‘Subedars’ and ‘Saudagars’ of peace


The security complex is calling the shots in New Delhi

Pak-India relations have been a victim of history owing to the wars that they have fought and the inability to solve the outstanding issues. There is a feeling in a section of the populations of both the countries that this relationship will not improve, at least in the foreseeable future, if left entirely at the discretion of the rulers of the two states. About two decades ago, a few intellectuals in both the countries led by Dr Mubashir Hasan and Kuldeep Nayar thought that there was a strong possibility to significantly improve relations if people-to-people contact was established and thus started several initiatives such as the India-Pakistan Friendship Initiative (1987), India-Pakistan Neemrana Initiative (1991), the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIFPD, 1994), ‘Aman ki Asha’, etc. Such efforts did affect the thinking of the rulers to a little extent because we did hear the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talk about “having breakfast at Amritsar, lunch at Lahore and dinner at Kabul.”

Due to these well-wishers of peace, there has been a suggestion about opening the branches of some Pakistani banks in India as well as the opening of new land routes for trade across the borders because according to a former IMF official, there is a potential of fifty billion dollars of annual bilateral trade. To encash this potential, there exist powerful interest groups among business and industrial communities that lobby for maximum relaxations in the movement of goods and people across the borders. At the same time, there is a strong group that is opposed to the proposed relaxations. An Indian columnist Amitabh Matto as quoted in the book entitled “Indo-Pak People-to-People Contact” has tried to categorise these interest groups in the context of India. Those who want open borders for trade and business are “Saudagars” and those who oppose are termed “Subedars.”

The “Subedars” actually represent the strategic community in India that loosely consists of retired civil and military bureaucrats, scientists in the nuclear and defence establishments, defence correspondents and right-wing politicians, who advocate a militaristic approach towards Pakistan by arguing that any engagement with Pakistan is not only pointless but also detrimental to the national interests of India. The authors of the “Indo-Pak People-to-People Contact” have pointed out that this strategic community is a subset of India’s military-security complex which is paranoid about Pakistan.

It is the personnel manning this security complex that call the shots when it comes to dealings with Pakistan. A few examples may illustrate this point. Manmohan Singh’s efforts to engage Pakistan were dubbed as “appeasement”. When Manmohan spoke of India’s “shared destiny” with Pakistan, his National Security Adviser MK Narayanan replied, “You have a shared destiny, we don’t.” This quotation is a part of the cable sent by the US ambassador in India and made public by Wikileaks. At the end of the cable, the ambassador states “that PM Singh is more isolated than we thought within his own circle in his effort to ‘trust and verify’ and pursue talks with Pakistan.”

A big impediment in the people-to-people contact is the Indian deep state. While on a visit to Karachi in 2012, the Indian spiritual thinker Sri Ravi Shankar not only made a subtle comment that “I wish that ‘piyar’ (love) also arrived with ‘piyaz’ (onions) from India” (a remark on the growing trade) but also startled his audience by revealing that the top Indian intelligence officials had tried to stop him from going to Pakistan. Equally obstructionist are the Indian bureaucrats running the ministries of Home and External affairs. The warming up of relations between the chief ministers of the Indian and Pakistani Punjab in 2007 caused heartburning among many in New Delhi. An Indian columnist admitted in the March 2007 issue of Himal Magazine that “It is known that the New Delhi bureaucracy has been uneasy with the Punjab state Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s contacts with his counterpart from Punjab province in Lahore.”

While tens of thousands were issued visas to travel between the two countries from 2004 to 2007; a significant drop occurred after the Mumbai attacks. For the year 2010, it is estimated that about eighty percent of the visa applications of the Pakistani businessmen were rejected by India whereas the Pakistani authorities turned down only eight percent of the Indian applicants that year.

The Indian military-security complex gets strong political support from its right-wing political parties. Two instances will highlight their anti-Pakistan mindset. One was the expulsion of India’s former finance and foreign minister Jaswant Singh from his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when he wrote in his book on Jinnah that “India has demonised Mohammad Ali Jinnah …. Gandhi and Jinnah were really contemporaries … and Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian.” Two, a Shiv Sena rabble-rouser Sanjay Nirupam won the applause of the audience in the “Question Time-India” programme on BBC World when he demanded that “India must send suicide bombers to kill Pakistani citizens randomly”. One can understand such nonsense from a rabid extremist but the more alarming is the applause that he received from the educated urban Indian middle class audience.

At the moment, the “Subedars” have the upper hand over the “Saudagars”. The people-to-people contact envisaged as a mean to end hostility and improve peaceful relations between the two estranged neighbours is firmly in the control of the “Subedars”. These people-to-people contacts increased, as they did after 2004 in the fields of media, film, etc, but only because these were either blessed or sponsored by the two states and got reduced to almost nothing after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The potential for increase in this phenomenon is very much there but with the coming of the right-wing BJP government under Narendra Modi in India, its scope stands diminished in the next few years.