The Pakistan-India imbroglio

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    Strengthening and expanding the commonality of stakes is the way forward

    The visit of the Indian foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to Pakistan after an excruciatingly long wait, though variously described, has been broadly welcomed as the melting of ice between the two countries. The visit has come after the break-down of the scheduled composite dialogue contact in New Delhi had been called off by the Indian government following a meeting between the Pakistani high commissioner and the Kashmiri leaders.

    The parleys between the two foreign secretaries in Islamabad, as generally expected, zeroed in on the oft-stated positions. The Pakistan side put across its reservations about the alleged Indian involvement in fomenting trouble in Balochistan and the tribal areas as well as the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack. They also expressed the desirability of addressing the Kashmir issue for an early settlement. The Indian side brought up their concerns regarding the cross-border terrorism and the slow progress towards the prosecution of those alleged for the Mumbai attack. The increased unrest along the line of control and the working boundary was also discussed. The talks also focused on trying to narrow down the differences between the two countries and find common ground to move forward.

    This prospect of peace is not just an inanimate preposition concerning the two geographical entities called Pakistan and India. More appropriately, it is about the fate of over 1.5 billion people who inhabit the larger South-Asian region that also houses the two neighbours. They are the unfortunate people who have languished in the realm of utter deprivation for over six decades now and who see little hope by way of lighting up their path to realising their true potential and enhancing the prospects for their coming generations

    The prospect of peace between the two neighbours has been like a dream that has remained shy of daylight. Every time hopes were raised that we were somehow close to the elusive goal of forging a sustainable basis for peace, these were dashed by some untoward incident or happening pushing the two countries back to the beginning with added bitterness and acrimony. This prospect of peace is not just an inanimate preposition concerning the two geographical entities called Pakistan and India. More appropriately, it is about the fate of over 1.5 billion people who inhabit the larger South-Asian region that also houses the two neighbours. They are the unfortunate people who have languished in the realm of utter deprivation for over six decades now and who see little hope by way of lighting up their path to realising their true potential and enhancing the prospects for their coming generations.

    In my two recent interactions with a broad spectrum of Indian counterparts from the platform of the Regional Peace Institute, I have noticed no dearth of the desire for peace. As a matter of fact, their eagerness may surpass ours as this is likely to directly impact their emergence as a genuine power in the region as well as contribute largely to their economic growth potential. Meeting people from this side of the divide, from a cross-section of backgrounds, again gives me immense hope that the prospect of peace and harmony among the two feuding neighbours remains a distinct possibility.

    With a history of internecine conflict bedevilling the endeavours for peace, the one real moment of realising the dream came with the visit to Pakistan by the former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His declaration in Lahore was, indeed, like turning a new page in the chequered relations between the two countries which should have been followed through to its stated and desirable objective. Unfortunately, it could not be and subsequent events sowed further seeds of distrust and discord among the two countries.

    But for a few bright interludes, the peace efforts have remained dogged by the lack of political will of the leaderships from across the divide. The congress government in India, though high on both potential and intent, was always considered ill-suited to unfurling any meaningful initiative because of challenges from the Hindu right while the political concoctions in Pakistan were rendered irrelevant because of their personal dossiers and the subservience to the religious right and, most of the times, the military diktat. The Vajpayee-Nawaz interregnum was a bright spot in an otherwise drab and discouraging scenario that the leaderships of the two countries have traditionally painted for moving forward

    The other genuine effort was undertaken during the tenure of General (R) Musharraf when, through a combination of back-channel diplomacy and some bold public overtures, the two leaderships got very close to signing a comprehensive peace deal encompassing a futuristic settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The fact that some in the Indian establishment dithered at the last moment dented the prospect of peace and pushed the two countries back by a substantial distance. Ever since, the leaderships have lingered in the realm of uncertainty regarding where to start from again, and whether to start at all!

    But for a few bright interludes, the peace efforts have remained dogged by the lack of political will of the leaderships from across the divide. The congress government in India, though high on both potential and intent, was always considered ill-suited to unfurling any meaningful initiative because of challenges from the Hindu right while the political concoctions in Pakistan were rendered irrelevant because of their personal dossiers and the subservience to the religious right and, most of the times, the military diktat. The Vajpayee-Nawaz interregnum was a bright spot in an otherwise drab and discouraging scenario that the leaderships of the two countries have traditionally painted for moving forward.

    With the induction of the BJP government in India, there was hope for a replication of the initiative of the nineties that brought the two countries so agonisingly close to opening a new chapter in their relations. Of course, there are sharp differences setting apart the dispensations of the two BJP governments: while Vajpayee was a consummate statesman and wedded to the concept of peace, the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reared more in the Hindutva ideology with a past that is considerably tarnished because of his predominantly and oft-expressed anti-Muslim sentiment. The infamous Gujarat pogrom remains an indelible ugly blot on his mode of governance.

