He is Bureau Chief of the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) and the only Pakistani corespondent on Indian soil.
I came to India three years ago in January 1999. And, from Pakistan when I used to look at India as a Pakistani, I must admit that the historical baggages of the past and what I have imbibed since my childhood did impinge on the mind’s eye.
Unfortunately, the images run along communal lines. The feeling that the Hindu is an enemy of the Muslim and that the Hindus have not forgotten or forgiven the thousand years of Muslim rule in India is writ large.
The myth persists, especially among the less-educated in Pakistan, that India has not come to terms with the reality of Pakistan and India wants to turn back history and avenge partition.
All this feeling of mistrust and illwill tends to culminate and symbolise itself on Kashmir. For every Pakistani, it is inconceivable that Kashmir still remains with India.
At the time of partition Muslim majority areas were to become part of Pakistan. The Sikhs had an option and they chose India.
Then, how come Indian refuses to give Pakistan its legitimate right in Kashmir. In Hyderabad, which had a Muslim ruler in the form of the Nizam, but a Hindu majority among the people, the Indian army intervened and amalgamated it into India.
So for every average Pakistani, India’s continued subjugation of Kashmir seems grossly unfair and unethical. So, when India claims that Pakistan is holding a gun at India’s head over Kashmir, it does not go down well at all.
As I said, since I have been in India for the last three years, my earlier misconceptions have undergone a definite change. However, there is a clear contrast between the reception I have received from the common people in India and the officialdom.
Broadly, with minor exceptions, I have only found love and affection from the people of India at the level of the common man. I have been pleasantly surprised in the way I have been accepted here and people and my neighbours have been very nice to me and my family.
But the way the officialdom, especially at the lower rungs, have treated me is altogether a different experience. The process of getting a visa, even though I am the only Pakistani correspondent in India is difficult and humiliating.
First of all my visa has to be renewed annually, even though my stay in India is already scheduled for three years. I am only allowed to travel within the municipal limits of Delhi, Mumbai and Agra. To go to any other city or part of India I have to apply for special permission.
The mutual suspicion between the officialdoms is evidenced by the fact that while it is the Indian external affairs which gives visas, in my case it was the home ministry which processed my visa that too after extensive verification and cross-checking.
Plus the way the lower levels of the bureaucracy in New Delhi treat me is atrocious. When I go to the ministries for sorting out any procedural difficulty of my stay here, I am not even extended the courtesy of being asked to take a seat. It can be downright humiliating.
Last year, I had to stay two whole months without a visa as the home ministry refused to extend my visa within a reasonable time. This is when extensive checks of my antecedents had been done when I was granted in the visa in the first place.
My Indian counterpart in Islamabad, also complains that he is similarly harassed by the Pakistani authorities. I think such behavior by both governments is downright childish and immature. I do not know what is the point in this needless exercise. What is the use of trading humiliation and insults. This must end. It makes both nations smaller than what we are.
But let me come to some of the things I have come to admire and respect during my stay of three years ion India.
One, I think that the Indian society as a whole is much less belligerent than in Pakistan. I think the people are more tolerant of each other and I do not see the fisticuffs that is the order of the day in the streets of Lahore, where I come from, on the slightest pretext.
Secondly, I think that your politicians are much less power-hungry than in Pakistan. When the Vajpayee-government promptly resigned after it lost by one vote in Parliament. I cannot imagine that this can happen in Pakistan. Once they get the chair they stick to it like glue.
I also respect the way the Indian state has handled the potentially secessionists movements in some parts of India. I think that the Indian democracy acts like a pressure release for the tensions and abrasions that tend to build-up. I think that successive governments have handled it extremely well.
I have great respect for the growing economic might of India. Especially, in the IT sector. I think India is in a better position economically to exploit the opportunities on offer worldwide.
In contrast, our engagement in Afghanistan for the last two decades has been with narcotics, the gun-culture and a parallel economy running based on smuggling from across the border. The Pakistani economy is in a mess.
The constant change of governments and political instability has also hit the economy hard with foreign investors unwilling to make any major investments in Pakistan.
But the Musharraf regime is trying to make amends and there are some favourable signs for the Pakistan economy emerging on the horizon. I hope we will be able to make the fullest use of our new engagement with the West.
When I came to India I was very anxious about the acceptance of my family by the Indian society. Initially, it was not easy even to find a house as people did not want to rent out accommodation to a Pakistani.
However, once the ice was broken, my neighbours and other Indian colleagues have accepted me as one of their own.
I have had no problems and my son and daughter are studying in Indian schools. They have had no problems so far.
In India, what I have learnt, is that it does not matter if you are a Hindu or a Muslim, if you are capable of becoming part of the mainstream you are accepted with pre-conditions.
We knew that the Sikhs were in substantial numbers in the Indian army. But I find their presence even in other government departments, much disproportionate to their being just 2 per cent of the population. The Sikh community has made rapid strides in the Indian nation.
So also, what I have realised that while pre-partition generation of Indian Muslims have yet to find their identity in India, the second generation of Muslim youths identify more with India and they have also made great strides in acquiring modern education and finding their identity in the mainstream of India. They seem to have got over the paranoia of Partition.
I think that these are great achievements of the Indian Republic and I think democracy has really helped India face some of its societal and political problems.
However, I think there is a fringe element in the Indian society which still harbours distrust and enmity against Pakistan. Especially among the rightists.
It is the same elements who scuttled a reconciliation between India and Pakistan at the Agra Summit.
But both India and Pakistan will have to put aside their mutual antagonisms for the welfare of the people of both countries. Though, the horizon may look clouded at the present, I hope and pray that the war clouds will fade away and both countries will enter a new dawn.
Published in Sify.com