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Archive for January 4, 2012

Call me an IndianPakistani

Published in ExpressTribue :
I recently wrote a blog post titled ‘An Indian who moved to Pakistan‘. The response I got – positive and negative – is much appreciated. It inspired me to write this piece about my dream of a world without borders and wars.

Before I begin, however, I want to make clear that I do not have any desire to undermine the sovereign and political borders between India and Pakistan or between any other countries. My dream is to erase the psychological borders that are etched in our minds in the shape of prejudices and hatred towards the other.

So I’ll get to the point: to all those people who expressed sympathy over my visa issues, please don’t feel sorry for me. I feel extremely privileged to have ties to two beautiful countries, Pakistan and India.

So what if I do not have an Indian passport?

I have 24 years of precious memories sealed in my heart as an Indian, memories that can never be erased. I am not Pakistani because of my passport alone, but because of the love and respect that I have received from numerous Pakistanis, who took no time to accept me as one of their own. I belong to both lands and a good 1.4 billion people are my fellow compatriots. How lucky am I?

I am as passionate about the happenings of the Lokpal bill as I do about the NRO debate. Last year, at the cricket World Cup, I got to support not one, but two teams. Whenever there is an India-Pakistan match, unlike the other billion and a half who dread a bad result, I rejoice. I feel like a winner when either of them wins.

I find absolute tranquillity in the Sufi poetry of Bulleh Shah, and at the same time, I am able to drown in the depths of Kabir Dohas. Moreover, I knew what Kareem’s nalli nihari in Delhi tasted like before it began its journey abroad and ended up as Sabri’s maghaz nihari in Karachi. In addition to this, I can put together an outfit comprising of a Kanjeevaram silk sari and a Sindhi mirror-embroidered bag. When I go out, I can flaunt both as my national handicrafts.

To those who ridiculed or criticised me, please shed the word ‘hate’ from your dictionaries and look beyond prejudice. Believe me, I am a witness to the reality that there are millions on both sides who want to live in peace with their neighbours.

We have seen first-hand how hatred leads to conflict, how conflict leads to instability, and how instability leads to massive defence expenditures. We have already wasted immeasurable revenue, which could very well have been used for the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and illiteracy – problems that exist in astronomical proportions on both sides of the border.

We share ancestors, history, geography, and the same problems. Why should we allow the problems of a few in power to affect us on a global scale? A prosperous India is in Pakistan’s best interest, and a prosperous Pakistan is in India’s best interests.

Why should a handful of bigots sabotage the road to peace we need to take to reach the goal of prosperity? We need to support and love each other – we do not have another way out.

Think about it.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

Of Unity, Faith and Discipline

First published in Blog TheNews :

One evening, the perpetual sad news on the television of sectarian killings, petty politics, poverty and floods overwhelmed me and made me feel a little nauseated.

To get fresh air, I walked outside in the lawn, only to see a threesome of geese sitting beside a bird feeder. One was limping with injury, while the other two were flapping their wings to encircle the injured.

Dejected with being human, I pondered, how the free birds, travelled 4500 miles every year from Europe to Central Asia, flying over mountain ranges to arrive in the marshes of the subcontinent for the winter.

Their honks reminded me of a research which found that these geese migrate thousands of miles as one flock, in a ‘V’ formation. If any bird falls sick or is injured, two geese fall out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it till it is able to fly or is dead. When the geese if healthy enough to fly, they launch out on their own formation until they catch up with their group.

“I wish I was one of you.” I muttered.

“Why?” asked one. “Aren’t you the most intelligent species created by God?”

Surprised I answered “Yes, but I love the way you creatures fly miles and miles, as free birds, with no passports, visas or expensive tickets. And no one is there to stop you at the borders.”

With a twinkle in its eye, the geese answered “Yes indeed. But do you know how do we succeed in braving such distances?”

I replied “Yes, you fly in flocks united as one group, in a V-formation.”

As I spelt the word united, my heart sank at the disunity that we display when we quarrel because of religious, sectarian and ethnic differences, instead of staying united in a flock as Pakistanis.

“Yes, unity and discipline are the foundation with which we brave through our arduous journey from Siberia to South Asia” declared another.

I wondered how the traveling in ‘V’ formation offered discipline.

The witty goose answered my concern by explaining, “Staying organised in a V gives us strength. The bird ahead flaps his wings to reduce the air resistance and gives a lift to the next behind it. Subsequently it gets passed on to the whole flock. And this way we are able to add a 75% greater flying range.”

“But you let the one at the front do the most labour by flapping its wing through the air resistance. How inhuman?” I retorted.

“You call this inhuman? Being cruel is so ‘human’ I would say”, the goose snapped back.

I knew the goose was right.

“Not only do we stay united and disciplined, we keep our faith in whoever our leader is. Our leader leads with hard work and the ones behind follow him with complete faith. Those at the extreme back keep honking all through the journey. Have you ever experienced how energising it is when someone gives you support from behind? It synergises one’s capacity far beyond one’s capability.”

This confused me. What was this faith the goose spoke about?

“Faith isn’t just the excuse for which you humans kill one another. It is a mutual faith between our leader and rest of the flock. It is this trio of unity, discipline and faith that enables us to brave harsh weather, sometimes even lack of food on our long journey” remarked the goose.

“Do you know this Unity, Discipline and Faith that you follow along the 4500 km journey, was actually a slogan given by our Founding Father?” I bragged.

All the bird heads turned at me in shock, and after a long silent pause one of them remarked:

“Oh, so you humans have heard of unity, faith and discipline?”

And with that exclamation, all three of them flew up in the sky, in a small V formation, perhaps for their final destination, further east.

As they went out of sight, so did the poignant lesson they had taught me. Why would I learn from pea brained geese?

