Asia – the biggest continent on Earth – continues in a state of re-evolution. The eventual result of this metamorphosis is bound to have a profound impact on the shape of things to come on our planet. Whether the powers that be like it or not, Asia is destined to emerge as the continent of the 21st century. The latent forces at work in this continent will shape the destiny of the world at large in the years to come.
Events are moving with breath-taking rapidity in this vast continent that encompasses not only the two most populous countries on the planet and some of its most vibrant economies, but also the bulk of the world’s Muslim population. It is also the repository of some of the most coveted of the natural resources on Earth. The international scenario has undergone a sea change over the turn of the millennium.
No wonder then that the situation in our region is gaining increasing attention of the rest of the world. The situation in neighbouring Afghanistan has continued to cadge headlines thanks to the sordid aftermath of the ‘war on terror’. Over the recent past, the situation in the South Asian region in general and Pakistan-India relations in particular has hardly provided any cause for optimism. If anything, the bilateral ties between the two neighbouring states are on a downward slide. This slide needs to be checked and, if possible, reversed. The elections in India – that brought into power an extremist and prejudiced conglomerate into power – has further aggravated an already tense relationship.
The long-lasting stand-off, due mainly to the unsettled contentious bilateral disputes, has been further aggravated due to the religious intolerance being exhibited regrettably by the new Indian regime. India, that once prided itself on being a tolerant secular entity, appears to have shed its benign image in favour of a belligerent posture vis-à-vis Pakistan and even its own Muslim citizens. The situation is made worse by the several credible reports lately of Indian Intelligence Agencies having encouraged and abetted hostile acts of terrorism within Pakistan. This is in addition to frequent shelling across the Line of Control in Kashmir.
South Asia has exhibited all signs of being an ill-starred region over the past several decades. The rather belated agreement to set up SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) raised some hopes but the Organisation did not live up to its promise. Not only has the Organisation been a singular failure in efforts to add an economic dimension of note to the regional ties, its record in regional planning and problem solving has been pathetic.
What has made matters worse has been the fact that India, making no secret of its ‘Big Brother’ attitude, made evident its intention of dealing with of its each neighbours individually and on its own terms. The spirit of SAARC has as a result been stifled to a great extent!
Despite the surfeit of platitudes and the ostensible efforts of all and sundry, Pakistan-India relations remain stuck in a groove. In fact, things are evidently getting worse. The basic problem is that most unsettled issues between the two countries do not relate to territorial claims alone. Territorial issues can be frozen – much as China-India issues have been – but matters become more complicated when denial of the fundamental rights of people, vital economic matters like apportionment of water and the ownership of natural resources, as well as environmental issues, are inextricably linked with them.
India’s establishment apparently continues to believe that time is on its side. It feels that the longer these contentious issues are allowed to fester, more the chances of settling them on India’s terms. This smacks of negative tactics. Pakistan would much prefer a positive outlook. Pakistan would also wish to put a time-frame on settlement of all contentious issues. India, to all appearance, would rather let them fester till a time of its own choosing.
The two sides should recognise the urgency of settling the contentious issues sooner rather than later. History waits for no person or country. Time is of the essence. The future development of this region depends on this. India, on the other hand, has shown no inclination to engage in meaningful negotiations so far. Nor does it agree to adopt other means of settling disputes as laid down in the Charter of the United Nations and as recognised in the Simla Agreement.
It need hardly be over-emphasised that India-Pakistan negotiations of the future must needs be meaningful and result-oriented. Talking just for the sake of talking – as has been happening in the past – is not going to help. Pointing of accusing fingers at each other to garner brownie points, and/or stepping on each others’ toes – as has been the practice thus far – is also counter-productive. Composite dialogue if it resumes must live up to its name. It needs to be result-oriented and it should be ‘composite’.
Pakistan is embarking on an ambitious economic programme connected with the projected China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. For this to yield positive results, it is imperative to have peace both within the country and on the frontiers. This will be the assaying time for Pakistan vis-a-vis neighbours as well as those who profess to be its friends. Needless to add, it will also be the opportunity for the powers that be in Pakistan to separate the grain from the chaff. One discerns a fork in the road. A wise decision at this juncture will be of crucial importance!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.