South Asia Needs Greater Synergy

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South Asia Needs Greater Synergy

If countries in Europe can come together in trade for the larger good of their people, why can’t we?

It was at about 11 am on August 4. In a few hours, I had to board the Air India flight to New Delhi. I was preparing to move out of the hotel in London to take the tube (what we call the metro) to Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport, London.

After check out, in good humor I called the receptionist, a man of Pakistani origin, to sit with me for a while. I wanted to know his view point about Pakistan and its people. Shahid, the receptionist, came with a smiling face to sit next to me at the lobby.

The Fall Of The Pakistani Rupee

The first question I asked Shahid was about Pakistan economy. Shahid sadly responded that the Pakistan economy is in doldrums, going from bad to worse. He attributed the fall in the value of Pakistani rupee to the change of regime in Pakistan. He said that under Imran Khan, Pakistan was progressive. This had frustrated the enemies of Pakistan, and they had hatched conspiracy to topple the Imran Khan government.

Was it really doing well under Imran Khan, I asked.  A confident Shahid said yes. What was the value of Pakistani rupee than and what is its value now? Shahid said that currently, one GBP (Great Britain Pound) values Rs 294 Pakistani rupees. At the time of the Imran Khan government, the value of the Pakistani rupee against GBP was Rs 290, he said.

Soon a tourist from Italy came near the reception to check in. Shahid quickly went back to the reception. I was still wondering at how Pakistanis are willing to live amidst penury and fire but are steadfast in the intent to damage India.

I asked for coffee before leaving the hotel. Shahid got the coffee and put it on the table. I again told Shahid that a society and a nation must focus on the quality of life of its people, not on the quantity of weapons. Shahid had no patience with any argument in favour of peace, harmony and quality of life. He shot back with a smile, “Jenab kya hoga aagay. Ab hateyaro se kya ladna. Ab buttons daba kar jung ladne hain.” Shahid was referring to a nuclear war.

While boarding the airport-bound tube at Earl’s Court tube station – we call it the metro in India – I was still wondering that we seem to live under some curse in South Asia. Why are we so backward that we do not know the value of scientific evolution and development? Are we still living in stone age?

What kind of mindset it is that a guy – seemingly a very gentle guy who has been in London since 16 years – still carries the same set of grudges? He still has the mentality of a backward and unrealistic person sans any exposure.

Why do we in South Asia live with this kind of mentality? It is not about Shahid alone. We have million of such Shahids in our part of the world. Millions in Pakistan and millions in India.

While the west is moving fast at the speed of light, we seem to be moving backwards. Shahid had spoken about the strong business ties within the countries of Europe. He had said that France and Germany put aside their differences for the larger good of their people. Why can’t we do this? Why do people in South Asia take refuge in religious extremism? Why do they exploit religion for political scores and make people kill and die? Why and for how long?

Pakistani Tells Me

Hum to doobe hain Sanam Tumko be le doobengay

I told him that internationally, regarding Pakistan it is believed that its economy is in a very bad shape. Despite this, the Army continues to take the lion’s share of the budget.

Then I asked him a question. Why does Pakistan society allow the Army to walk away with unaccounted crores, when it could be used to feed the poor, open hospitals and schools for them, build roads, provide jobs and so on? Why such gross disregard for what is good for the people?

The calm and composed Shahid abruptly got angry. He retorted, “We know that Pakistani army is taking 27% of the budget. They are rich but we are happy. Let them take whatever we have. We want to teach our enemies a lesson or two.”

I smiled and responded, “Why are you willing to teach a lesson to your enemies when your own house is crumbling? Shouldn’t you put your own nation and economy in order first? Focus on progress and development – that alone will make Pakistan stable, and be good for both your economy and nation.”

Why Does Pakistan Prefer Guns Over Public Welfare?

Shahid responded with what he said is a famous saying in Pakistan. “Hamare Ghar Main Roti Ho Ya Na Ho, Gun Zaroor Hone Chahye”. He didn’t stop there. He pounced back on me. “Kashmiri ho kar aap aise kehtay ho. Aap bhool gaye teen saal pehlay India ne aap kay sath kya kiya. Kashmir hamara shahrag hai. Kashmir mein kya ho raha hai bhool gayai?”

I was highly amused at his agitated response. Calmly I told him, “Kashmiri mein ho ki aap? Have I given license to you to speak on my behalf? Don’t I know what is happening in Kashmir, and at whose behest? Why are you exporting guns, sending mercenaries and killing us in the name of shahrag? You want to replicate the Pakistani model in Kashmir? Ki Roti Ho Ya Na Ho Gun Hone Chahye.”

A frustrated Shahid retorted back – What is India doing in Afghanistan? They are in Afghanistan to hurt us. They enacted Balakot but what did they achieve? We gave them a befitting reply. Dosti chahte hain lakin India kya karta hai? Haath dho kay Pakistan jaise chhotay mulk kay peechay pada hai.

I responded, “I really don’t know whether India is after Pakistan. What I know is that Pakistan is obsessed with India. You are sending war mongers to Kashmir to hurt India. But you are actually hurting the Kashmiris. The abrogation of Article 370 was an inevitable response to your utterances and actions over the last three decades.”

Shahid’s parting shot amazed me. How matter of fact this Pakistani was, about a catastrophe. He said to me in a soft tone, “Hum to doobe hain Sanam Tumko be le doobengay”.

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