Moment of reckoning for subcontinent


Islamabad tried to reach out with a message of peace when Imran Khan became prime minister but Delhi was clearly in no such mood, for the ruling BJP had built its fanatic following on not just the toxic Hindutva narrative but also in no small part on creating and exploiting anti-Pakistan sentiment, and now both countries have nothing good to say to or about each other. Things have got so bad that the two routinely trade insults, not to mention unprecedented mortar fire across the Line of Control (LoC), and the whole Asian region at least is being held hostage to their growing animosity. Now the rest of the world is somewhat justified in feeling that if the two couldn’t settle their differences in the seven decades since partition, there’s very little likelihood of them doing it in the future either.
But as the fight between the two gets uglier by the year, so too does the state of average people living on both sides of the border. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic especially this region now faces headwinds that have begun to cause damage that might never be reversed. The virus has literally crippled India. Its economy is in the worst state it’s been in about half a century, and since the virus is still on a very strong rise there’s no telling how much worse things will get before they even begin to get any better. Pakistan, for its part, has all but lost the advantage it got by handling the first wave of the virus so successfully and seems headed for a disaster of its own. People are still flouting SOPs that are necessary to keep the spread of the virus in check so the number of new infections as well as deaths is pretty much expected to keep rising.
At such a time, had any sense or sensibility prevailed in the region, India and Pakistan would have been helping each other overcome this crisis. What will anybody gain if the lower half of the population in both countries is lost to the virus? Will extremists on both sides, who are bent upon complete destruction of the other, celebrate such an outcome also?
Both India and Pakistan stand out in the world because of their relatively young populations. As such, most people have very little or no memory or understanding of the core issues that continue to divide the two neighbours. In fact, whenever they find themselves living and working together in neutral parts of the world they seem to get along pretty well together. So there is hope, but first there needs to be political will.