F S Aijazzuddin, Principal Aitchison College, Lahore, wrote the following in February 2009 after a speech to 500 young Aitchisonians by the then outgoing Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan
It was a fitting occasion for a farewell speech. The setting was a 122-year-old college for boys, established in Lahore at a time when the British intended to rule forever and to use the princes of the Punjab to perpetuate that rule. The speaker was the Indian High Commissioner, making his last formal speech in Pakistan before relinquishing charge.
The parallel that came to mind was of an Indian Socrates bidding farewell to the youth of Pakistan. On 5 February, the outgoing High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal addressed about 500 pupils of Aitchison College, Lahore. That it was coincidentally Kashmir Day [a holiday declared by the Government of Pakistan to express a nation-wide solidarity with the Kashmiris] was not lost either on the speaker or on his audience. Had there been anyone else, anyone other than such a consummate diplomat, there could have been tensions. Instead, the session ended on a remarkably positive note. The conclusion was not to agree to disagree; it was that disagreements are no longer valid currency.
The High Commissioner talked about a shared history, the Muslim contribution to the kaleidoscopic identity of India, of the technological leap India has made, and the positivity generated by the Confidence Building Measures that both countries had achieved so painstakingly.
But India was hurt, he said. More in sorrow than in anger, he recounted the trauma that the Indian public had suffered after the Mumbai attacks. He did not hold Pakistan as a state responsible for the attacks, but he said the evidence was irrefutable and compelling that the Mumbai terrorists had come from Pakistan. If the High Commissioner did make a slip during his mellifluously persuasive explanation of his country’s position, it was when he said that Kasab and his companions “had been sent by Pakistan”, rather than they had “come from Pakistan”.
To the teenage audience seated before him, the High Commissioner represented a country their textbooks vilified. They were too young to fight certainly either on behalf of their own country or on behalf of Kashmir, but they used their claws as would have the lion cubs in a lair into which a Daniel had entered.
The Q&A session that followed the High Commissioner’s speech was an insight into the minds of the yet-to-be informed. They questioned India’s assertion that it wanted peace in the region. They cited the attitude of the press that fomented anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The wondered aloud why a 61-year-old problem like Kashmir could be blamed entirely on Pakistan. Wasn’t part of the blame attributable to Indian intransigence? The session ended on a mutually reassuring note of optimism. Both sides wanted peace, not war. War, the High Commissioner agreed, was not an option. It became even less of an option when one recognised that both India and Pakistan were nuclear powers, with the ability to annihilate each other. Nuclear holocausts are easier for diplomats to envision; students on the threshold of their futures find the prospect of evaporation in a nuclear attack more difficult to accept.
The last word belonged to a young student who had just returned after attending a scientific competition in Gurgaon. He had spent five days interacting with Indian students of his own age. He had travelled in the Metro, eaten in Paratha Galli, visited the shrines, explored the temples, been to Indira Gandhi’s house in Safdarganj Road, visited Rashtrapati Bhavan, done all the sights, but finally was undone by the level of hostility he encountered, springing from the page of every Indian newspaper. He was too young and too green to comprehend the word “jingoism”, but he could see it being manifest, and it made him uncomfortable and vulnerable.
There should be more exchanges at the student level, it was agreed. Five, at least from each side, visiting their counterparts for a week, or better still a fortnight at a time. One was reminded of a proposal made some years ago for a Chair in Pakistan studies to be endowed at an Indian university, and vice versa. To be truly beneficial, it was suggested that a Pakistani should teach Pakistan studies to Indian students, and vice versa. Sadly, it was not accepted. Pity. It would have concentrated their minds wonderfully, knowing that they could be annihilated in a fortnight.