I.A. Rehman


The goodwill laboriously built up on the eve of the Indian foreign minister’s visit to Pakistan has gone up in smoke. Honeyed homilies have been lost in a trail of acrimonious utterances. The losers again are the luckless people of the two countries.


Advocates of conspiracy theories have received grist for their mills in the form of reports that the interlocutors were on course towards an accord but suddenly something happened and everything changed overnight. (We have heard of draft agreements abandoned at the last moment many times before — in 1948, in 1963, in 1989, in 2003, and the undated Musharraf-Manmohan understanding.)


Curiously enough, the Indian foreign minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, has not described the Islamabad talks as a failure, while his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi, sounds not only disappointed but also angry. The interest of both countries will be served better if neither side gives vent to bitterness in words that cannot be taken back and which will only further complicate matters. Many people are satisfied that India and Pakistan are still on speaking terms with one another. This is no doubt a healthy way of damage control but the people are getting weary of round after round of talks without any sign of relief from their tribulation. After all, the India-Pakistan impasse is adding to the miseries of a large segment of humankind, especially the people of Kashmir, the farming community of Pakistan, vulnerable prisoners and divided families.


One good result of last week’s encounter, however, is that the issues now dividing the two countries have emerged in bold relief. It seems India went on the offensive on the basis of what it claims is fresh evidence on the Mumbai outrage and demanded immediate satisfaction, something that the Pakistani side could not do. Pakistan also apparently chose offence as the best defence and fell back on its Kashmir case.


In simpler words, India said the terrorism issue could not be ignored and Pakistan said something similar about Kashmir, the foreign ministers shook hands and agreed to put the interest of their people aside.


No great intelligence is required to appreciate the constraints under which New Delhi and Islamabad are living. Pakistan will be in the wrong if it expected India to soft-pedal the terrorism issue and it will not be realistic on India’s part to believe the government of Pakistan has the means to control the militants its predecessors and the saints from across the Atlantic had foolishly sired.


Similarly no knowledgeable Pakistani can believe that it is possible for the present government of India to offer Islamabad the kind of satisfaction on Kashmir it has been asking for or even to match the rhetoric of the Vajpayee government (which did not face the threat of ambush by the Bharatiya Janata Party or one saffron brigade or another). Both sides are prisoners of forces that are not amenable to reason. Both need to mobilise their people to fight their indigenous monsters. If the established democracy in India cannot achieve this, the task is much harder for Pakistan where the transition to democracy is still an illusion. That India and Pakistan have to help each other in getting over their problems may have become a cliché but it remains a pre-condition for the normalisation of relations.


There is no reason why Pakistan should minimise India’s concerns over the proliferation of terrorist groups on its territory, nor for India to ignore the fact that these groups pose a greater threat to Pakistan than any other country or people. One of the saner counsels doing the rounds is that India and Pakistan should cooperate in fighting their common enemy. It is time such wonderful sentiments were translated into action. Anything that helps movement in this direction — from intelligence-sharing to common strategies at world forums and joint operations — should be earnestly tried.


As if Pakistan and India did not have enough causes to create tensions between them references have been made to Balochistan. Our Foreign Office must answer the Indian charge that to say nothing about credible evidence, Pakistan has offered no evidence of India’s role in the Balochistan unrest. If this is not done in a convincing manner Islamabad will suffer some unnecessary embarrassment.


Regardless of the nature and scale of the allegations against India, Islamabad cannot be so naïve as to believe that the Balochistan crisis is wholly or even primarily of India’s making. States that cannot retain the confidence of their citizens lose the moral right to complain of external intrigue. If we did not learn this in 1970-71 we will be condemned for never learning from history.


Likewise, India will wrong itself if it denied Pakistan its interest in having a friendly Afghanistan by its side (forget the infantile dreams of strategic depth) and Pakistan has no justification for seeking a veto over New Delhi’s relations with Kabul. But the fact remains that the conflict in Afghanistan has put a cross on Pakistan’s future and it expects India to keep their common interest in mind.


Pakistan and India always needed each other. True there have been people in both India and Pakistan who believed that the travails of one were a boon for the other. All such people have been exposed as enemies of both countries. The fact is that the two countries need each other more than ever.


At the same time, however, the lack of pressure on the two states to normalise relations has entered the debate. Despite friction with Pakistan, it is said, India has registered high rates of growth and that it has more resources to absorb the cost of military operations in Kashmir and elsewhere. So why should it bother about Pakistan’s woes? Similarly, it is said that confrontation with India has not prevented Pakistani traders from buying Indian goods in Singapore or Dubai (and increase their profit margins) and that the elite is still making money on hate-India slogans. Therefore, Pakistan does not have to yield to the Indian diktat. One can only hope that both societies have the capacity to control their lunatic fringes.


Nevertheless, it is obvious that left to their limited devices the governments of India and Pakistan will not be able to cut through the legacy of conflict and prejudice. They need a huge movement by people on both sides, who favour friendship and rational policies of good-neighbourly ties. That is the area in which all South Asians of goodwill must exert themselves wholeheartedly and at the grass-roots’ level.


(Dawn July 22, 2010)

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