Yesterday a friend of mine asked me whether political parties in India hold a stockpile of large, printed posters of politicians from rival parties. He had seen television channels in Karnataka air scenes of demonstrations in which certain right wing groups loudly and theatrically alternated between burning pictures of me and stomping on them. One amusing frame had a number of grown men flipping slippers at my poster.
The reason I had provoked the ire of self-proclaimed “nationalists” in saffron was that I had disagreed with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s pronouncement that going to Pakistan is akin to a visit to hell. I had just returned from a visit to Islamabad and can safely report that what I found was not hell but a country that is home to people just like us, who happen, sadly, to be ruled by a regime that does not inspire confidence.
It is understandable to hold Pakistan’s military and government to account for their conduct, but when civil society in our neighbouring land holds out a hand of friendship to us, I think it is essential we welcome the effort.
I was in Islamabad to speak at the first SAARC Youth Parliamentarians’ Conference, attended by a cross section of young South Asian politicians from across party lines. Most importantly for me, it was a forum with a number of extremely inspiring Pakistani women with whom I, as a woman in politics, saw an opportunity to build a friendship that could tomorrow join us in achieving common goals and bring our countries closer.
While it is easy to denounce conversation with the Pakistani establishment, a conversation with ordinary Pakistanis is crucial regardless of whether or not our governments are on good terms. What these self-appointed “nationalists” want is to drum up hysteria and ensure that we never find solutions to longstanding problems. Theirs is a patriotism that begins and ends at making noise on the street — after all it is easy to gather a horde of bullies and demonstrate. It may get them prime time TV attention, but peace building requires a little more nuance and effort.
It is my conviction that to serve my country, which I do with commitment and pride, what is needed is the building of enduring bridges with our neighbours that will pave the way to a better world and a better future. The people gathered in Islamabad are a part of the solution, and to me joining this effort is a contribution in the right direction, no matter how many posters of me are burned by mobs of men who know no better.
With a complaint of sedition filed against me, I stand by my remarks that Pakistan is not hell and I see no reason to withdraw or apologise for it. It is ironical that in a country where people get away with crimes such as a murder, those who seek peace are targeted.
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