Pervez the peace-maker

Print edition : May 06, 2005

Pervez Hoodbhoy. - V. SUDERSHAN

Pakistani scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy's documentary on Kashmir crosses the border with a message of peace and friendship.

IT is the other Pervez from Pakistan. "There is no solution," he said calmly, after the screening of his film on the Kashmir problem recently in Chennai. As though persuading us to walk away from a death or a parting, he said, "We have to go on from here."

"And behave like human beings," added his wife Hajra, a high-school teacher. A Kashmiri grave-digger said much the same thing in the film: "Bombs and bullets are no answer." A no-frills documentary, it methodically exhumes facts on the history of Kashmir since 1947. Both well-known facts, and those that are half-buried among the one lakh who are thought to have died in the conflict over the past five decades. Accepting the notional `lines of control' without breaking our hearts over them, seems to be the only sensible way. The breath of peace must be allowed to blow over them. Perhaps that is how borders, once fiercely fought over elsewhere in the world, have softened, and dimmed.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, physicist, science populariser and filmmaker, is clear that the past cannot be forgotten unless it is first understood. He maintained that normalising neighbourly relations between Pakistan and India was what counted. "Two years ago, I could not get an Indian visa," he says. "Relations are much better after the Lok Sabha elections. Yet, we can't help thinking how very fragile they still are, and fearing that they might slide back to where they were." All facilities have been extended to him, except that he was not allowed to film in Kashmir. The list of credits includes Anand Patwardhan and Ajay Raina, who have contributed footage from Kashmir and India.

Physicists Zia Mian worked with Hoodbhoy in Princeton to make their earlier documentary, Pakistan and India under the Nuclear Shadow, on the May 1998 nuclear tests. Shown in India in November 2001, that riveting film was about how the two countries had ignored developmental goals and worked in tandem to try and destroy each other. The senseless, headlong lurch after Pokhran towards a nuclear confrontation was delineated in mortifying detail. During the Balochistan test, the `desert heaved, the mountains shook and turned white'. The two scientists painted a post-nuclear picture of `black rain falling' over the shapely South Asian subcontinent. Given the then existing hostile relations and the bloody-minded pseudo-religiosity, and given too, several global uncertainties, Hoodbhoy and Mian argued that there was no such thing as a safe command and control system. If Pakistan's ruling autocracy did not stop playing dangerous and corrupt games with Islamic extremists, and if India's Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance were not restrained from toeing the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) line, the subcontinent might well see a war to end all wars.

After that film I was repeatedly asked, "what about Kashmir?" recalled Hoodbhoy. "I felt I had to address the issues, because in Pakistan children are taught that Kashmir is the greatest injustice that has ever been done... . These prejudices are rooted in Partition. A million people died."

Crossing the Lines: Kashmir, Pakistan and India begins with Muhammad Ali Jinnah declaring that "The new nation will be incomplete without Kashmir" and that the `K' in `Pakistan' stood for Kashmir. Then comes the invasion of Pathan tribes and Pakistani army regulars, and Jawaharlal Nehru agreeing to a plebiscite in 1953: "We want no forced marriages, and no forced Indians." The film mentions that in 1965 General Asghar Khan, misled by Ayub Khan, admitted "we started the war", and records the Pakistani defeat of 1971. After the Simla Agreement the cease-fire line became the Line of Control (LoC), but it has never been accepted as the international border. Manning it has been an ordeal for both sides: Hoodbhoy observed that the forbidding terrain and climate had claimed more deaths than war.

IN the seminaries-cum-shelters where large numbers of poor people, including Afghan refugees, were fed under Zia-ul-Haq's regime, incipient militants were promised heaven: "People all over should go to Kashmir and fight for Islam. God willing, the Pakistani flag will fly over the Red Fort." Pakistan-trained Kashmiris and Pakistani soldiers who had fought in the Afghan war began to trickle into the valley, but the real wave came after the 1987 elections. Hoodbhoy said that Kashmiri perceptions changed as a result of the massive rigging that took place. "It was then that faith in the Indian Constitution and in Indian democracy was shaken, and the demand for secession gained support. Pakistani infiltration and intervention intensified to completely change the secular character of Kashmiri demands." Until then, the Kashmiri Amanullah Khan had claimed he did not want jehad, but freedom: "Abhi saree duniya hamein terrorist kahti hai (`Now the whole world calls us terrorists')." Shabir Shah declares, "... those who kill people in mosques and temples are not freedom fighters."

