NIRUPAMA RAO COMES CALLING IN PAKISTAN

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, June 25, 2010 – Unlike more conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia, which prize uniformity and discourage diversity, India prides itself on its mosaic of faiths and peoples. The food, dress and attitudes in an eastern state such as West Bengal is very different from that in the northern state of Rajasthan. The first has had a Communist government in power since the 1960s,while the latter still respects the Maharajas whose kingdoms were taken over in 1947 and who – despite having signed a binding covenant with the Government of India at the time – were deprived of their titles and much of their wealth in 1969 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to whom the only law that mattered was her personal whims.

Even nearby states are very different. Maharashtra (where Mumbai is situated) is one of the most poorly administered states in India, where even the police are more likely to side with lawbreakers than with law-abiders. This was on international display less than two years ago, when a few scruffy youngsters held the city to ransom for three days after having come ashore from Karachi. The reaction of the Mumbai police (except for a very few instances of personal courage) would have made Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame look serious. That it took more than 72 hours to clear them away from just three buildings revealed the sorry state of preparedness of Mumbai against a terror attack, in contrast to Pakistan, where action against desperados has been swifter. In contrast, the next-door state of Gujarat has a super-efficient government that ensures one of the highest rates of economic growth in India.

However, where Maharashtra scores is in fairness to minorities, whereas Gujarat was the location of the 2002 riots that snuffed out the lives of about 400 Hindus and 1600 Muslims. The images of frenzied Hindu mobs killing Muslims in Gujarat has been the best recruitment poster for those seeking to carry out acts of terror in India, and thus far, there has not been an apology from the Government of Gujarat for the carnage Apart from Gujarat, another state where minorities are treated badly is Kashmir, where Hindus and Buddhists living in Jammu and Ladakh are eager to separate from Sunni-focussedadministrations in Srinagar. Strangely, whether it be international diplomats or mediapersons, almost all the attention is paid to the few but articulate Sunni politicians leading very comfortable lives in the Kashmir Valley, while the Shias, the Gujjars and the Bakerwals (not to mention Hindus and Buddhists) remain ignored by the international community. In a way, this is a tribute to the ceaseless efforts carried out by the Pakistan Diaspora in countries such as the UK and the US, especially those hailing from Mirpur. UK politicians in particular who have large pools of Pakistan-origin voters in their constituencies feel themselves obliged to sound off about Kashmir, such as making the helpful suggestion that India should free Kashmir “the way Indonesia freed East Timor”. As this columnist pointed out to then Indonesian Presidential Advisor Dewi Fortuna Anwar, the granting of independence to East Timor would generate anti-Christian feelings among Indonesia’s Muslims, who would be angry that whenever the Christians are in a majority, they seek to separate. This is exactly what happened.

Today, Muslim-Christian relations in Indonesia are getting worse, because the humiliating embers of Timor are burning in the Muslim mind Although this view will not be popular in Pakistan (or with the many EU politicians who see themselves asconflict resolution experts), the reality is that no political leader in India can dare to either give Kashmir to Pakistan or make it free. To do so would be to generate a violent reaction within the Hindu community as would make Gujarat look like a picnic. Because a Muslim-majority state (Kashmir) and a Christian-majority state (Nagaland) are part of India, moderate Hindus argue that the country is secular. If these were to break away, then those Hindus who (wrongly) argue that Muslims and Christians can never be loyal to the Union of India would get their ranks expanded exponentially, with disastrous consequences for social stability in India. It is the country’s secular ethos that is keeping it from imploding, and this ethos depends heavily on the reality of Kashmir and Nagaland being honoured parts of the country. Since economic liberalisation began in the 1990s,several hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris and Nagas have settled in other parts of India, buying properties and raising families there, thereby strengthening the links between their states and India, a trend that is continuing. Indeed, the policy of encouraging Kashmiri settlement in other parts of India dates from the mid-1990s,the period when the insurgency there was at its peak, fuelled by a sympathetic Bill Clinton. In several homes, there were photos of a grinning Clinton, with the homeowners confident that he would “teach India a lesson the way he did Serbia”. These days, far fewer Sunnis in the Valley believe that India is so weak that it could be dictated to.

Given such a ground reality, those in Pakistan who are hoping for a “breakthrough” over Kashmir during the present visit of India’s glamourous, articulate lady Foreign Secretary to Islamabad are likely to be disappointed. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeks peace with Pakistan, there is no way he can meet the conditions set for that outcome by General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, which is to set Kashmir free. Hence, it is likely that the Pakistan army will continue its longstanding policy of providing support to those fighting India in Kashmir, even though this is creating problems for Pakistan with the US and these days, even with China. The reason lies in the evolving geopolitics and geo-economics of the region.

The US and China see India as a major economic partner, which even at present is giving them huge amounts of profit, the same way as Indian oil purchases benefit the third ally of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. In today’s world, where the economy is supreme, few politicians would risk tens of billions of dollars in opposing India. Despite all its problems, most created by a governmental system that is among the most corrupt and dysfunctional in the world, India is on course to become the world’s third biggest economy by 2030,a source of capital and profit. Today, India is becoming one of the largest investors in the US and the UK, while even in Saudi Arabia, Indian companies (for example in telecom) are making big investments. Long ago, in 1997,this columnist met Kashmiri leader Shabir Shah in Jammu, who was very hopeful that Bill Clinton would “force India to give freedom to Kashmir”. It has been a long wait for Mr Shah, who these days is hoping for a miracle courtesy Barack Obama. Sadly for him, where business logic bumps against ideology, the former usually wins. Although Nirupama Rao cannot give satisfaction to the demands of the Pakistan army, yet she comes ready to discuss and implement a host of measures that can enhance economic performance and public contact between the two neighbours.

The goal needs to be a demilitarized border between India and Pakistan Although President Asif Ali Zardari has these days been making negative noises about India, mainly for survival in an environment where powerful lobbies want him to quit, he knows that what the people of Pakistan want is economic growth and the social stability that comes with it. Greater trade between India and Pakistan and greater interaction between the two civil societies can lead to confidence that neither side would go to war against the other. This columnist has been visiting China since 1999 in pursuit of his vision of a fully demilitarized Sino-Indian border. Such an outcome would be very desirable on the Pakistan side as well. Ultimately, if confidence in each other reaches high levels, a government in India can relax border controls in Kashmir and thereby meet a substantial part of local demands. However, confidence is the pre-condition for progress over Kashmir, not a Kashmir settlement being the pre-condition for confidence. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao enjoys the confidence not only of Manmohan Singh but Congress President Sonia Gandhi as well. She needs to return home with hope that someday – and not too far in the future – the India-Pakistan border will be a Zone of Peace. Inshallah!

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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