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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 26, New Delhi June 20, 2015

Reaching out to our Neighbour / India-Pakistan: Imperative of Amity

Saturday 20 June 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Reaching out to our Neighbour

Indo-Pak relations have again come under a cloud. The tension over Kashmir and the recent border skirmishes have touched off speculations about an imminent military confrontation. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao has of course under-lined his government’s eagerness to strengthen mutual understanding between the two countries, while reiterating its resolve not to relax vigilance in safeguarding the country’s security.

To buttress the case for armed vigilance one comes across in recent months an argument which says that the Pakistan Government, being beset with political and regional tensions, might go for a diversionary move into military adventurism against India. The argument behind this line of thinking is that an unstable regime tends to take recourse to such a desperate strategem. It is said that this desperation has been compounded by the failure of Pakistan’s military junta to ensure a mujahideen victory in Afghanistan; and to retrieve its prestige before the Pakistan public it might go in for a blitz attack on Kashmir.

There are indeed many items of potential conflict between India and Pakistan, and it would be unwise to leave it to the governments to iron these out. Even with the best of intentions in the world a government is hamstrung by stereotyped approach, which in the case of India and Pakistan is invested with acrimony and an adversary relationship. Besides, the unstable governments in both the countries do face the hazards of being pushed into a dangerous situation by any powerful campaign by some lobby or other which thrives on keeping up Indo-Pak disharmony.

At the same time, the realisation is slowly coming over a fairly extensive section of our public about the futility of this never-ending confrontation between the two countries, leading to heavy spending of scarce resources on defence which could otherwise have been gainfully utilised for development purposes that could benefit the common man in both the countries.

It would of course be a mistake to exaggerate the strength of this trend at the moment. It is still very incipient, but it is a significant trend that needs to be nurtured and not smothered—a trend which fits in with the new world perspectives thrown up by the end of the Cold War. What is definitely perceptible in our country is the growing public indifference towards any tub-thumping irredentism vis-a-vis Pakistan. It is noteworthy that despite the high-profile Hinduva campaign inside the country, the traditional anti-Pakistani demagogy has not reached the point of clamour for a decision by arms.

Viewed in this context, one has to understand the limitations of official efforts at improving Indo-Pak relations. What is imperative is the need for a non-official approach. The buzz word on this point is “people-to-people diplomacy”. One often hears this being talked about but hardly any initiative has been taken in a systematic fashion. With all the impediments in the way of free travel between the citizens of the two countries, it is possible for groups of scholars, professional bodies, mediapersons and even retired diplomats and officials, both civil and military, to undertake visits to Pakistan and to welcome in India such contingents from Pakistan. This has so far been taken up on a haphazard basis. Actually, most of these are confined to mushairas and seminars. While these are useful, they can hardly bring about a change in national attitudes.

Equally important, if not more, is the necessity for our political leaders of different parties to go and visit Pakistan extensively as a priority task in national interest. The recent SAARC decision to waive visa restrictions for judges and parliamentarians should be made use of. The just-concluded visit of two eminent Pakistani political leaders, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Allama Kausar Niazi, to our country and their conversations with political leaders cutting across party barriers, should be made into a precedent by our political leaders. BJP leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee should specially make it a point to undertake such visits to Pakistan and explain their points of view while trying to understand Pakistani perceptions about their party’s stand.

This is the way the area of misunderstanding can be abridged and the ground prepared for new initiatives towards abiding understanding. More than four decades have passed since the searing experience of bloody partition. Not only has that generation in both the countries been relegated to comparative unimportance, a new generation has come at the centre of the political stage, unencumbered by the memories of the past. It is incumbent, therefore, to take up people-to-people diplomacy in right earnest so that misgivings and misunderstandings at different levels may be neutralised.

What needs to be emphasised over and over again is that official level understanding is no doubt important and must all along be sought out. At the same time, popular level initiative can go a long way towards forging an organic link between the peoples of the two countries. This may ultimately become the foundation for an enduring international structure for the entire Indian Ocean zone which is the habitat of the largest concentration of humanity on our planet.

(Mainstream, September 28, 1991)

India-Pakistan: Imperative of Amity

The recent incident in Islamabad when a member of the Indian diplomatic mission, Rajesh Mittal, was brutally assaulted by Pakistani intelligence—violating the norms of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic rights and immu-nities—has touched off countrywide angry protests. This is nothing surprising, particularly when Indo-Pak relations continue to be fragile, and Pakistan’s help to the secessionist elements in the Kashmir Valley is undeniable.

This provocative action on the part of the Islamabad authorities is ascribed in some knowledgeable circles to be the handiwork of Pakistan’s super-intelligence outfit, the ISI, which presumably may be opposed to the improvement of Indo-Pak relations. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that the assault on Mittal has not elicited any expression of regret from the Pakistan Government, which has made things worse.

