Saturday, March 6, 2010

The way forward

President Zardari’s meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Russia on the sidelines of the SCO had raised hopes that Congress back in power with a comfortable majority would be more confident in opening a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations. The venue of the meeting had a historical and sentimental significance as well because nearly 43 years ago after the 1965 war, erstwhile Soviet Union had played a major role as a facilitator in bringing the two countries in agreeing to the famous Tashkent Agreement. The statement made by PM Singh after the meeting was disappointing and reflected India’s arrogance and continuation of the policy of sustaining pressure on Pakistan. The disappointment was even greater as our expectations from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were very different. He had displayed great restraint and conducted in a statesmanlike manner when the Mumbai incident occurred, despite intense pressures from the domestic hawks. We are also aware that he genuinely believes in a cooperative relationship with Pakistan and could have seized the opportunity of a new beginning with the democratic government.

Instead it appears that New Delhi is dragging its feet and is only partially prepared to open the dialogue process and that too as related to terrorism. In fact PM Singh’s “lecturing” in the presence of President Zardari was diplomatically imprudent considering that President Zardari is one of those leaders who is sticking his neck out to improve relations with India. His vision of relations with India is driven by economic and cultural motivations and is futuristic in approach. It is people oriented and less influenced by the historical baggage of animosity. This is in sharp contrast to the conventional security driven policy that both countries have pursued against each other since independence, apart from a few interludes. In the recent past two civilian prime ministers Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had made earnest efforts at improving relations with India. Benazir’s plans to move ahead received a setback when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a terrorist attack. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded positively to Prime Minister Vajpayee’s bold initiative that resulted in the historic Lahore declaration, validating the theory that democracies have always extended the hand of friendship. It was unfortunate that Indo-Pakistan détente was undermined by the Kargil misadventure. As regards Musharraf’s overtures of peace with India they were bound to fail as he neither enjoyed legitimacy nor credibility with the people.

It is not surprising that President Zardari has now decided to stay away from the NAM conference and it is PM Gilani who would be leading the delegation.

From an Indian perspective the Pakistani Taliban threat is not a reason to support Islamabad in its efforts at fighting terrorism. In contrast it is the Pakistan military that poses a far greater threat. Taliban have been targeting US and Pakistan military and not the Indians. As opposed to this India’s principal adversary is the security establishment. It uses Jihadi elements from Punjab as proxies to fight with insurgents in Kashmir and is responsible for terrorist attacks in India, including the last one in Mumbai. India has tried to project the “war on terror” as war from Pakistan. As India perceives that Pakistan’s policy has been to use militants to bleed India. It views Pakistan army’s raison d’etre as hostility toward India.

India has been using its strategic alliance with US so that it persuades Pakistan to dismantle the Jihadi militant organisations. For this it has been crying on the side of US along with Israel as a victim of terrorism. Not realising that the war on terror phobia may fade away during the Obama presidency and mutate into a campaign against terrorism. And Pakistan is one country that is most directly affected by terrorism. Sadly, the countries that Washington during Bush era applied its iron fist on to pursue the final goal of eliminating the terror threat – Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan — have in fact become real victims of terrorism.

Islamabad wants US to push India to move on the resolution of the Kashmir conflict and resume dialogue. United States clearly wants India to seek rapprochement with Pakistan so that it could focus on the western front. Whereas US is giving India a major role in South and the Central Asia but the real agenda is being articulated and managed by it in a classic role of a super power. This heightens insecurities in Pakistan. Besides, Pakistan’s security establishment is also unwilling to down grade the Indian threat and strongly believes that RAW has been supportive of militants in FATA and nationalist elements in Balochistan to lock up our forces as a quid pro quo for our support of militant groups in Kashmir. It is also presumed that New Delhi is subtly fuelling Pakhtoon nationalism and their grievances to weaken Pakistan. It is indeed unfortunate that India and Pakistan both view each other as enemy to reinforce the sense of national cohesion.

The question is where do we go from here? Repeat the same history of 61 years trapped in the past at a very heavy cost to our people or define a new future. Take months and years to start the composite dialogue and remain content with its infinitely slow pace and await a future Mumbai or a terrorist attack in Pakistan with the initiative resting with the militants.

In contrast imagine for a moment a scenario that Siachen and Sir Creek are resolved, trade and economic activity between India and Pakistan has acquired dynamism and people to people contact is on the increase. Kashmir is being seriously discussed in which major stakeholders of J&K are involved. All this may appear illusionary, but really not, if there is a will, firm resolve and clear vision.

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