Let us face it: who in his or her right mind would not be in favour of peace in our region?
But then peace, though a consummation devoutly to be wished, is not there for the asking. It comes at a price. Let no one forget that hankering after ‘peace’- while putting the contentious issues on the backburner – amounts to putting the cart before the horse. To put it another way, the objective of good health cannot be achieved by merely suppressing the symptoms of the disease. The name of the game is to eliminate the causes first.
Having come this far, a look over the shoulder may be in order. Several years ago, governments of India and Pakistan had agreed that quest for peace lay down the CBM road. Good intentions apart, can anyone honestly claim that the countless CBMs, strewn all over the bilateral field as a consequence, brought the goal of peace any closer? It may be worthwhile to take a stab at evaluating the impact the CBMs put in place. Let us begin with the ones relating to facilitating “people-to-people contact”. So much fuss had been made about the need for ‘people-to-people contact’ that it appeared that these CBMs would turn out to be a panacea for all bilateral ills. Several ‘intellectuals’, who ought to know better, had continued to press for people-to-people contact as the end all, be all of bilateral detente between the two countries. Some had even gone to the extent of claiming that once “people-to-people contacts” became a reality it would automatically lead to a fair settlement of all contentious issues!
As it turned out, the enthusiasm for ‘contact’ turned out to be somewhat one-sided. Visits from India (apart from those of members of divided families that owed little to the CBMs) remained few and far between. Save for a few inspired visits by selected members of the showbiz family and jet-set crowd (those too on express invitations), there was little enthusiasm from Indians in general to join the people-to-people contact race. Peaceniks had hopes that Indian visitors of all shades of opinion would queue up to visit Pakistan in droves. Had this happened, the objective could perhaps have been achieved to some extent! But nothing of the kind materialized. Apart from those few who responded to personal invitations from Pakistani friends, few Indian visitors appeared keen to take advantage of the somewhat relaxed visa regime. The visa regime has since reverted to square one!
Pakistanis, one recalls, had gone overboard at the opportunity that this afforded. Individual visits apart, innumerable group tours – including several ladies’ social clubs, their purses bursting with dollars – paid visits to India. Some came back from their yatras so satisfied that gossip has it that they not only got their friends interested but also planned several sequels for themselves. If anything, this CBM appears to have accomplished a lot for the Indian tourism industry.
Looking at the overall picture, it would appear that most CBMs (that the two countries had gone in for, with so much gusto) hardly lived up to their promise. In fact, one saw little or no indication of the contentious bilateral issues coming any closer to equitable settlement as a consequence. It does make one think seriously whether the path strewn by CBMs that the two sides had opted to traverse was really the optimum choice. All they appeared to have succeeded in was to provide grist for the mills of those cynics who delighted in saying “we told you so”.
Time is ripe for the leaderships of the two countries to stop their merry-go-rounds and face squarely the facts of life and to take a conscious decision to tackle the outstanding issues in a businesslike manner. Merely to keep on repeating the mantra that ‘settlement of long-standing issues will take time’ is neither here nor there. Let it be said, all issues are amenable to prompt, equitable and lasting settlement; all that is needed is political will. And political will, need one add, is hardly dependant on any CBM, however lustrous it may appear at the end of the rainbow.
It would be counter-productive to lose hope, though. Time is at hand for the establishments of the two countries to count their blessings and to move on to more viable options. It is imperative to keep in mind that time is of the essence. After all, for how long can the two sides afford the luxury of sweeping the outstanding issues under the proverbial rug? And how long can they keep festering issues on the backburner? This region has been suffering from self-inflicted lacerations for several decades. Must this incongruous situation be allowed to continue indefinitely? Surely, the peoples of South Asia deserve better!
The leaderships of both India and Pakistan need to get accustomed to the reality that the two countries are destined to live as neighbors for all times to come. If they opt to live as good neighbors, it would be to the benefit of both peoples. Continuation of tension never did any region any good. Tension merely serves to sap the resources and divert attention away from working for the well being of the common folk. It is still not too late to make amends. The contentious issues between the two countries need to be tackled resolutely and head on. A switch-over to ‘problem-settlement mode’ is called for. Time is at hand for good people on either side to give this matter serious thought before it is too late! Optimists hope that the result of the coming general election in India will auger well. Hope springs eternal!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.