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STATISTICS:
In India, 52% thinks all religions are about the same in terms of violence; among the 39% see some as more violent than others, nearly 73% point to Islam, while 17% designate Hinduism.
In Pakistan, 40% view some religions as more violent, but while 51% choose Judaism as most violent, 31% designate Hinduism
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Huma Imtiaz
PakistanGALLERYCONVERSATION
It was a hot afternoon that May of 1998 in Pakistan. The dry earth cracked, the trees shriveled up. The rays of the sun attacked us, with its colors changing from yellow to orange to red, and back to yellow.

It was to be another typical summer, the bored schoolchildren thought. It was that afternoon that the mountains turned a shade of red, brighter than the sun.

I remember switching on the TV that afternoon, hoping in vain to catch something on national television worth watching. A parade of patriotic songs greeted me, instead of the badly dubbed cartoons that I had become accustomed to.

Instantly, I knew it had happened. No official announcement needed to be made; the national anthem playing told us enough. Pakistan was now an official nuclear power. We had fulfilled our desire to show India that we were better than them, always ready to match their every action with a greater reaction. We wanted to avenge the desecration of Babri Masjid. India wanted to avenge Kashmir. Or was it us who wanted to avenge Kashmir?

So confusing, the games we played, all in the name of honor. We played and lost those games at the cost of our nation’s economic, political and geographical survival. The country was placed under economic sanctions, foreign currency accounts were frozen, and the leaders issued statements with empty promises and tall claims. Inflation, devaluation of the currency, bankruptcy – these terms became part of our everyday conversations. I couldn’t celebrate my birthday that year. Inflation.

I remember my grandmother applauding the Pakistani Prime Minister’s speech when he made claims of avenging the Indians. I could not blame her – she had been force fed propaganda by the state run television, by biased newspapers, by being uninformed and misinformed about an entire nation.

A year later, the Kargil conflict took place. For three months, the country’s citizens lived on the brink of war, as the standoff between Pakistan and India worsened. What took place up in those snow capped mountains is still veiled in mystery, obscured in propaganda and tainted with the colors of national interest.

When a country’s nation lives every single day of its life knowing that they could go to war the next minute, day, week, it puts them under immense stress. The tension in their faces is visible; their smiles try in vain to hide their fear and they hoard every paisa, to safeguard themselves against the unknown future.

Everyday, we watched news channels anxiously, wondering whether to believe news reports by Indian news channels, or international. We couldn’t believe the Pakistani news reports – we’d been lied to so much. They assured us Kargil was in our control.

The conflict ended with nearly 7000 dead. The mothers prepared shrouds; the wives broke their bangles.

The leaders of both countries had tea in the shadow of the Taj Mahal. The diplomats smoked cigars, while their wives shopped in the dusty markets of Agra.

I watched the proceedings live on an Indian news channel, biting my nails, hoping things would turn for the better so we could finally cross the border and see where our grandparents had been born, rediscover our history.

The leaders came back from Agra with the promise of a great friendship between two hostile nations. Months later, we had resumed our stony faces and our terse statements. The snide remarks about Indians started again – they don’t want peace, they’re the ones who want war, we’re the good guys here.

A year later, we started yet another fragile understanding.The school children were brainwashed differently with every passing year. I got home one day to discover my cousin was being told by his father that India is our enemy – do not write an English term paper on the Indian cricket team. I never looked at my uncle the same way again. What kind of nation have we become, that we have brainwashed generation after generation?

I, on the other hand, was taught that the Indians were a barbaric nation – from the times of the Mughal emperors till the current day. We have condemned an entire nation as barbarians over a small piece of land.

India is our enemy. Pakistan is our enemy. Indians and Pakistanis are friends.

We have rewritten our school books every year. The histories of our nations differ wildly. For example, the Mughal Empire is heralded as a great era for the Muslims. The Indians refer to it as the ‘dark period of the subcontinent’.

I have seen my security guard cry every Eid, as her weeps for his family in Kashmir, as he comes back every summer from a ‘vacation’, with news of his wife losing her ear as a bullet whizzed by, his sons suffering from malnutrition...the list goes on.

Shiv Sena. Mujahideen. Green. Saffron. Checkmate.

An acquaintance once remarked that the reason why Pakistanis were constantly on the edge was because the pressure of a looming war frayed their nerves. He laughed at the end of his summation.

His laughter was the bitterest laugh I have ever heard.
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