By Saad Khan
After terrorism and Islamic militancy, the most common trait attributed to Pakistanis in the Western media is that they hate India and would not hesitate to destroy the world's largest democracy given the opportunity.
This is understandable in that the Pakistani military, which controls security and foreign policy, considers India its archrival. Hatred of India is a core tenet of Pakistan's security establishment, and - partly to divert attention from their illegitimacy - successive military regimes have tried to inculcate this hate in average Pakistanis.
They have not been as successful as Westerners might think. The people of the two countries shared culture and languages before the British divided them. The international borders created two countries but failed to divide their social and cultural values.
Indian movies have played a crucial role in bringing the people of the two countries closer. Indian movies are watched in virtually every Pakistani household, transcending boundaries between rich and poor, liberals and conservatives. Even Pakistani military men are fond of the flicks and their dance sequences, as one mid-ranking officer told me.
Pakistani music, on the other hand, is deeply popular in India. The Indian film industry, known as Bollywood, dominates most aspects of Indian entertainment, leaving little room for independent popular music. This gap has been filled by Pakistani musicians.
Because of the massive population of India, most successful Pakistani singers enjoy greater sales in India than in Pakistan. Pakistani musicians regularly visit India in periods of better relations between the countries, performing for crowds of tens of thousands in Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai.
The people of both countries benefited from a warming of relations in 2003. Relaxed visa policies helped them interact and counter negative perceptions fed by the media and military establishments. The Pakistani government also allowed screenings of Indian movies, previously available only in pirated videos.
All this changed when terrorists attacked Mumbai in 2008, effectively sabotaging the peace process and jeopardizing people-to-people contacts. It's now established fact that the terrorists were Pakistanis trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned extremist group based in Pakistan's Punjab region. India is accusing Pakistan of failing to act against the perpetrators; it's assumed that some of these outfits are supported by Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI.
However, despite the recent souring of intergovernmental relations, regular people in India and Pakistan are still interacting. Pakistani pop singers continue to enjoy strong sales in India, though they can't visit in person due to visa restrictions. And Indian movies are still playing in Pakistani cinemas and doing a roaring business.
I recently raised the subject of Indian-Pakistani relations with a retired Pakistani army colonel who had served in two conflicts between the countries. He had no kind words for India, and he frowned upon Pakistanis' watching Bollywood movies while Indians are killing Muslims in Kashmir. He was also in favor of ISI's support of Islamic militants in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
But at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad's largest public university, almost all the students I talked to supported increased contacts and peace talks with India. The same was true of the people I spoke with in a bustling bazaar in Rawalpindi, Islamabad's twin city and the headquarters of the Pakistani army. An old store owner's view was: "Give peace a chance, and let people from both countries interact freely with each other."
The Pakistani military establishment is not ready to accept the two nations' cultural, historic, and geographical affinities. But there is at least one hope in the darkest of times: Most Pakistanis don't support the extremism of the Pakistani military, and they do not hate Indians.