Day Three of Spring Fever 2016, organised by Penguin Random House India, witnessed a packed audience for the much talked about session, “Pakistan is in the eye of the beholder”. The session was moderated by Rishi Suri, editor at the largest and oldest Urdu daily Daily Milap.

Leading the discussion, Shashi Tharoor, MP and a public intellectual, said how he beheld Pakistan — “with a heart of dove but a mind of a hawk”. He further said that the core issue with Pakistan was not Kashmir but the nature of the Pakistan state. “You join the army to run the country,” he added, saying that the military was  involved in everything in Pakistan – from petrol pumps, exports and imports to universities. “Pakistani army has the highest portion in the country’s GDP. This is justified by conflicts on borders. Wherever India has tried to make peace, that has been reciprocated with an attack. There is nothing we want from Pakistan but peace,” said Tharoor. “But they seem to want Kashmir and they will continue to do so.”

Tharoor then went on to give suggestions to develop better relationship between the citizens of the neighbouring countries. He suggested that unilateral generosity towards visas from both sides was required. “I’m yet to meet a Pakistani who doesn’t fall in love with India when they visit,” he said. Tharoor also suggested that trade relations between the two countries needed to open up — even with military owned ompanies. “Permanent hostility is a mood, not a policy.”

“And, we should play more cricket with them,” quipped Tharoor as he concluded his talk.

A surprise for all at the session was award winning writer, woman and human rights activist, and author of Lajja, Taslima Nasrin. Nasrin talked about her traumatic memory from the 1971 war where the Pakistan army looted her own house and tortured her father in the courtyard — how she faced all this at the tender age of nine. She recollected how she feared being taken away by the army to their camp and being raped like the other 2,00,000 women of her country. Since then, Nasrin said she has developed a fear of Pakistanis. But she added that in recent years  she has attended many conferences around the world where she has met Pakistanis, who like her are trying really hard to make their country a better place.

“If you found a country on religion, it will become fundamentalist …1971 has proved that Muslim immunity is a myth, that the two-nation theory is wrong,” said Taslima Nasrin.

“If you found a country on religion, it will become fundamentalist. Pakistan is not a true democracy in that sense. And since ’80s, Bangladesh is also turning into another Pakistan. Bloggers are being killed and the government is not taking any action. 1971 has proved that Muslim immunity is a myth, that the two-nation nation theory is wrong,” said Nasrin. She further said that no law based on religion can ever offer equality: “All religions are against women, and for gender parity, we need to remove religious laws.”

Later this year, Nasrin will be releasing the seventh part of her autobiography titled Exile.

Hindol Sengupta, author of Being Hindu and the youngest on the panel and also one of the few journalists who has been to Pakistan half a dozen times, continued the discussion saying that he sees his friends in Pakistan as different from the state that is Pakistan. Sengupta also noted that the mood about Pakistan changes as one goes south from Delhi and further.

“Yes, peace is important but at what price?” Shedding light on the peace talks that the two countries have been striving for in recent years, Sengupta mentioned the friends he lost to the violence in Pakistan – like Saveen Mahmood, Salman Taseer – and the lessons he learnt from these untimely deaths. “We must have peace but never lose the ability to do to them what they to do us,” he concluded.  On being asked about Kashmir, Sengupta rued that mainstream media never shows the full truth about Jammu and Kashmir, adding sarcastically, “ J&K Bank is a Fortune500 company that media doesn’t talk about.  J&K is seeing the resurgence of normalcy and grassroot level entrepreneurship that media never reports about.”

Other speakers of the panel included TCA Raghavan, retired IFS officer whose last posting was in Pakistan as the High Commissioner and Neeraj Kumar, former Commissioner of Police and author of Dial D for Don

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