    With the induction of the BJP government in India, there was hope for a replication of the initiative of the nineties that brought the two countries so agonisingly close to opening a new chapter in their relations. Of course, there are sharp differences setting apart the dispensations of the two BJP governments: while Vajpayee was a consummate statesman and wedded to the concept of peace, the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reared more in the Hindutva ideology with a past that is considerably tarnished because of his predominantly and oft-expressed anti-Muslim sentiment. The infamous Gujarat pogrom remains an indelible ugly blot on his mode of governance

    His virulent pre-election rhetoric also cast serious aspersions on his credentials of becoming a peace-maker a la Vajpayee. Post election and a stunning victory to lead India, he busied himself with securing an outright majority in the Jammu and Kashmir elections to translate his desire to change the status of the state vide article 370 of the Indian constitution. His apparent failure to achieve that objective and the consequent compulsion to form a coalition government with the PDP may have had a sobering effect. The newly-installed chief minister also heaped praise on Pakistan for the holding of peaceful elections in the valley and his assertion that the status of the Kashmir state could not be altered may also have exposed Modi to a reality check.

    With the launching of a comprehensive war for the elimination of terror, Pakistan’s need for peace has magnified manifold. It is by sharing the commonality built around its desirability that the constituency of peace can be fortified further. Consequently, the recent visit to Pakistan by the Indian foreign secretary, though garbed in the apparel of a SAARC Yatra, is a welcome move in the eternal and extremely painful quest for peace. That the two sides were actually able to sit together and discuss the issues that plague their minds and impact their decision-making also creates hope that the initiation of a composite dialogue among the two countries may no longer be e distant dream. That would be the first necessary step on the long road to crossing many a milestone to the ultimate attainment of the cherished goal among the two neighbours. But there remain serious issues separating the two sides that need immediate attention both for creating an enabling environment for peace as well as addressing the difficulties that the people of the two countries face as a matter of routine and which, if redressed, will only contribute to further strengthening and expanding the constituency of peace.

    At the conclusion of the first round of the Pakistan-India Bilateral Dialogue that was sponsored by the Regional Peace Institute in the middle of last year, the two sides had stressed on the need for initiating some long-delayed steps to ease the environment for gainful negotiations including enhanced connectivity in the economic and social sectors which can greatly contribute in furthering the prospects of peace. The key role that the media need to play in carrying forth this message to the people of the two countries was also highlighted.

    During the same session, it was also stressed that the governments of the two countries should take all measures as are necessary to expand and deepen social bonds between the people. In particular, divided families on both sides of the border should be enabled to reunite by easing the visa procedures. Issuance of visa should also be made simpler, indeed automatic for many categories, to enable a wide range of professionals as well as tourists to travel from one country to the other.

    At another session organised late last year which was attended by a wide cross-section of multi-sector stakeholders, the two sides had noted with concern that, for a subcontinent that has a rich spiritual and civilisational heritage, it is a source of concern and discredit that India and Pakistan, and South Asia in general, have the largest concentration of poor people with multiple deprivations. Poverty alleviation must become the highest priority of our two countries. Precisely for this reason, India and Pakistan should increase, to the maximum extent possible, our expenditure on accelerating socio-economic development and improving the living standards of our common people.

    At another session organised late last year which was attended by a wide cross-section of multi-sector stakeholders, the two sides had noted with concern that, for a subcontinent that has a rich spiritual and civilisational heritage, it is a source of concern and discredit that India and Pakistan, and South Asia in general, have the largest concentration of poor people with multiple deprivations. Poverty alleviation must become the highest priority of our two countries. Precisely for this reason, India and Pakistan should increase, to the maximum extent possible, our expenditure on accelerating socio-economic development and improving the living standards of our common people

    Principal stress was laid on the irreversible character of the dialogue that should remain unperturbed by differences or unpleasant developments. It was also recommended that strenuous efforts should be initiated to promote and strengthen the common heritage of religious freedom, tolerance, plurality, peace and brotherhood. In particular, the rights of the religious minorities in both India and Pakistan must be respected and protected.

    Alongside efforts to expand the people-to-people connectivity in multiple sectors, a South-Asian mechanism for the protection of human rights was also proposed with India and Pakistan taking the lead. The idea of appointment of goodwill ambassadors from the civil society was also endorsed to help promote trust and understanding between the two countries.

    Most of the outstanding issues are known to both governments and people across the divide. There is also a fair amount of understanding and appreciation for the need of peace among the two neighbours. This constituency of peace need to be further strengthened and expanded by initiating multi-sector endeavours from both sides.

    War not being an option, peace remains the only desirable goal to pursue to help the poor and grossly underprivileged people of the two countries so that they could nurture their hope for a better future. Failing in this endeavour is also not an option for either the two governments, or the people.

    2 COMMENTS

    1. Pakistan is merely another country within Indian subcontinent who wants to be a Bedouin country. India can have relationship with Pakistan at par with mideastern Muslim country without oil e.g. Jordan

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