difficult as people shift around the country. Many now cite their lower status as advantageous, due to all the policies instated by the government detailing affirmative action in schools and preferential hiring policies. If the problems Mr. Haqqani stated are not already outdated, they very soon will be. In my opinion, these struggles are no indication of a fundamental rift between Pakistan and India. Far too many people in both India and Pakistan would greatly differ, but Mr. Haqqani and I can both agree that ill will can’t solve anything. Personally, I think the generations before us have been brought up biased and have been brainwashed, regardless of intentions, by their respective communities’ dogmas. But, if you look at the list of Andover clubs, you will see a society by the name of Indopak: a place for all the Indian and Pakistani kids to come together and celebrate their cultures as a group. Most of us don’t realize how absolutely unheard of this phenomenon is, but in most places in the world, Indians and Pakistanis would never conjoin under one club like this. As liberal as Mr. Haqqani might be, I don’t think even he is equipped to handle Indian-Pakistani relations. That spirit of unity has to engulf the people of India and Pakistan, and the time for that is coming. The presence of it in our own midst is proof enough. Raeva Kumar is a two-year Lower from Poughquag, NY.