Pakistan, India and their everlasting antagonism


    Why can’t the two nations just get along?


    Ever since their inception Pakistan and India have continued to enjoy their perpetual stay at the loggerheads village. The two have gone from simple cold shoulders to more aggressive cold shoulders and returned to their default state, but a reality check is due indeed.

    According to the latest data from the World Bank, around 22.3 per cent of Pakistan’s overall population falls below the line of poverty. India doesn’t have any better stats at 21.9 per cent. Pakistanis can look forward to 67 years in terms of life expectancy and Indians can enjoy 66. The list of statistics that show the state of affairs of both countries goes on. The fact remains that both are in trouble in terms of many key social indicators — yet both continue down a path where they focus on besting each other instead.

    The recent diplomacy dance between the countries is nothing. A grand meeting takes place, top leaders from both the countries do a little photo-op, the public awaits the time when they can leave their troubles with the other side of the border behind and move on — and then someone mentions Kashmir and all bets are off. This yo-yoing of diplomacy may have managed to work in the past but as things stand it needs to go.

    Climate change has repeatedly thrashed both the countries. Earlier this year, Pakistan saw a heatwave that took more than a 1,000 lives; only a month earlier India had suffered from a similar weather that killed more than 2,000 people. This isn’t the only example of climate change rearing its ugly head at the two nations which often suffer similar ailments courtesy natural disasters. Issues like climate change cannot be tackled in a vacuum and one cannot solve them without the other. Verily, climate change doesn’t observe any Working Boundary and could care less about the Line of Control.

    Senior journalist and Author Zahid Hussain points out that many problems do exist for both the countries which cannot be handled unless both the countries put their heads together, but it is easier said than done.

    “The environment is one of the problems and that is going to be a very serious problem and only these two countries can jointly deal with this. Besides this we also need to focus on other mutual interests like economic development,” he said.

    However when it comes to India and Pakistan, simply outlining the pros and cons of bad diplomacy gets nobody anywhere.

    “You can’t deal with all those situations unless you talk about the main issues that are the source of tension between the two countries,” Hussain said as a matter of fact. “I’m not saying that you should wait for the Kashmir issue to resolve and then we should deal with our issues. No, we should simultaneously deal with these issues,” he added.

    Hussain pointed out that in the past the two nations have been able to make significant progress in terms of negotiating or engaging in composite dialogue. “We have made significant progress in term of trade and other issues. I remember that in 2005 things moved very fast and the environment changed. Even the Indian team came here for cricket and that changed environment completely,” he said.

    Cricket goodwill aside, the two countries never managed to find a solid surface to stand on together.

    “The problem is that the Indian government doesn’t want to come to the table,” Hussain lamented.

    “Basically when you talk about a dialogue between the two countries, it depends on both the countries. Pakistan has shown that it’s interested and has never stepped back from its stance, but the talks were basically arbitrarily suspended by Modi. What else can Pakistan do at this point?” he questioned.

    Basically when you talk about a dialogue between the two countries, it depends on both the countries. Pakistan has shown that it’s interested and has never stepped back from its stance, but the talks were basically arbitrarily suspended by Modi. What else can Pakistan do at this point?

    The senior journalist pointed out the Musharraf era that was able to actually get things moving along. During 2005 and 2006, when Musharraf was in power, Pakistan was able to take a step back from its establishment’s policy and negotiated a deal which could have been acceptable to both the countries. Back channel dialogues were not only constantly in motion, they were also producing results. But both the countries maintained their traditions of letting negotiations fall through into an abyss even then.

    “India is in a better position than us because it’s a growing power and it’s doing better in terms of its economy. All that is fine but when it comes to the relationship between the two countries, it doesn’t matter which one is more powerful. You can be a small country but you cannot compromise on yourself,” Hussain asserted.

    On the other hand, columnist and political analyst Wajahat Masood feels that Pakistan needs to take the first step, and then take a few steps more, to mend its relationship with India.

    “Both countries have territorial conflicts, a history of hostility, and in this respect unfortunately Pakistan wants to be the revisionist state i.e., Pakistan wants to revise the frontiers whereas India is the status quo state. I believe that the responsibility to improve ties lies with the country which has been insisting upon revising the frontiers,” he said.

    “Whether anyone on our side of the border wants to acknowledge this or not is irrelevant,” he added.

    Masood pointed out that Pakistan has been the one to cross international borders during 1948, 1965 and in 1971. “Even in Kargil we started everything,” he observed.

    The analyst highlighted that each side has its set of hawks and had its set of doves. “However, in India the state structural provisions exist whereby the voices of extremism and a hawkish approach remain to be on the fringes whereas in Pakistan the state has actually been a party with those extremists and hawkish voices. Therefore, it creates greater problems for Pakistanis who seek peace in these two neighbours,” Masood explained.

    The problem however is not just at this side of the border. Nawaz Sharif earlier extended an olive branch to Modi only to have it waved off in his face. In such a scenario how is Pakistan to move forward with talks, considering the other side is not interested in dialogue.

    Interestingly, Masood points out that this isn’t the first time Nawaz has tried to extend an olive branch to someone from the party that Modi originates from. During February 1999, the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power and sent Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee forward to Pakistan. The peace that was about to rise between the two countries fell flat on its face as Kargil swung into action only a heartbeat later.

