Khaab Khayaal Saraab

Thursday, May 01, 2003

On "South Asia"

Here are a few points from the point of view of a Pakistani who works with at least one organization with the phrase "South Asia" in the name; almost a chronology of my experiences with that prh

* Before I started working with an organization called "Friends of South Asia", I was myself *always* suspicious of most things with the phrase "South Asia" in their name; they almost invariably turned out to be Indian organizations either with ulterior motives, or with good intentions but 100% Indian membership and therefore no chance of gaining a truly South Asia-wide perspective.

* The reason we picked "Friends of South Asia" (FOSA) for the name of the organization was that we wanted to protest war drums from the point of view of war being bad for the whole of the region. And the phrase "South Asia" was one with the way to describe which had the least baggage. The rather small group i was working with at that point was almost 100% Pakistani in citizenship.
* We promptly found *another* group of people pursuing almost identical aims and activities and who had hit upon the same name (who'da thunk it!) but which was--to give them credit--Indian-heavy, but not purely Indian. We merged to form an organization that has lots of different voices from across India and Pakistan. (We are working on the rest of South Asia--see next point but one.) The interchange has been wonderful for all of us. You can follow up at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org

* The position I bring to the table in FOSA is this: "I am a pretty nationalist Pakistani/Jinnahite/ who *wants* to work with Indians for the betterment of all our people. We have enough commonalities and common problems (like a nuclear arsenal primed to wipe us all out) for it to be useful. We have a bunch of countries in our region. Had history been different, we might have ended up with one country between the Shomali Plains and Arunachal and between Kashmir and Kanyakumari or we could have ended up with ... how many are there in Europe? Either way, our problems would have remained. Nation-states area fact of life--and in the really long term, they change borders; or people move. Let's talk about how to make a better life for our people."

* One thing I myself am constantly on the look out for within FOSA is to make sure that we had enough of a cross-section of the variety of "voices" within South Asia to make it truly respresentative and live up to our name. For example, for a long while we did not have any active Indian Muslims. The Indian Muslim world view--and I am talking about one that represents views and attitudes held by the mainstream of the 130-150 million people of othat description; not the "voice" of say APJ Abdul Kalam, or, to be frank Umair Muhajir--is *very* different from that of an ethnic Hindu Indian, or a Progressive Indian or Pakistani, or a mainstream Pakistani.