08 Jan 2015
Dangerous tensions between archrivals India and Pakistan have ratcheted up again along the de facto border dividing Kashmir, reigniting the deadly decades-old dispute that has twice brought the two nuclear-armed nations to war. About 10,000 civilians from India-administered Kashmir have been displaced after cross-border shooting erupted last week between India and Pakistan in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region.
Small arms fire started on Friday along the 200km stretch of the international boundary known as the Line of Control – which divides the two South Asian rivals – and escalated into heavy artillery shelling days later, killing at least 10 civilians and soldiers in the latest round of violence in the restive Himalayan region.
The India-Pakistan conflict started with the British partition of the subcontinent in 1947 into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Blurred border lines bisecting Muslim-majority Kashmir have been the major cause of friction between the South Asian nations ever since.
National animosities have carried over to both populations with the distrust – perhaps even hatred – prevalent today.
However, with more than 22 million Indians living abroad and about seven million Pakistanis doing the same, the expatriate communities have found ways to put their grudges from back home aside and even formed lasting friendships in their new countries.
Make friends, not foes
Animesh Goenka, the former national president of Association of Indians in America, told Al Jazeera that peaceful cohabitation between the two communities may not be such an impossible mission.
“My banker, lawyer, and doctor are all Pakistanis residing in America,” said Goenka, who lives in New York City. “Those living outside India have so much interaction with Pakistanis living abroad that we are forced to see both sides of the story to the border conflict plaguing our countries.”
The Association of Indians in America holds many cultural and sports activities and invites members of the Pakistan High Commission and media to cement ties.
“We hold these events to promote friendship between the two communities. Pakistani High Commission and media are invited so that these events can be broadcast in Pakistan to show people there that Indians have a strong urge to befriend them and solve differences through friendly discussion.”
While Goenka’s family is proud over his stance, he has received his share of criticism, too.
Some of his friends ardently believe there is no way Indians can befriend Pakistanis, especially after the2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and was blamed on Pakistan-based fighters.
“I have been called a coward and unpatriotic for my eagerness to promote friendship ties with Pakistanis living here,” Goenka said.
“Such comments are not often but when they come, they come with bitterness. I have learnt not to be reactionary and have realised that the only way forward is to brush off these comments and focus on improving ties with our counterparts.”
Befriending the ‘enemy’
Mir Ali, who is a member of the Association of Pakistani Americans of Bolingbrook, Illinois, laughingly admitted he, too, has been criticised many times by those back home for befriending “the enemy”.
“The grudge against Indians held by some of my family members and friends in Pakistan is only because they have not interacted much with Indians,” Ali told Al Jazeera.
“However, here we have to interact with Indians all the time because of their huge numbers in America. It only makes sense that we put our differences aside and focus on friendly and productive relationships, so that we can carry on with our businesses in America.”
He said the only time ethnic roots are exposed is during Independence Day celebrations each August. “Both communities hold a joint parade with both countries’ flags to show that in America, Indians and Pakistanis have decided to accept each other and live peacefully together,” Ali said.
Holding such events sends a message to people back home that peace is possible between the two sides, he said.
Wajahat Meenai, a Pakistani living in Malaysia for the last 30 years, told Al Jazeera while he appreciates the good intentions of the US-based Indians and Pakistanis, he questioned why cultural backgrounds should be brought up at all.
“Why can’t we have an organisation that has both members of the community without being labelled as Indians or Pakistanis? If we believe we are of the same race, then why always call us by these labels?” he asked.
Not mission impossible
Wajahat co-founded a non-governmental organisation that helps refugees living in Malaysia, including Indians and Pakistanis.
“We have never referred to anyone by their nationality. We believe that this is a subtle yet most effective way of promoting stronger ties between the two communities, and hope that Indians and Pakistanis like us living abroad will see the wisdom behind this initiative and adopt it,” Wajahat said.
While the expatriate communities have seemingly found a way to peace in other countries, it is also not totally uncommon back home either.
Tanya Roy, an Indian who also lives in Malaysia, told Al Jazeera that growing up she was introduced to Pakistan by her family with respect and admiration, with no mention of the conflict.
“At home I was introduced to the legendary Urdu writer Manto, Pakistani ghazal singers, and contemporary writers and film-makers,” she said.
In India, Roy said her extended family wouldn’t be surprised to learn she has Pakistani friends and disputes between the two nations rarely come up.
But this doesn’t mean she is unaware of the ongoing tensions surrounding Kashmir and other issues. Roy said social media can play a role in resolving distrust and animosity, citing the #IndiawithPakistan movement as an example.
Meanwhile, back in the US, Ali said the onus of normalising ties between India and Pakista will largely fall on the shoulders of expatriates from both countries.
“Living abroad, we will continue promoting friendly ties between the two communities,” Ali said. “After all, we are a superpower nation and hence it is our responsibility to stop the fighting at home.”
08 Jan 2015