India-Pakistan Ties: Javed Akhtar's Remarks Must Spark Reflection, Not Divide

His comment on perpetrators of 26/11 attack roaming freely in Pakistan should not be taken in an offensive manner.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Javed Akhtar is an institution of the Mumbai film industry. Along with Salim Khan, he wrote screenplays for movies which acquired a cult status in South Asia as a whole in the 1970s.

After his partnership with Salim Khan broke up, he continued to write scripts for the movies but did not confine himself to just doing that for he wrote poetry and lyrics too. His interests go beyond the movies for he takes interest in public issues and has served as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. His fan following is not limited to India but extends beyond its borders including Pakistan.

Recently, Javed Akhtar visited Pakistan. He participated in the Faiz festival in Lahore from where he went to Karachi to take part in the Karachi literary festival.

In response to a question at the former event, Akhtar said, “I can say with total confidence and pride that we have in India done a lot of good work since 1947 till today, but it could have been even better. Today, we are one of the most industrialised countries of the world but it could have been better if the region had been together."

He expressed the view that regions progressed together and gave the example of other regions including Western Europe and North America.

Akhtar’s positive words on India’s material progress since independence to an audience in Lahore have not received attention in the Indian media. They should have for they were made at a time when Pakistan is undergoing multiple crises including in the economic sphere.

Amid Pakistan's Worsening Economic Crisis, Can India Ties Be Strengthened?

Pakistan is looking for succour from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the continuance of its loan facility as well as for assistance from its traditional Arab donors and China.

As no country wants an economic meltdown and consequent social unrest in a country where nuclear weapons assistance has been forthcoming. But unlike in the past, the IMF insisted that Pakistan has to put its economic house in order beginning with the state collecting taxes from the rich even if it has to subsidise the poor.

Pakistan’s all-weather friend China has also agreed to extend a loan of USD 700 million but it did so only after Pakistan agreed to the IMF’s harsh conditions.

Amidst all this, any wise Pakistani should have taken Javed Akhtar’s words on the region progressing together to mean that his/her country’s economy can be put on a sustainable upward trajectory only if sought to integrate itself with the region’s largest economy which is India.

About a year ago, Pakistan’s leading industrialist Mian Mansha had also pleaded with his government to seek to improve economic ties with India even if there were major political issues between the two countries.

However, Mian Mansha’s wise words were ignored and it is doubtful if Akhtar’s vision of countries of a region going ahead collectively will gain any traction in a country whose political class and its powerful establishment have gotten used to doles to keep its economy afloat. Nevertheless, it was good that Akhtar gave a positive message to a Lahore audience about India’s economic progress.


Javed Akhtar's Comments on Music, Terror, Expose Pak Hypocrisy

As far as India is concerned, it has always advocated the development of commercial ties with Pakistan. This is also part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘sabka vikas’ in the region. The only condition his government has laid out is that Pakistan should abandon the use of calibrated terror against India. In this context, Javed Akhtar’s comments at the Karachi Literary festival were apt and have gained media attention in India.

During an interaction, Akhtar said that while the great Pakistani singers the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the late Mehndi Hasan had visited India to give live performances, Lata Mangeshkar was never invited to Pakistan. It was good for Akhtar to say so forthrightly.

The fact is that while Lata Mangeshkar’s music was very popular in Pakistan, that country has always tried to project that it is culturally different from India. And, if Lata Mangeshkar had received an overwhelming response in Pakistan as she would surely have had through her music the Pakistani’s establishment’s constant endeavour to project differences between Indian and Pakistani culture—in music at least—would have received a setback.

What Akhtar told the Karachi audience about the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 was telling and his words obviously came straight from his heart. He said that he was a Mumbai person and the attackers had not come from Norway or Egypt.

The perpetrators of 26/11 were roaming freely in “your country”. Hence, if Indians had a complaint about this, the Pakistanis should not be offended. His words were urbane but his message was hard. His audience heard him in silence though there have been some voices raised in Pakistan against Akhtar’s remarks subsequently.

It is doubtful if the Pakistani authorities will take Akhtar’s words seriously enough to take action against the leaders of the Laskhar-e-Toiba(LeT) who were responsible for the attack. However, the fact that a person like Akhtar who is in no way associated with India’s ruling dispensation did such plain speaking, would have conveyed to a substantial number of Pakistanis who respect him that the wounds of the Mumbai attack have not healed India.

Akhtar should be appreciated both for what he said in Lahore and in Karachi.

(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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