After all I am the most intelligent species on Earth. Isn’t that what the geese had said in the first place?

Let’s make Health our Commonwealth

First published in AmanKiAsha in TheNews:

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) some time back recommended promoting economic cooperation between India and Pakistan by focusing on information technology (IT), entertainment and healthcare.

Yes, “Healthcare”, I shout.

After all the other two are thriving and will take care of themselves. I remember in the mid-nineties, when my father-in-law, a doctor himself, was diagnosed with a serious medical problem. Frantic tests at various local institutions recommended that he undergo a procedure that wasn’t very commonly performed in Pakistan. He was all set to go to the west which required large expenses.

It was then that my awareness about a particular institution in India, where I had grown up and attended medical college, came in handy. I persuaded him to get examined there. We went to New Delhi, and he returned to Pakistan treated at one tenth of the cost it would have required in the west. I became an instant ‘doted’ upon daughter-in-law in his eyes. All his initial reservations about his son marrying an Indian disappeared overnight.

The true potential of medical cooperation between the two countries was dramatically highlighted when Noor Fatima, a two-and-a-half year old baby girl, went to Bangalore by the Lahore-Delhi bus in 2003. In fact, the bus service was resumed in part to allow her to make the journey. She was literally given a red carpet at the hospital as well as by the media.

Just a few days ago there was news of a 10 month old baby being taken from as far away as Qila Abdullah near Chaman in Balochistan to Bangalore, India for a heart surgery, a free treatment thanks to the joint efforts of Rotary India Humanity Foundation (RIHF) and Rotary Pakistan with Aman ki Asha, the peace initiative of the Jang Group of Pakistan and the Times of India Group. It is heartening to know that thanks to this rightly named ‘Heart to Heart’ initiative, now over 60 Indian and Pakistani children from poor families have been able to undergo life-saving heart surgeries in India.

As this people-to-people interaction in health, as in other fields, goes on, it is clear that no animosity or cold temperatures at the top level can freeze the warm relations between the ordinary Pakistanis and Indians. Our common heritage, common interests and above all a concern for each other will never dampen this warmth.

However, there is a dire need to extend this at a wider and higher level. The recent statements from the Indian and Pakistani business communities could well be the trigger. The top levels of the corridors of power need to formulate policy along these lines to bring a real impact at community level.
With reports about a case of Polio being found recently at Wagah, Pakistan, it becomes essential for strong policy decisions to be made at the top level, trickling down to the masses, to combat the spread of such crippling diseases.

India and Pakistan are among the four countries of the world where Polio is endemic. Our proximity will not enable either to achieve the ambitious plan of making Polio extinct, without mutual cooperation.

Looking at both countries from the UN lens, India and Pakistan are both termed ‘out of track’ when it comes to achieving the 2015 target for the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 – the reduction of infant mortality. With a 1.4 billion population in the region, this means millions of children and babies are at risk. Failing to achieve an optimal Infant Mortality Rate will mean that a gigantic number of children being deprived of the opportunity to survive. Does that not warrant a joint concerted effort for both countries to come ‘on track’?

Similarly, in the MDG 5, the reduction of the Maternal Mortality Rate, again, both the countries are unlikely to meet the target in 2015. India has done better, but in both countries, far too many women die during childbirth. We certainly have great room for cooperation in this field too, as overpopulation, women’s illiteracy, and violence against women are among the common problems that both countries face. Isn’t it common sense to share information and experiences and work together to eradicate these problems?

MDG 6 deals with the Infectious diseases, like Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV. India has done a good job in stabilising HIV, bringing down the prevalence rate from 0.36% in 2006 to 0.31% in 2009 (UNAIDS Global report on HIV/AIDS, 2010). In Pakistan the HIV/AIDS prevalence is low among the general population (<0.05%), but according to UN reports, it is increasing rapidly in high risk groups. The UN categorises Pakistan as a high risk country for the spread of HIV/AIDS. (

Doesn’t it make sense for Pakistanis dealing with HIV/AIDS control to learn from India’s experience? Isn’t prevention better than cure?

Malaria is still a problem that both countries have not been able to tackle. According to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, a third of the world’s countries will manage to eliminate Malaria, but adds that “the future in the South Asia region isn’t bright.”

India battles with a heavy burden of Malaria. Pakistan too has almost half a million cases of Malaria each year. A common problem with a common purpose of defeating it could help the region also realise the dream of being Malaria free. After all, countries closer to home like the Maldives have managed to do that, and Sri Lanka is considered close to eliminating the menace.

The mid-2000s saw Dengue epidemics in the Indian cities of Delhi and others in northern India. Today, Lahore and others in Pakistan are battling with it. It was a proud moment for the region when expertise from Sri Lanka and medicines from India helped Pakistan to combat the illness.

We have no choice but to combat such problems through joint efforts. The border security guards can check humans for visa, but mosquitoes are above such restrictions.

But besides the recent Dengue cooperation, there has hardly been any cooperation in the field of health at the top policy-making level. The only other cooperation worth a mention is the Polio drops being given to under-fives at Wagah border, and the fumigation of the Samjhota Express against the H1N1 flu virus.

Such small examples of cooperation are nothing compared to the gigantic cooperation that takes place in the field of entertainment. It is much more critical to come together on the immensely more serious issue of health. The stalwarts in this field must emulate the entertainment sector towards substantial cooperation.

We have a common geography, ecology, genetics, cultural practices and health problems. I am sure we can find common solutions too, that will save both countries much valuable time and money. United in health we shall stand, divided we shall fall with illnesses.

Dr Ilmana Fasih is an Indian gynaecologist and health activist married to a Pakistani. Blog: Blind to Bounds

Other children who have also been given a second chance through AKA-Rotary’s Heart to Heart initiative

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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