India and Pakistan: Searching for humanity in south Asia

India and Pakistan: Searching for humanity in south Asia

Islamabad :The Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) organized a webinar titled “India and Pakistan: Searching for Humanity in South Asia” on August 6, 2020. Given the hostile and deteriorating relations between Pakistan and India, this webinar served as a message of peace between the two neighbors and bridged the communication barrier by bringing together two pre-eminent Pakistani and Indian historians and scholars: Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed and Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi. Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed is a retired civil servant and was also the Pakistani High Commissioner to UK and Ireland. He currently serves as Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies and Professor of International Relations at School of International Service at the American University in Washington DC. Dr Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of M.K. Gandhi, is a historian and biographer. He is currently Research Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In his introductory remarks, Director General ISSI, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry welcomed the distinguished guests and talked about the significance of humanity in South Asia. Ambassador Chaudhry highlighted that following the recent developments in Kashmir, India’s controversial decision to build Ram Mandir, the treatment of minorities in both India and Pakistan and the political hostilities between the two countries, it is crucial to explore humanity in these troubling times. Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed highlighted the plight of minorities in South Asia, particularly India, and cautioned that if Indian politicians are allowed to breed unchecked hatred against Muslims the result might be an unwanted conflict with Pakistan. His analysis was based on three broad aspects: Madness; Hatred; and Hope. He emphasized his point by mentioning a plethora of instances of discrimination and bigotry that Muslims in India are subjected to. He quoted the Indian author Arundhati Roy to highlight the “crisis of hatred against Muslims” and noted instances of police brutality against Muslims, religiously motivated lynching, the brutality in Kashmir, the negative stereotyping of Muslims and Pakistani’s in Bollywood, unfounded accusations of cow-protection and “Corona-Jihad” against Muslims and other similar examples that show how India has diverged from Gandhi’s vision of peaceful coexistence and Ahimsa (non-violence). He reminded the audience of the contributions of Indian Muslims to Indian history and culture in order to show the rich Indian history of inclusion and diversity. He ended his speech on an optimistic note by highlighting anecdotes of positive conversations and relations with his Indian friends, students and colleagues. He pointed out the ideals that scholars and leaders of South Asia like Ashoka, Buddha, Sir Syed, Allama Iqbal and others held and hoped that we in South Asia will follow in their footsteps. He concluded with suggestions for both governments and said that we need to share information and personnel to help each other deal with the pandemic and that it is high time India and Pakistan stop using a military-strategic prism to view each other. Instead, he suggested, we need the lens of morality, compassion and humanity to guide our actions. Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi acknowledged that “India-Pakistan relations are in a deep-ditch” and noted that the construction of Ram Mandir is a testament of the fact that India has lost its secular nature. However, he took this opportunity to highlight the similarities between India and Pakistan and particularly focused on the thoughts of an average Indian citizen. He said that it is crucial to praise the ordinary teachers, doctors and police officers who preach love and compassion with Muslims. He said, “we need to hear the quiet murmurs of friendship and ignore the people with megaphones who amplify voices of hate.” He also clarified Dr. Akbar S Ahmed’s point about the media onslaught of Muslims during corona by saying that while it did happen in the early months, the anti-Muslims sentiment during Covid-19 soon died down in the media. Beyond bridging the religious barrier, our societies need to finish all castes, sects, class, ethnicity and language-based discrimination too. One way of doing that, he suggested, is to learn each other’s languages and understand the shared history of our forbearers. We can look at Indian and Pakistani diasporas communities to see how the two cultures can and do live together in harmony. Later, both panellists answered questions about the Kashmir dispute and condemned all the instances of lynching, curfews, brutality and rape that have ruined the lives of ordinary Kashmiris. Dr Akbar S. Ahmed, while answering a question, recalled the struggles he faced while depicting Jinnah in his famous movie about Quaid-e-Azam. Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman Board of Governors ISSI, concluded the webinar by thanking both the guests for their remarks. He too highlighted the importance of promoting peace between both countries and bridging of all the political differences. He echoed the remarks of both speakers by highlighting the importance of greater communication between ordinary citizens of both the countries.