It is no secret that Prime Minister Narasimha Rao has been keen on normalising relations with Islamabad and this he has conveyed more than once to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharief. It was as a result of this initiative at the prime ministerial level that the process of dialogue between the two countries has been renewed. To help accelerate the process in a businesslike manner, a meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries was scheduled to be held at Mussoorie in the first week of June. Accordingly, the agenda for this meeting was prepared and is reported to have turned out to be substantive.

Just about this time, the Mittal incident came like a shock and the process of improving bilateral relations with Pakistan has been hit by a body blow. At the official level, the usual response was, apart from lodging a protest, to throw out in retaliation two Pakistan High Commission officials, declaring them persona non grata. There was no plan of the government to put off the scheduled meeting of the Foreign Secretaries. But the pressure of spontaneous public resentment was so overpowering that it forced the government’s hands.

Apart from demonstrations before the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi, there were angry demands for stern action. Not only the BJP but many in other parties including the Congress joined in this chorus. It was evident that if the Foreign Secretaries’ meeting had taken place, there would have been angry demo-nstrations which might have turned violent and thereby created a law-and-order situation. This would have defeated the very purpose of the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries, which was aimed at improving relations between the two countries and not to let them worsen. Accordingly, there was a telephonic talk between the two Foreign Secretaries to postpone their meeting for a few weeks to let the tempers cool down.

Meanwhile, Narasimha Rao is due to meet Nawaz Sharief at Rio for the Earth Summit, when it is expected that the process of improving relations could again be resumed, apart from conveying to the Pakistan Prime Minister the danger of any provocative action on the part of any agency in Pakistan which might queer the pitch at the bilateral level.

This brings one to the wider question of how to build the edifice of durable relations with our neighbours. The factor of geography has a bearing on the subject. The fact that all our neighbours have to deal with an unequally pre-eminent power that is India, comes in the way of building up an enduring relationship among the countries of South Asia. If India ignores its neighbours, it can be charged with negligence, an attitude of disdain towards its neighbours. If India tries to be friendly and even bends backward to convey the message of friendship, there is always the danger of being misunder-stood as being condescending or patronising towards its neighbours, or trying to spread its network of deceptive friendship over them.

Secondly, there is the basic political handicap of the British partitioning of the subcontinent. This has given rise to an unnatural antipathy between the two largest countries in South Asia, India and Pakistan. Out of this has been born the anti-Indian bigotry in sections of the public in Pakistan and has given rise in India to an equally fanatical communal distrust not only towards Pakistan but the Indian Muslims in general. Parties like the BJP exploit it, while most of the others are not averse to it at times. This by itself has always been vitiating the Indo-Pak relations in the last four decades.

Even when Bangladesh was born, the enthusiastic support from the Hindu establish-ments for Indira Gandhi was to a large measure tinged with a sense of triumph that Pakistan had been split. And exactly in the same manner, a good section of the Indian Muslims took the Bangladesh war as dismembering a Muslim state to which they are closely attached. Such perceptions might give a faulty view of the actual reality that operated behind the birth of Bangladesh, but these perceptions can hardly be deined by any dispassionate observer.

It is this mental approach that turns, almost unthinkingly, every impediment on the way to India-Pakistan understanding into a major roadblock which often touches off a populist hysteria. With parties taking a blatantly comm-unal stand, pushed the same populism against Bangladesh as is witnessed today in the controversy over the leasing out of the small enclave of Tin Bigha; to resist an accord over it, there is even talk of suicide squads. In fact, the Tin Bigha controversy flies in the face of a Supreme Court judgement and thereby tries to scuttle the prospect of improved relationship with Bangladesh.

It is time we seriously pondered over the fact that there could be no enduring understanding between India and Pakistan without discarding the long-standing prejudices, suspicions and misgivings that have beset our two countries during the last four decades. This is true for the Pakistani leadership but the more so for our leaders since we are the bigger country and it is our responsibility to set the pace for establishing a regime of friendly relations with our biggest neighbour. If we think that better relations will return if we teach Pakistan a lesson in a combat of arms, we shall be making a serious mistake. For there could be no enduring amity between a victor and a vanquished: rather there is every danger of the urge for revenge taking over.

No doubt the Kashmir issue comes in the way. Here, too, we have to ask ourselves frankly: how is it that the people of the Kashmir Valley, who stood like a rock against the invaders from across Pakistan fortyfive years ago, have today no qualms in taking arms from Pakistan to unseat the Indian presence in the Valley? Does it not impose a renewed responsibility upon us to win them over? Would not that be the most fitting contribution to the building up of a better relationship with Pakistan? Not that this country has always been wrong on this or other count. Indo-Pak amity can hardly be built by condemning India. What needs to be done is a serious engagement at frank introspection on the part of both—preferably together.

Angry demonstrations against Pakistani lapses would lead us nowhere. We have no respond to the challenge with maturity and statesmanship, worthy of a great nation that we are.     

(Mainstream, June 6, 1992)

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