IT is difficult to quite make out what the Indian establishment is up to if the double-edged statements of the leadership of that country are anything to go by. On the one hand they talk with feeling of pious hopes for commercial exchanges and transit rights in the region. On the other, they keep harping on the mantra that Pakistan must first eliminate what they continue to call “cross-border terrorism”. Just when the world had thought that this hackneyed phrase – conjured up by the spin-doctors of South Block – had reached the end of its shelf life, some statement from across the border promptly brings it back into vogue.
The rub in the Indian narrative lies in the unwritten caveat that it is India alone that is to be the sole arbiter to decide when and if this wretched ‘CBT’ (not to be confused with CBM) has at last come to an end. Towards this end, the Indians are just not ready to lend a conciliatory hand. The much-vaunted ‘peace process’ between India and Pakistan, it appears, has degenerated into a dialogue of the deaf. Add to that the rhetoric of belligerence flowing from across the border and you have the whole murky picture!
By hindsight, this current state of degeneration should hardly surprise anyone. As it is, the so-called “composite dialogue” (another one of those compound words conjured up by the gurus of South Block?) had for quite some time appeared to be going the way of the children’s game “Round and Round the Mulberry Bush”. The only point of difference was that at least in the children’s game there is a denouement of sorts in view, which appeared to be conspicuously missing in the process under discussion.
The prime movers of the dialogue in question, while it lasted, appeared to be going round and round in circles, with nary a goal in mind. There was no shortage of optimists who talked with fervour about such things as a light at the end of the tunnel. No one bothered to discount the possibility that this light may well turn out to be the headlight of an express train moving in the wrong direction! Our ‘liberals’ rushed around clutching at any drifting straw. Should our Foreign Office not have had the gumption to anticipate such miscues? But, then, one should not forget that it was the past spokespersons of this very office whose enthusiastic statements provided a mantle of respectability to cloak an otherwise inane exercise.
While the charade lasted, our ‘experts’ subsisted on a sustenance of make-believe. They used to conjure up a scenario. If they liked it, they not only proceeded to swallow it – hook, line and sinker – but also to sell it to a gullible public. They excelled in looking at everything through rose-coloured spectacles, and woe unto those who did not see what they saw! The champions in this field were our erstwhile FO gurus and spokespersons, who specialized in giving a positive spin to everything that the Indians said or did. It were our own liberal experts, more than anyone else, who helped raise expectations sky-high. And now that the whole structure has begun to crumble – simply because it was erected on a foundation of sand – people search around in vain for its architects.
The oft-repeated (and ill-advised?) attempts to somehow draw a parallel between the India-China border issue and the Jammu and Kashmir dispute was something that drew no refutation at all from our side. The former is primarily a classical territorial dispute, i.e. defining the land frontier between two states. The latter is essentially a case of denial of the right of self-determination to millions of people – a right that had been formally pledged to them not only by both the governments of India and Pakistan but, indeed, by the world community through the United Nations.
And what does our horde of liberals hope to achieve by constantly harping on the outmoded theme of ‘quest for peace’ in an environment where the two sides have yet to grasp the concept of entering into a meaningful dialogue to settle the contentious issues hanging fire? The transition from the ‘discussion mode’ to a ‘settlement mode’ is, or at least should be, the quest of the two sides, rather than carrying out an inane exercise in platitudes. The need of the hour is to somehow vault over the hurdles.
What is stated in the foregoing paragraphs is merely the tip of the iceberg. It would serve little purpose to go into greater detail. But one thing is abundantly clear. It is time to acknowledge responsibility for failures, as well as to give credit where it is due. Leaderships of both India and Pakistan owe it to their peoples to ensure a peaceful and secure environment for their future generations.
The world situation has undergone a sea change over the past many years. Nearer home, the era of posturing, knee-jerk reactions and scoring debating points at the expense of each other is long passe. Contentious issues need to be settled in an equitable and principled manner. The name of the game is (in the words of the good Dr. Manmohan Singh) to let bygones be bygones and to look to the future. The past of the relations between the two neighbours has been murky at best. Time has come to turn a new leaf, eschew the debilitating habit of knee-jerk reactions and/or jumping to unwarranted conclusions.
Above all, there is need to show maturity and to usher in a ‘settlement mode’ in our bilateral dealings. Past experience has shown that hostile posturing aimed at scoring brownie points will lead us nowhere. And let us hope that people who matter on both sides do not lose sight of the axiom that those who opt to live in the past are condemned to repeat it.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.