Many coincidences happen in human history and relationships across time and space which provoke the analyst to put the happenings in perspective. The recent case of Khalil Chisty brings to mind such coincidences not only in context of India-Pakistan relations but also in the relations in the subcontinent across religious divides. Khalil Chisty, a Pakistani citizen remained behind bars in a city called Ajmer, which in reality is famous for another Chisty, the world renowned Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisty, equally revered by Muslims and Hindus across the world. That the Pakistani citizen was accosted in the Indian city of Ajmer, the place also chosen by the Sufi saint to be his last abode is another striking coincidence. From an eclectic perspective, these coincidences point to better prospects of India-Pakistan relations. Only last month, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari made religious pilgrimage to this city, and appealed the Indian government to take a humanitarian approach to 82 year old Khalil Chisty. And as reports suggest, Zardari is sending his presidential plane to lift his compatriot from New Delhi to Karachi.
As it is argued correctly that any step towards peace, however small, must be applauded and consolidated in India-Pakistan relations. In this peace process, the exchange of prisoners on humanitarian ground has gained increasing currency in recent years. There are many occasions when prisoners are exchanged at Wagah border in Punjab. This exchange of prisoners is considered not only a humanitarian gesture but also a peace building mechanism as it helps building trust between the two countries and between peoples of both the countries. In this peace process civil society and human rights activists play a positive role. Khalil Chisty was supported in his efforts to visit to his family in Karachi by civil society organizations like People’s Union for Civil Liberty. In a similar case, Sarabjit Singh, who is languishing in Lahore jail since last 22 years is supported by human rights activists like Ansar Burney in Pakistan. It is expected that the granting of five month bail to Khalil by Supreme Court of India will have a positive impact on the case of Sarabjit Singh.
The people of South Asia including the people of India and Pakistan share many cultural commons since centuries; it is relatively a recent phenomenon that fissures have occurred on the basis of religion. The Sufi saints like Kabir, Moinuddin Chisty, Haji Ali, Haji Rattan and a host others played the role of cultural bridge among people of diverse religions. In this context, the shrine of Moinuddin Chisty at Ajmer plays a crucial role. Visited by Hindus and Muslims alike, the Sufi shrine stands as a symbol of religious harmony. People throng to the shrine and ask for boons and pray to the holy spirit of Chisty so that their desires can be fulfilled. While the release of Khalil Chisty on bail invoked the spirit of Khwaja Chisty, it also reminded that all good will between India and Pakistan have not died down yet, and there is a strong prospect of resolution of contentious issues through peaceful means. While leaving Ajmer for New Delhi to get clearance for his visit, Khalil was full of praise for the spirit of the place as well as Indian people. To quote him, “I thank the Supreme Court of India for this moment which is a miracle in my life. It’s the grace of Almighty and blessings of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisty.”
It happened that Khalil had visited his ailing mother in 1992 in Ajmer, and also to attend some social functions. But what started as a family reunion actually ended in a brutal murder, leading to the arrest of Khalil. The local court found Khalil guilty, which Khalil appealed in higher court. The case, as other cases in Indian judicial system, dragged on for years in fact for more than twenty years, without any sight of resolution of the case. Finally, Khalil appealed to the Supreme Court of India for bail so that he can visit his family in Pakistan. The Supreme Court granted him bail on 9th of May for five months till November 1, 2012. Expressing confidence at the higher Indian judiciary Khalil exuded confidence that he will be exonerated from all the charges labelled against him, and proved in the lower court.
What appears striking, and also reflecting the spirit of Khwaja Chisti, is that Khalil has made it a point to visit the Indian citizen Sarabjit Singh in Pakistani jail. Sarabjit is accused of being an Indian spy and behind many bomb blasts in Pakistan killing innocent lives, which he denies. He has been awarded death sentence by Pakistani court. After the granting of bail to Khalil, the demand of Sarabjit’s release too has increased recently. M. Katju, the Chairperson of Press Council of India has demanded that Sarabjit must be released on humanitarian grounds. He argued, “At any event, 21 years in death row with a Damocles’ sword hanging over one’s head is enough to drive anyone mad. Is this punishment (even assuming he was guilty) not enough?” The Khalil case may guide the fate of Sarabjit. Whatever may be the outcome of the demand, the decision of Khalil to meet Sarabjit in Lahore is not only a gesture in humanity and friendship, but also a reflection of peace capital that is increasing in recent years, and cultivated more by civil society group away from the state manoeuvres.
The fact remains that even today mistrust overweighs trust in India-Pakistan relations. In general a Pakistani citizen, however well meaning, will be viewed with mistrust in India, and similarly an Indian citizen will be viewed with mistrust in Pakistan. The decades of rigid official policies have contributed to this mistrust factor. While common people think in terms of friendship and cooperation, the official apparatus harps on so called realistic paradigms which on ground proves neither realistic nor successful so far. The political nature of mistrust in India-Pakistan relations so far dominates the socio-economic and cultural aspects of bilateral relations. A logical question can be raised: If Zardari can visit Ajmer to visit the shrine of Sufi Saint Khwaja Chisty and goes to New Delhi to raise the issue of Khalil Chisty, why cannot this spirit of harmony and friendship pervade all aspects of relationship between the two countries? Why cannot all prisoners, particularly the aged ones, in both the countries languishing in prison for decades be released on humanitarian grounds? Why cannot the spirit of forgiveness and kindness pervade the foreign policy mechanisms of both the countries, so that mindless death and destruction can be stopped? Perhaps it is time to cultivate more the teachings and spirit of Khawaja Moinuddin Chisty, which can show the way for peace, stability and development in the region.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is associated with Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, Central University of Punjab, India.
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