The memory of the very sand at the site of the Pokhran blast being hailed as sacred by the VHP and peddled in packets by its stormtroopers comes to mind, as we listen to Nawaz Sharif declaring that "the heat at Chaghai will reach the icy region of Siachen". Euphoria in the Pakistan military sparked the Kargil war, although Nawaz Sharif falsely accused Indians of mounting the first attack. Pakistani's early victories had jehadis exulting that Kashmir was soon to become part of Pakistan. General S. Padmanabhan, the Chief of the Army Staff then, is quoted as exclaiming with dismay that the Mujahideen were difficult to fight, because they were prepared to die. The heady effect of this `valour' was exploited to the hilt by the future military dictator of Pakistan.

The film has disturbing scenes of youths and uniformed schoolchildren screaming anti-Indian abuses. A small boy with the Pakistani flag painted on his face stares seriously into the camera. An angry Kashmiri woman near the LoC shouts: "Tell Vajpayee not to drop bombs on us". Mullah Samiul Haq denounces the "coalition of infidels" who are "enemies of Islam". A Pakistan-based group takes credit for the attack on the Indian Parliament in late 2001.

YET there have been dissenters in Pakistan, not only to press for peace but to speak out against corruption and indoctrination, and against the lack of accountability in civil and military authority. Stereotypes crumble as we listen to an ex-armyman frankly speak of how General Zia misled the Pakistani people. A Pakistani woman journalist speaks about how Army personnel in and out of retirement have acquired economic and financial empires. The film has been shown everywhere in Pakistan. "Even Generals have seen it," said Hoodbhoy. But in his Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad the administration switched off the lights in the middle of a screening. It has been shown on private channels, but not on the official Pakistan TV, he says, because of the criticism of the `bigshot faujis' and their penetration of the Pakistan economy.

Viewers in Pakistan, Hoodbhoy said, had no idea of the plight of the Pandits, who are among the victims of militancy fomented by infiltrators. Thanks to Patwardhan and Raina, the film also does not fail to place on record Praveen Togadia vowing to "wipe out the terrorist state of Pakistan". Or the shameful spectacle of men and women festooned in orange, striding along a street in Gujarat and chanting two bestial words over and over again.

Karamat Ali, a Pakistani labour organiser, says Kashmir must be seen as a wider, South Asian problem. While Hoodbhoy is generally sympathetic towards Kashmiri feelings, and mentions that about 30 solutions have been suggested, he pointed out that if Kashmir became an independent Islamic state, it would not necessarily mean freedom. "In an Islamic state minorities would not have any status," he said, with disarming candour. Which drew a question from a member of the audience about the status of minorities in Pakistan, to which Hoodbhoy gave an honest, but depressing answer. Disappointingly, there are no shots in the film of Pakistani-Occupied Kashmir (`there's nothing there which we could not get in Pakistan for the film').

Lest we congratulate ourselves on our `free media', we should remember that Hoodbhoy's film (or even Patwardhan's In the Name of Ram or War and Peace) have not been shown, either on Doordarshan or on the numerous private channels.

As in the earlier film, there is no attempt at artistry. Unlike that one, which burst the bubble of nuclear hubris, this one opens a can of worms. Thoughts slip and slide and try to get away from the fact that there is no real answer on Kashmir, as the grave-digger told us, speaking from among the grave-stones. Hoodbhoy agreed with one film buff in the audience that the film does not have a professional effect. Inviting the audience to criticise as much as they like, "because on this we must exchange views," he added modestly that he was not "like Anand Patwardhan, who is a great film-maker."

But a peace-maker he surely is. This Pervez.
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