For the past seven decades, the relationship between India and Pakistan has been largely defined by animosity. The two countries share a border, the legacy of the British policy of divide and rule, disputed territory, a history of four wars, but most importantly, a similar culture and society. An Indian will feel at home in Karachi’s Empress Market the same way a Pakistani will in the crowded lanes of New Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. Unfortunately, there are wounds still left to heal. But the youth of India and Pakistan can change that, and the diminishing historical memory of Partition among their generation will allow them to positively influence the course of this relationship in future.
Truth be told
Both countries face shared challenges of economic development, corruption, inefficient bureaucracies, unemployment, poverty, and lack of access to education. This puts the common man with grievances at risk of being influenced by strong ideologies surrounding him. Furthermore, the relationship between the two countries is used by political parties to gain votes, or to create a sense of hyper nationalism. This potentially allows room for extremists, anti-state actors, and terrorist organizations to grow. Religious intolerance and fanatic nationalism have led to generations of bloodshed in India and Pakistan. The everyday media quarrels, politicians blaming each other, and religious bickering have built a culture of pervasive negativity within the India-Pakistan relationship.
The next generation of young politicians and leaders need to break this pattern, and focus on more productive issues that lead to development and social growth for both nations. Therefore, here is an optimist’s approach to improving the relationship between India and Pakistan.
A look at the present demography brings hope. India is the second most populous country in the world, home to nearly 1.3 billion people. The population is growing at an estimated rate of 1.22 percent with the median age being 27.3 years, with close to 46 percent of the population in the age bracket of 0-24 years. Pakistan’s population is over 185 million, with the median age being just 23 years old. The estimated population growth rate is 1.46 percent, and around 54 percent of people are in the 0-24 age group. Both nations have very few people who are above the age of 65 and witnessed Partition. A majority of the population has only been exposed to Partition through history books and their grandparents’ stories. However, the portion of the population that forms the current leadership of these countries grew up with stories of Partition firsthand, and lived in a country—whether India or Pakistan—that was struggling with political tensions, the pain of being divided, and developmental challenges. The younger generation in both countries is exposed to fear-mongering and even hate-speech against the other, but due to the internet and explosion of media, they have access to massive amounts of information, and can verify and critically analyze for themselves.
Collective memory, which is essentially recollection of a community as a whole about past events, is not known to last more than three generations, which is about eighty to hundred years. Almost seventy years after Partition, those memories, though painful, are fading. The current generation is less affected by the past since they did not experience it firsthand, and for this reason, they may potentially be more pro-active in building lasting relationships between the two nations. What stops an Indian from investing in Lahore for business if there is profit, or a Pakistani family from vacationing in the backwaters of Kerala?
Most importantly, this generation has grown up during the media and internet boom. The launch of the website Aman ki Asha was an effective initiative to mend relations between the two countries. The Coca-Cola video campaign featuring interactive digital machines to bring Indians and Pakistanis closer, with more than three million views on YouTube and huge attention across other social media platforms, shows the youth’s willingness to leave past bitterness behind. Bollywood has reached across the border, with Indian movies being released in Pakistan, and Pakistani actors contributing to Indian cinema. The Google ad about the friendship of two old men from India and Pakistan, reunited by their grandchildren, is another example of how close yet distant the two nations are. An app on Android phones called ‘India or Pakistan’ tests those who think they know these two countries well, challenging their misconceptions. The comedic group AIB got Indians and Pakistanis to talk to each other around the Indian and Pakistani Independence Day in 2014, and the video showed how young people on both sides of the border can keep ideological, religious, and other differences aside, to improve relations with their neighbors.
Society is evolving in India and Pakistan, and it is time to be pro-peace and not just anti-terrorism. The causes we fight for must be towards helping each other build. Is it naïve to have a vision of a friendly India and Pakistan? Only time will tell how strong our memories are.
Image: Arif Ali-AFP, Getty