As the war in Afghanistan continues, 90.3 WCPN News is trying to remember the thousands of lives impacted by conflict in regions that may seem far away, but are close to the hearts of many Americans whose homelands are in South Asia. While we realize that one person cannot speak for a nation, we spoke to representatives of Pakistani and Indian Americans living in our region. 90.3 WCPN's Janet Babin begins by attending a festival of light celebrated in India.
Janet Babin- The week before Thanksgiving, while families were preparing for an upcoming holiday feast, many Indian Americans in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere were already celebrating. At a dinner in Solon, about 48 Hindu families gathered together to commemorate Devali, a festival of light, which is a symbol of knowledge. The party includes singing, dancing and a traditional meal.
This is dal, this is steamed rice, nan, raita, and panir, a sweet peas with Indian sause...
Like most celebrations, children played a prominent role, here singing the prayers of the festival.
Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
The dinner was followed by gift giving, and sparklers and firecrackers, lit outside.
Many Americans say this holiday season will be more subdued, and so too, in a way, is the Solon Divali dinner. Despite the party atmosphere, many Indian Americans were eager to discuss the war in Afghanistan and its impact on nearby India. Shashi Joshi organized the festival. He says Americans with ties to India are concerned about the new friendly relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, India's longtime rival
Shashi Joshi- And the West knows this: the Taliban is a product of Pakistan, so it is known that iron gets iron, but… without losing the festive mood, all is fair in love and war is not always true.
JB- Professor Ramesh Rao (Ph.D) of Truman State University in Missouri visited Cleveland on Thanksgiving to talk about Indo-U.S. relations. Rowe says he understands that the U.S. needs Pakistan as an ally in order to fight Osama Bin Laden, but he can't condone what he calls the "chumminess" of the new friendship.
Ramesh Rao- The chummy relationship is ignoring Pakistan's long term relationship supporting terrorism, in making Pakistan the home for breeding terrorism.
JB- India and Pakistan have been enemies since the two countries were created in 1947, after the British relinquished control of India. A few months after the delineation lines were drawn, war broke out between the two countries, with the largest contention over the Kashmir region. The Pakistanis argue it should belong to them, while India's government claims control. War broke out between India and Pakistan in 1965, 1971, 1999 and again last month. Both sides have nuclear capabilities.
Former Ohio Governor Dick Celeste was Ambassador to India during part of the Clinton Administration.
Dick Celeste- It's really a relationship between two brothers - as the former Indian Prime Minister puts it, born of the same womb.
JB- Pakistani American Kesser Imam agrees with Celeste's assessment. Imam lives in University Heights with his wife and two children. He grew up in Lo-whore Pakistan, about 30 miles from the disputed border lines with India.
Kesser Imam- When you grow up in Pakistan you hear enough stories that makes you believe that the two countries will be enemies for the rest of your lives.
JB- Iman says his fundamental beliefs about India and its people changed when he came to the U.S. in 1987 to attend college. There, he met other Indians, and befriended several that he's still in contact with now. To his surprise, Imam found lots of similarities between the two cultures, despite the religious differences.
KI- As people, when we interact these differences disappear and you're back to just human beings talking and reminiscing.
JB- While he's torn by the U.S. war with Afghanistan, Imam says most Pakistanis he knows understand that the thugs responsible for the September 11th attacks must be stopped. But he wishes Americans, and Indians, could understand that Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place.
KI- We'll get crushed or regardless of which side we take. We're going to have to face the consequences, so if we side with the U.S., we're going to hear in from the Afghans and others who've blended into our society and we don't know what they'll do, and if we side with the Taliban we face consequences from the rest of the world.
JB- Since September 11th, Pakistan, once one of the only countries to recognize the Taliban as a government, has sided with the U.S. to help fight them. Earlier this month, the impoverished country received a $600 million foreign aid package from Washington.
Congressman Sherrod Brown of Medina is on the House International Relations Committee. He says that while there hasn't been a huge influx of Pakistanis and Indians to Northeast Ohio, the numbers are growing, and the natives usually become prominent leaders of the community. For example, Brown says that one in six physicians in Ohio is an Indian American. The Democrat says he's been to India several times and is wary of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, if it's at the expense of an alliance with the world's largest democracy.
Sherrod Brown- We've practiced foreign policy especially during the cold war as the enemy of our enemy is our friend and because Pakistan was the enemy of the Soviet Union, we have lost out.
JB- Congressman Brown says India needs to be more important in terms of U.S. foreign strategic interests in South Asia.
While Indo-Americans remain suspicious of America's friendly relationship with Pakistan, Ambassador Celeste says ironically the arrangement will most likely end up also improving relations between India and Pakistan, something Indians should welcome.
DC- It will in the end improve Indo-Pakistani relations, not because that is the intent of removing (terrorist training) camps, but because that will be the result.
JB- Early next year, leaders from India and Pakistan are slated to attend a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Katmandu, to hopefully find a resolution of their differences over the disputed territories of the Kashmir region, ending the tense standoff between the two countries that's become part of their history. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN News.