    “Yes, Nawaz Sharif has shown gestures of goodwill but they didn’t get any attention because there is a realisation on the other side of the border that in Pakistan the unity of command is lacking. When elected governments are pressed against the wall, pressurised, humiliated and placed under media trial, what can you expect?” Masood questioned.

    “That country is six times bigger than we are and it has the advantage of being the status quo country. If things continue to remain as they are, it would not matter to them; it still goes to their benefit. Pakistan is the one this makes a difference to and it needs to continually take these initiatives. But it lacks any government that can take any meaningful action,” he said.

    Masood referenced the 2008 speech by Zardari in the General Assembly immediately after which we had the Mumbai attacks. “We have a history where anytime our political leaders take an initiative they are sabotaged by the hawks. The problem with Pakistan is that our hawks happen to be the real power brokers as well,” he said.

    “When we speak of peace we are the ones in the more precarious situation. There is a lot that we can’t even say in public,” he added.

    Pakistan needs to wake up from its idealism as well, according to Masood. “It is very easy to criticise India while sitting in Pakistan. We are tiny, we won’t be given a space on the negotiation table — and Kashmir does not in reality want to be a part of us — why do we continue to ignore this ground reality? When they can see what is happening to Baloch, Sindhis and Pashtun in this country, why would they want to join in?” he angrily questioned.

    Indian journalist Ranveer Singh tells the other side of the story – which unsurprisingly doesn’t sound all that different. “I guess pressure of public sentiments for political parties is the main reason behind the six-decade long tussle between the two nations. If the ruling party of one nation pretends to ‘succumb’ to the one from other country, they may be thrown out of chair. Public of both the nations prefer to be defeated by Netherlands rather than Pakistan or India. So the threat of losing power is one of the main reasons behind this pathetic condition,” he said while talking to DNA.

    The situation can only be fixed if both the nations agree to constructive talks and are willing to understand the needs of the current scenario.

    “It is true that no one wants to compromise on the Kashmir issue and some radical forces are the main obstacles behind resolving the issue. Instead of approaching the international fraternity, both of us should understand each other and create some solution,” Singh opined.

    Positive sentiments need to be bred on both sides of the border. Singh pointed out the dire need to make visas more accessible and promote tourism and student exchange programmes so that the public can get to know each other and realise that they aren’t so very different.

    “Presently, even a child believes that we are enemies. This should be eliminated with utmost priority,” Sindh asserted.

    Media’s hand in the turmoil

    The media plays an interesting role in how the narrative surrounding the two countries and their tussle plays out for the public.

    Ironically, the very sentiments that are needed to curtail hatred between the two nations can come from their people, the very people that constantly consume nothing but a dusty, broken-record worth narrative about the evil other side. If the media can tear the two apart, it can also bring the two together

    “Media all over the world takes a hawkish and nationalist approach because it gets immediate applause. Pakistan has no dearth of hawks as well,” Masood said.

    “If we are true to our country then we should see that some semblance of sanity must prevail. You will see on 6 September, how we twist facts and push our empty narrative that will serve to do nothing but misguide another generation,” he added.

    Hussain agrees. “Media has always, especially the electronic media, made these issues much more explosive. In 2004 and 2014, the two countries had observed a ceasefire on the LoC, but before that it used to be a normal thing. Now once again it’s turning into a normal thing,” he said.

    “Media always worsens the situation instead of reporting objectively,” he added.

    As a journalist Singh feels that a more objective approach is the need of the hour. “Media, especially electronic media, shows the other nation as an enemy nation which is a big hurdle in maintaining cordial relation. We are very attacking in our views over the neighbour nation,” he said.

    Singh feels that the enmity is obvious even when TV channels try to bring in guests from the other side of the border. “Both of us used to arrange a guest from Delhi or Karachi and treat him/her as the biggest enemy during panel discussions. Media should be partial and calm while reporting indo-Pak issues, especially cross-border firing incidents and death tolls. We generally show death toll of our nation but keep hiding tragedies of the other nation,” he said.

    The manner in which the media has been portraying both nations has been problematic to say the least. Tridivesh Singh Maini, a New Delhi based policy analyst, highlights that the gap between the people of the two countries needs to be closed.

    “With regard to issues like climate change, for instance, there is more need for stakeholders to interact and find common ground. There are dialogues but these are restricted to a few institutions. This needs to be expanded,” he pointed out.

    Maini explained that greater interactions between individuals from different strata of the society would help the situation vastly. “The sky is the limit as far as collaboration is concerned but there is a need to create a wider constituency which stands for a better relationship. Currently the peace lobby is restricted to a few people,” he lamented.

    Ironically, the very sentiments that are needed to curtail hatred between the two nations can come from their people, the very people that constantly consume nothing but a dusty, broken-record worth narrative about the evil other side. If the media can tear the two apart, it can also bring the two together.

    The two nations can collaborate and do a lot more if they are able to see beyond the hate. If they don’t get over their issues and learn to live in peace, recurring catastrophes like climate change might figure out a way to help them collaborate by force, but one hopes it won’t be too late by then.