Accessibility links

Indian, Pakistani Migrants in US Closely Watch Tensions in South Asia - 2002-01-04

The latest tensions between India and Pakistan are being watched closely not only by the millions of people in South Asia, but also by Indian and Pakistani immigrants in the United States. In Chicago, several thousand people from the two countries live and work side-by-side in one neighborhood on the city's North Side. Opinions about the tensions can vary from shop to shop.

Devon Avenue in Chicago is the center of the area's South Asian commerce and culture. Pakistani and Indian restaurants, grocery and clothing stores line several blocks of the street. And while many residents say they consider themselves Americans, they can be passionate about events in their native countries.

Behind the checkout counter at the Awami Bazar Grocery Store, Mohammad Abbasi says he does not think Pakistan had anything to do with the December 13 terrorist attack on India's parliament, which triggered the newest dispute between the countries. "[The] Indian parliament, they are always trying to create dramatic things," he says. "They lie. Everything is lie. We do not believe what they are saying."

But across the street at the Videotron Video Store, Mayur Ganger says he believes the attackers were from Pakistan. He thinks they might have been Taleban sympathizers trying to divert attention away from Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and toward its border with India. "That reason has been used to get the attention of America away from Afghanistan that is how I feel so that the [Pakistan-Afghanistan] border can be cleared out, and all of the [Taleban] can just escape out of there again," he says. "That is what is going on."

One thing most people in the neighborhood agree on is that the two countries should find a way to resolve this dispute peacefully. They say they are encouraged that the war rhetoric coming from both sides has been toned down in recent days.

Carpet store owner Balvinder Singh says the fact that both countries now have nuclear weapons makes avoiding war more important than ever. "I was watching Indian TV and they are showing all of these missiles, India has a base in Rajastan and they only have to press one button and they will destroy all of Pakistan," he says.

Mr. Singh is an Indian immigrant who says he is pleased the United States and Great Britain have been trying to ease tensions between India and Pakistan.

In his video store, Pakistani immigrant Naseem Sarwar says he is disappointed that both countries have nuclear weapons. He says Pakistan is too small a country for India to have needed to develop the weapons in the first place, but now Pakistan needs them for protection, while the people of both countries pay the price. "India, instead of making nuclear bombs and military hardware, put that money to resolving your hunger over there. Let us work on our hunger, too," he says.

Mr. Sarwar says a military conflict between the two countries could change the South Asian political map. "If India attacks, India will break into pieces, too. It will not remain as a unit," he says. "I think that way. I calculate that way. There is no way India will stay one."

And back at the Videotron shop, Mayur Ganger says incidents like the December 13th attack on India's parliament will probably continue. "This is never going to end. There are so many religious groups involved in this one," he says. "It is just going to go on and on until a war is fought."

But he does not think that war will be fought this time.