Dr. Simrit Kahlon
The euphoric beginning with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif braving the wrath of the other more powerful Sharif and the summer heat, to attend the swearing-in of PM Modi lost its lustre soon enough.
The incessant cross-border firing by Pakistan and mindless pandering of Hurriyat separatists by the Pakistan High Commission in India heralded a premature end for the bonhomie.
PM Modi was left with no option but to express himself thus, “Do you think it is possible to have a discussion amidst the deafening noise of bomb blasts and gunshots? So, to have a reasonable discussion, first the blasts and gunshots have to stop.”
The traditional on-off-off-on relation between India and Pakistan has witnessed no change in the preceding year since the NDA government has taken oath of office. If one were to cut out the rhetoric it would become quite apparent that there is no paradigm shift in positions taken by both India and Pakistan post Modi and Nawaz Sharif governments coming into power in the two countries.
One should not forget that the UPA government had also opted for a breakdown in the talks after a number of unsavoury incidents like the Mumbai terror attack, beheading of an Indian soldier along the line of control etc, only to relent after some time and resume the dialogue. The dialogue, by itself, does not seem to be making much headway. Pakistan has still not granted to India the much awaited and reciprocal “Most Favoured nation” status; the country has made no attempt to meet India’s justified demands of punishing those involved in the Mumbai terror attack and stopping terror activities against India from Pakistan soil, among many other issues.
Undoubtedly there is a strong case for not holding a dialogue till such time that Pakistan does not meet the preconditions laid down by India over the years and especially so, by the NDA government. After all, for how long can India tolerate Pakistan’s assault on her sovereignty and its indulgence in deceitful diplomacy which leads to a palpable trust deficit between the two countries.
Some in India argue that the two countries should go their own ways and not engage with each other till such time that a new, more tolerant, generation comes by. In other words, give each other space and time to breathe. The question is – would the fundamentalist leaders in Pakistan ever allow a tolerant attitude towards India gain a firm footing in Pakistan? The anti-India tirade by fundamentalist leaders like Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar is carried extensively by the Pakistan media, especially the Urdu press, to create an unassailable environment of hatred on religious grounds. Instead of being jailed for their criminal terrorist activities against India these rabid elements are given a free run. A few people of the elite in Pakistan may be motivated towards emancipated thinking but the larger majority continues to look towards India as enemy number one. Not talking would give a clear run to the radical forces in Pakistan to whip up anti-India sentiment to an extent that reconciliation in the future will become next to impossible.
There are, however, some strong reasons that justify keeping the door of dialogue open. The two countries have a festering border dispute; there are Indian areas like Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan under illegal occupation of Pakistan, the people of these areas are being denied their rights and are being persecuted. Mistreatment of minorities in Pakistan to include Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Ahmedias, Shias, Hazaras and other non Sunni segments of the population is also something that India needs to involve itself with at the bilateral as well as the international level. The best way to address these and other such issues is diplomacy, not war and conflict.
The nuclear status of the two countries makes the need for dialogue even more urgent, communication has to remain open to avoid a possible accident that would cause untold damage. The international concern for the nuclear flashpoint status of the sub-continent has to be addressed more by India being the more mature yet dominant and powerful nation.
Good relations with Pakistan can reap tremendous gains. The two countries have common issues of terrorism, radicalism, poverty, health care and development to tackle; if by any means the two countries can set aside their differences and engage in a beneficial manner the people will benefit tremendously. India being the bigger power has to show magnanimity and as such the responsibility to absorb negativity and exude positivity falls on the country. If India does what Pakistan is dong than what would be the difference between the two?
“In politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies; there are only permanent interests.” There is no harm in making an effort to go beyond the rigidity that has been manifest by the bureaucracy of the two countries and those in the political spectrum who have an interest in keeping the pot boiling. Some bold and statesmanlike decisions may change the course of history. Of course, all this cannot be done immediately, diplomacy has to be played out with a gradual step by step approach, but if the political will is there a lot many hurdles can be crossed. India needs to find solutions that go beyond negative posturing by Pakistan. Pakistan, of course, has a bigger role to play in changing the negative mindset against India that has gained firm roots in the country over many decades through misinformation and misrepresentation of facts. At the same time the interests, stature, dignity and sovereignty of the country have to be kept paramount.
(Dr. Simrit Kahlon is an academician with keen interest in geo-strategy)