OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India last week, family in tow, was by most standards, an expected political move given the elevated status the world’s largest democracy currently maintains.
For Canada, this visit was about benefitting from the explosive rise of India, and the need to bolster its own international reputation among emerging powers. It did not, as all such diplomatic missions, focus on human rights, political corruption and inequality, all quite common in India. And it certainly did not focus on India’s relations with any of its less-fortunate South Asian neighbours, who live in the constant shadow of this nuclear-armed behemoth that has taken the world by storm.
This latter consideration is one that has important implications for Canada, that is home to not just Indians, but all members of the South Asian diaspora, including Pakistanis, who just happen to be India’s arch rivals.
According to the latest census, there are currently about 700,000 people of Indian origin living in Canada and about 200,000 people of Pakistani origin. Not many Canadians know of the fraught history between the two nations that were, before the British arrived, wholly one.
Since partition from the British Empire in 1947, the two countries subsequently fought three wars, one which led to the creation of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. Ownership of a part of the Kashmir Valley continues to be disputed between the two, with occupying military forces carrying out brutal human rights abuses against civilians that is barely discussed anywhere outside the region. Visa and trade regimes are sketchy at best. “Spies” are routinely captured on each side, as are unsuspecting fishermen who mistakenly stray into territorial waters. Muslims in India are constantly harangued by right-wing Hindu groups, the 2002 Gujarat riots being a watershed moment. Since the Mumbai bombings in November 2008, when members of an Islamic militant group besieged the city, accusations of promoting terrorism have led to new lows between the two countries.
The only thing that binds them together, is Bollywood, though torturously so.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit is yet another reminder to Pakistani-Canadians, that India will always be bigger and better, considering he is unlikely to ever visit Pakistan, with whom trade relations amounted to under a paltry $1-billion in 2016 compared to India’s $8-billion.
Relations between the two diasporas are somewhat more amicable in Canada, as both share common space as immigrants. But as Indian-Canadians take centre stage in politics, society, business and academics, Pakistani-Canadians are still far from being visible, just as Pakistan also struggles to cope with its declining global image. For instance, there are currently about 19 Indian-Canadian MPs and only two Pakistani-Canadian MPs in Parliament. The legacy of our past still haunts us wherever we go, apparently.
Ultimately, the now seemingly misguided visit, did not yield the economic windfall that Canada had hoped for, haunted by the prime minister’s snub by India’s “rock star” India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusations of supporting Sikh separatists, not to mention the Trudeau family’s picture-perfect wardrobe disasters.
What someone should have told the prime minister, was that courting India is more about just trying to blend in with the locals. India, like China, is in a unique position to choose its partners and has formidable control over the regional political narrative. From a Pakistani-Canadian perspective, peace and prosperity in the region depends largely on India’s relations with its neighbours, including Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka who have also had their share of ups and downs with their powerful neighbour. Ignoring this reality, especially when two countries are perpetually at the brink of war, may lead to only limited economic gains in the short-term for Canada.
Engagement with the Pakistani diaspora in Canada is perhaps a first step in understanding the opposing view of this narrative, which is imperative to broker peace between the two nations, something which ironically, both Indian’s and Pakistani’s are eager to witness.
Political history aside, the Pakistani diaspora itself must also take more active steps to positively engage with other South Asian’s in Canada, including Indian-Canadians, to create a level playing field for Canada’s engagement with South Asia as a whole and to have something positive to offer to Pakistan.
Until then, it will have to be content with watching India snub western world leaders and them in turn, snubbing us.
Enter your email address to
register a free account.