If US and Cuba can do it, can Pakistan and India make peace with history?

Published: March 26, 2016
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This chapter of his administration will be remembered with appreciation for he is the one who finally broke a seemingly never-ending impasse. PHOTO: REUTERS

“I know the history, but refuse to be trapped by it,” so said President Obama on his epically momentous trip to Cuba – the first by a sitting US president since 1928. Leaving behind Republican rhetoric, hate speech and fear-mongering, for two and a half days Obama managed to block the noise, break protocol and made an overarching effort to mend fences with the old enemy by walking the streets of Havana, addressing the people of Cuba and indulging in baseball diplomacy.

This journey was long overdue, one that was destined to wash away bitter memories and intense rivalry between the two nations. It proved that if there is a will, there is a way and with charisma, courage and true leadership, it’s not impossible to take the proverbial leap of faith and create circumstances that pave the way for the establishment of peace.

Obama has come under tremendous fire from naysayers and antagonists for cozying up to Cuba. But then ‘hater’s gonna’ (always) hate’. Who cares about them anyway?

The president ‘shake’s it off’ and moves on, a strategy that has worked wonders in the realm of peace making. Case in hand is the Iran nuclear deal – an arduous tribulation that took years to materialise and till date has encountered tough opposition from all and sundry. He didn’t budge and achieved exactly what he wanted; assurance from the Ayatollahs that they won’t mess around with nukes anymore.

So far the policy has proven to be a success.

Obama may be a failure on a number of fronts – Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan included – but he has made an impact on international politics that has been far-reaching enough to leave a legacy that no conservative or a right-wing nut can even dream of undoing. He has justified, to a certain extent, the surprise Nobel Prize that was literally dumped on him in the early years of his presidency!

Obama’s Cuban expedition critics see the thawing of affairs as an overture to economically ‘colonise’ the island nation. Whereas it is true that American investment is trickling in, the president has assured the Cubans that it is not the US’ intention to subjugate or arm-twist their country into an economically compromising situation.

While the scars of decades gone by can’t really go away in a matter of a couple of days of warmth and nostalgic scenes of joy and fears will continue to linger on until a prolonged phase of peace ensues, Obama’s ‘future of hope’ message will relieve an incredible amount of unwanted, residual Cold War stress and potentially lead to a certain level of cordiality so necessary to conduct intra-country business.

Reservations, old grievances and human rights abuses aside, there is a definite urge to improve and cooperate effectively on part of the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, that’ll essentially guide the course of future US-Cuba relations and orchestrate the ‘opening up’ of the country to things that matter in today’s global dynamics.

Education and awareness about the outside world is important and while Cubans may be a tad behind the rest of the pack, the good news is that tech giants like Google have already expressed interest in investing and lending a helping hand in bringing Cuba up to speed with changing times.

In the same vein, a process of wider reforms is expected to set in.

Once the US embargo is lifted, the Castro regime will no longer have an excuse to not introduce the much-needed adjustments that can bring Cuba in harmony with the current environment. One has witnessed tons of fire in the belly on the part of the Cubans to embrace change and be excited about making peace with the US.

Once all the channels of communication, trade and commerce gain traction, there won’t be any looking back. This is a nation that is ready to fast-forward to modernisation. Communism or no communism, Cubans have their foot on the pedal and it’s all systems go time! Goodbye revolution and hello evolution!

One is optimistic that Obama’s ‘engagement not isolation’ policy will bear fruit in Cuba. This chapter of his administration will be remembered with appreciation for he is the one who finally broke a seemingly never-ending impasse. There are plenty of hurdles still to overcome. However, this first step will set the tone for the future good times to roll in for one thing is certain – there’s no dearth of people-to-people love and affection.

Cuba may be a minor US foreign policy irritant, but for doing what Obama has done, he’s had to fight RepublicansCongress and even sceptics in his own party. He’s accomplished this onerous task by taking ownership, overseeing the peace process and showing in no uncertain terms that US-Cuba history may be sketchy but there’s no need to be a slave of the sorrowful past.

One cannot help but feel compelled to take a moment to reflect on a similar situation in South Asia and wonder if there is a leader of substance in the region who can get the people of India and Pakistan together. One who can take initiative to create circumstances that are favourable for long-lasting peace and pull the two nations out of deep, depressive morass of conflict?

Is there anyone to lead the change in the sub-continent?

Can the talk of missile development and nuclear proliferation give way to talk of human development?

Can the job of building confidence begin and the history of mistrust and suspicion come to an end?

Can poets speak of peace?

Can merchants and traders of business interact and goods flow freely between markets?

Most importantly, can children live, without fear and rancour, united in hope, speaking the common language of people at peace with themselves?

Is there anyone in over a billion-strong population to undertake the cause of creating peace and delivering the message of reconciliation and harmony?

All I know is that someone has to swallow their pride, fight the odds and leave the past where it belongs as life is what happens today and what’s in store for us tomorrow. As a veteran of the Bay of Pigs, Antonio Zamora, rightly said,

“It’s time to start changing things.”

I don’t claim to be a veteran of anything, but if an almighty power like the US can work with its adversaries to make peace, it’s time India and Pakistan work out their problems and let go of the demons of the past, or, as my Latino friends often say, vive y deja vivir (live and let live).

Will Pakistan and India ever have peaceful relations?

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Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

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