Monday March 04, 2024

A picture — a greeting, and more than a thousand years of history

June 01, 2017

Pakistan and India, an age old rivalry, a relationship tainted with bloodshed and anger ever since the Partition of 1947. One would have hoped that 70 years of freedom should have paved the way for peace and understanding, leading to a blossoming of friendship, setting aside cultural differences. Sadly, it has not delivered even as far as shaking of hands. The relationship, or if it can even be called that, remains divided by an unbridgeable social, political and religious gulf. Would it continue to remain so?

At the International Court of Justice, Pakistan and India are seen at odds yet again. In the very public court case, the two countries should not have been juxtaposing one another so clearly. The resulting encounter, seen in the picture, only emphasises how we seem to be living in two completely different spheres of existence.

Needless to say, that it was not a friendly interaction. India had thought it appropriate to take Pakistan to the World Court on the issue of the capture and conviction of the Indian spy, Kulbushan Jhadav who has been involved in terrorism and espionage in Pakistan.  Do such aggressive initiatives need to be complemented by a public display of hostility? Does it require avoiding a simple handshake? Prime Minister Modi has shaken hands with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on many occasions, including in Delhi, Paris and Ufa. What was the need or benefit of exhibiting a public disconnect, at the court; only the Indian establishment would know. 

This picture seems to be the physical embodiment, a representation of what years of disdain, scrutiny and antagonism have surmounted to. It seems that an extended hand of friendship has been rebuked, masked by another form of greeting. The encounter can be characterised as a misunderstanding, or maybe even a mere ploy to ignite fire and political propaganda, blaring across media stations throughout the entirety of the subcontinent and beyond. It seems that we are plagued by the same differences that called for our separation seven decades ago, perhaps even longer before that.

The encounter seems eerily reminiscent of a child thrown onto carousal, a never-ending cycle of the same problems plaguing us for centuries. We have been unable to outgrow the confrontations and problems of our forefathers. Any attempts at friendship or some form of unity considered futile, and now possibly impossible.

A simple message from the Indian side that they would not be interested in a handshake and would be content with a Namaste, could have avoided this public display of disconnect.  Such messages are a standard norm at all such formal occasions. But perhaps, it was the Indian design to let the world know about the chiasm that exists between the two countries. A chasm, that they have no desire or intention to fill.

However, the example of the Wagha border stands in front of us, a brusque handshake symbolising brotherhood and cooperation. Maybe one day we will be able to set aside blaringly obvious differences, but for now we may remain on fairly ambivalent terms of a ‘Namaste’ and a handshake.