- Too often we hear of the bitter hatred between India and Pakistan. This was on Public Radio yesterday, and with the celebration on India’s Independence and the subsequent splitting of Pakistan, this is a beautiful example of how people can rise above the political hatred and join together (are you listening Barack Obama and Raul Castro? Probably not).
Qais Hussain, who was a pilot in the Pakistani air force, shot down an Indian plane in 1965, the year the two countries went to war.
The plane was being piloted by Jahangir Engineer, who along with seven others, died in the incident. An email exchange between the pilot and Engineer’s daughter has generated a lot of interest in the two countries.
Hussain wrote in an email on August 5, Qais Hussain:
“Mrs. Singh, I have chosen to go into this detail to tell you that it all happened in the line of duty and it was not governed by the concept that ‘everything is fair in love and war,’ the way it has been portrayed by the Indian media due to lack of information.”
Pakistani journalist Beena Sarwar first reported on this story for a Pakistani newspaper The News and wrote about it on her blog.
The story was then picked up by television stations and newspapers in India and Pakistan, including NDTV – a 24-hour English news station based in New Delhi, India.
In an emotional exchange, Farida Singh, the daughter of the deceased Indian pilot wrote back. She said the death of her father had “defined our lives”.
“But in all the struggles that followed, we never, not for one moment, bore bitterness or hatred for the person who actually pulled the trigger and caused my father’s death.
The fact that this all happened in the confusion of a tragic war was never lost to us. We are all pawns in this terrible game of war and peace.”
In a conversation with Beena Sarwar, she explained to me why this story means more than just an exchange of emails between Singh and Hussain.
“What this incident shows, I think, to me is the very high level of distrust and hostility between India and Pakistan that existed, and perhaps in a way still (exists),” she told Lisa Mullins in our interview for The World’s broadcast.
Indians and Pakistanis have been locked in conflict ever since independence from Britain in 1947. The two nations have fought three wars since then. And relations between the two nuclear-armed nations remain difficult.
Beena Sarwar told me that while the Cold War had ended, the permafrost on the India-Pakistan border has never thawed.
And that is why perhaps when the two people begin to talk to each other, albeit on email, it makes for a great story.
History of conflict
The two countries were created by partitioning what was British India into Hindu-dominated India and the newly-created Muslim state of Pakistan in 1947.
Partition came at a heavy price. Half a million people died during riots that engulfed the sub-continent. Ever since the two counties have lived in conflict with each other.
The biggest stumbling block on the road to peace for the past decades has been the state of Kashmir. The two countries have staked their claim to the region and have fought two wars, including the one in 1965.
I grew up in India and I can attest to Beena Sarwar’s observations. When Indians and Pakistanis meet abroad, there is an instant connection. And that, I think is mainly because they’re meeting for the first time. No two cultures are so similar yet so separate.
“It’s unfortunate that politics of the region have kept us apart. If we were still one country – imagine the kind of cricket team we would’ve had,” a Pakistani taxi driver in London once told me.