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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 37 New Delhi September 5, 2015

India - Pakistan: Imperative of Amity

Saturday 5 September 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

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 immunities—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 Sharif. 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 to 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 overpowreing 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 demonstrations 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 Sharif 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 misunderstood as being condescending or patronising towards its neighbours, to 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 decade.

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 dismenbering 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 denied 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 communal 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 hat 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 in a serious engagement at frank introspection on the part of both—preferably together.

Angry demonstrations against Pakistani lapsews would lead us nowhere. We have to respond to the challenge with maturity and statesmanship, worthy of a great nation that we are.

(Editor’s Notebook, Mainstream, June 6, 1992)