M Saeed Khalid|February 08, 2013| It sounds pathetic but could be happening again: efforts aimed at friendship between India and Pakistan are checkmated by hostile lobbies in both countries.
One wonders if Isaac Newton’s third law of motion is applicable in this context to illustrate as to why each action towards normalisation between the two countries invites a reaction which is opposite – if not equal- in force. How else can one explain the painstaking efforts by the leaders of Pakistan and India frustrated by hardliners on both sides?
Gen Musharraf’s controversial operation in Kargil, sabotaging a historic breakthrough between Nawaz Sharif and A B Vajpayee is well-known. But long before that, India’s hawks had succeeded in seriously damaging relations, by establishing posts in the Siachen area.
The elected government’s positive feelers to India in 2008 were met by the jihadi brigade’s diabolical plan to provoke a war by attacking the heart of Mumbai. But the Samjhota Express carnage had already caused bitterness in relations.
The recent incidents along the LoC have demonstrated the disproportionate power wielded by the hawks. While the official dealings between New Delhi and Islamabad have recovered their level of correctness, the hatred being spread at the popular level, bordering on hysteria, raises the spectre of a downward spiral in relations.
It is understandable to agonise over the role being played by the Shiv Sena or other champions of Hindutva on the Indian side and the jihadis in our midst, in undermining the process aiming at detente. But it is also time for introspection. We should not ignore some historic trends which may have laid the genesis of what we are witnessing. Could it be that the hate-mongers are busy exploiting mistrust steeped over a millennium?
There is no dearth of the well intentioned on both sides, who ardently believe in overcoming the trust deficit through more frequent contacts between the civil society, cultural exchanges, relaxed visa requirements, trade and investment and track-II diplomacy.
They can rightfully claim to have contributed to greater understanding and amity on the basis of mutual benefit. The difficulty lies with those who, for cultural reasons or personal choice, constitute the hate brigades, the ultra-nationalists, the atavists, the armies of Allah and Ram. Every step toward rapprochement serves as a red rag to them. They are a minority but have their patrons and sympathisers in the two establishments.
The Pakistani hate brigade is largely based in Punjab, close to the historic battlegrounds, but their counterparts are well entrenched in Mumbai, which remained unscathed in Indo-Pakistan wars but has been the scene of repeated communal violence and terrorism.
Such is the level of anti-Pakistan sentiment in Mumbai that Pakistan’s repeated efforts over a quarter of a century to establish its consulate in the city, first at the Jinnah House and then elsewhere, have met a wall of insurmountable resistance.
This situation shows no sign of changing even though India is required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to assist Pakistan in finding premises for establishing its consulate. In retaliation, Pakistan has denied India permission to reopen its consulate in Karachi. The two governments have proved incapable of breaking the logjam.
Extremists on both sides are helping each other by maintaining a vicious cycle of violence and retribution as 1.2 billion people of India and Pakistan watch and wait in bewilderment, anxious to know if they will ever benefit from normal ties in the region.
History and sociology or philosophy may provide useful clues to how nations behave in a certain manner. But they do not offer clues on how to resolve disputes if the stronger side wants to maintain the status quo and the other refuses to accept a patently unjust dispensation.
In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, India believes that time is on its side and Pakistan, as well as the Kashmiris, will have to learn to live with the status quo. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama had publicly declared that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute was necessary for peace in South Asia. He, however, became silent on this subject after his election.
Pakistan cannot relent on its principled support to the Kashmiri people. This was forcefully reiterated through numerous declarations on this Kashmir Day. The APHC leaders cautioned that they are not against better relations between Pakistan and India but this must not be at the cost of freezing the Kashmir dispute. People struggling for a legitimate cause are not deterred by the adverse ratio of force.
The recent backtracking in Indo-Pak relations should serve as a reminder that normalisation sans Kashmir has its limits. If various CBMs and forward movement on trade, travel or contacts between the civil society on both sides are not followed by progress on geo-political issues, the process of détente cannot proceed. The much-hyped normalisation would soon be replaced by an uneasy peace between adversaries.
Some may view this assessment as overly pessimistic. It should not be forgotten that while peace can be negotiated with sangfroid, friendship is based on mutual interests but can be undercut by gut feelings. It is obvious what kind of gut feelings are provoked by threatening sportspersons, especially women.
Unless the two countries find ways to discourage the merchants of hate and violence, the dialogue process is not going very far, a situation that may lead to undermining progress achieved in some areas.
The writer is a former ambassador.Email: email@example.com
– The News