It has been 64 years of ‘idhar hum, udhar tum’ with our neighbour India. The frenzy of communal intolerance and hatred should have died out with time after Pakistan was established. There is a second and third generation in place in both countries who have not known any other identity, except that of being either an Indian or Pakistani. Despite that, we have continued to give preference to security over welfare, which has for obvious reasons, not been in the best interest of the citizens of both countries. Common Indians and Pakistanis chafe at the bit for remaining hemmed in by poverty in the new century and would like to take their rightful place in the comity of rapidly developing countries.

This can only happen if national interest in both countries is redefined. The hate-spewing elements on both sides have to be reined in by those who want to move forward in progress and peace, and whose numbers outnumber the ones who promote animosities. The move to liberalise trade with India by the government is a major development in this regard. The Foreign Minister has been at lengths to explain that pushing for more trade does not mean sacrificing of the Kashmir cause. If we try the road less travelled of doing business with India, it may also lead to the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Even after the passage of so many years, it really rankles to hear some of the old guard, whose policies have yielded nothing but disaster, say things like ‘this is the right moment to put pressure on India and we should never give them the MFN status’. The ‘Most Favoured Nation’ title is misleading because while in actual it signifies only a non-discriminatory trade regime, it appears to mean that the country having it will have a special prized position. There is a need for educating the public on the difference.

The road less travelled has to be tried out in so many other areas as well. The Iran gas pipeline project for one. Iran and Pakistan are two countries which ‘bedevil, befuddle, provoke and frighten the United States’ to quote an American, but who have to decide what works best for them and the region. Similarly, we have to revisit all the policies that have not yielded the desired results that they were supposed to and in actual fact have made Pakistan out to be the bad boy of the world, uncaring and unmindful of the long-term consequences of its actions. Now that we have achieved the nuclear power status, and you cannot get better than that in deterrence, we need to devote our resources to the people of this country. When the people are well cared for, no power can influence, divide or walk over them, which is more of a worthwhile goal compared to amassing arms and ammunition.

The Mehrangate case, being heard after a decade, by the Supreme Court also brings into focus that the Pakistan of today has travelled quite a distance from where it was 10 years ago. While it was, more or less, acceptable to play games with politics and assure desired results in elections by having strings pulled by agencies and so on then, it is another time and place now. The judiciary is no longer so pliable, access to information and free media makes secret deals difficult and there is much less tolerance of tampering with the Constitution. We are clearly headed in the right direction because 10 years ago everything was doable under the guise of ‘national interest’ or the ‘doctrine of necessity’. Our mainstream politics and politicians too have, like the Virginia Slims ad, come a long way since then with most of them having atoned for their sins and having learnt some lessons, hopefully.

Postscript: All the last week has been about two Pakistani women. One to be extremely proud of, and the other to be ashamed of with an equal amount of feeling. Almost like from one end of the pendulum to another. The young lady, who made Pakistanis joyous the world over was Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and who showed the talented, educated and resilient face of Pakistan and spoke so well when receiving the first-ever Oscar won by a Pakistani. I loved Jemima Khan’s tweet on the occasion – “told you, told you, told you, it is going to be Pakistan’s year!” Sharmeen was dignified and beautiful as was Dr Jawad, the Pakistani plastic surgeon, who is central to the documentary.

The other end of the pendulum was Waheeda Shah, PPP MPA elect, who was caught on camera slapping a couple of teachers handling the vote count at one of the polling booths in her area. Her act is symbolic of all that is wrong with our political elite and the culture of power. Whatever may have provoked her; this is certainly not acceptable behaviour from somebody we are about to place as a lawmaker. It was a never-ending saga because after the hue and cry raised on her action, Waheeda Shah went on to have a press conference with the insulted teacher sitting in complete purdah with face also covered to say that all was now hunky-dory and forgiven and forgotten between them. What pressure the slapped woman came under to do this or even whether it was actually the abused woman or not (because nobody could see her to identify her, despite the fact that she was not face covered on the Election Day), we will never know. What is reassuring is, however, that the Supreme Court has taken suo moto notice and will decide whether the lady in question can retain her newly won seat or not. I do hope they take the road less travelled and do justice to the women, who were at the receiving end of the boorish behaviour.

The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.