Bilateral relations between the India and Pakistan have long been stuck in a proverbial logjam. The question that presents itself, begging for an answer, is: will this logjam ever be untangled or is this region destined to be enmeshed in it for all times to come? It is a bit late in the day now to indulge in a blame game. The objective is not to point fingers but to bring about sanity into the whole state of affairs. And that, as they say, is easier said than done!
The Pakistan-India composite dialogue was in the works since 1997. Not that there is much to show for the effort. What is more, the aforesaid dialogue was by no means the first one off the griddle. Several efforts at jumpstarting the peace wagon have been witnessed over the past decades. It is just that, despite the affable rhetoric off and on, what is conspicuously lacking in the whole wretched process is the elusive political will, without which no peace wagon can ever hope to move out of the proverbial ‘square one’.
Most write-ups of late have pointed to the fact that the advent of the Prime Minister Modi era has not helped matters. Despite what can perhaps be aptly termed as Modi-isms, a look over the shoulder would reveal that the past Indian administrations too had not shown any notable propensity towards untangling the entangled web.
The perspicacious reader will recall that after the democratic set-up took over in Pakistan, the, then, Indian Prime Minister – the good doctor Manmohan Singh – had sprung the revolutionary concept of ‘letting bygones be bygones’. This was undoubtedly native wisdom at its finest. Yet, look where the concept led the region to! It may be a trifle late in the day to recall that episode, but there should be no harm in harking back if only to put things back in perspective. For one thing, where can one possibly stow away bygones. One way to deal with them would undoubtedly be to let them be, but that is neither here nor there! There remains one little snag that would need to be sorted out whether one likes it or not. And that snag relates to the precise subject of interpretation. For instance, how does one go about defining ‘bygones’? Does this mean that what is past is past and cannot be wished back? How does this relate then to, say, the Jammu and Kashmir dispute? Was it an invitation to consign this dispute to the dustbin of history?
Several years have passed since the composite peace dialogue raised its wretched head. It went on for years before being scuttled for reasons that need not be detailed here. And yet the bilateral relationship is as it was. Not one of the contentious issues has moved so much as an inch towards a positive denouement. We have yet to see even one measly rabbit emerging out of the much-vaunted bilateral hat. Nevertheless, this is hardly the occasion to be facetious. Every little bit counts. Why can’t the two nations resume playing each other at cricket, for one thing? A beginning has to be made.
There is no shortage of right-thinking people on either side. One has had personal involvement in India-Pakistan negotiations ever since one had the privilege to be a member of the Pakistan delegation to the Simla Conference of June/July 1972. One recalls the words of P. N. Haksar, advisor to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the leader of the Indian Ministerial level team at Simla and after. Mr. Haksar had once remarked, “Pakistan and India share same economic woes in this competitive world. If only they would stop bickering and develop a modicum of cooperation in international economic forums, the two countries could go places”; or words to that effect! One mentions this without comment.
The establishments on the two sides owe it to their respective peoples – and above all to the coming generations – to work towards equitable and lasting settlement of all outstanding contentious issues between the two countries. It is then and only then that an atmosphere of peace, security and good neighborliness could be ushered in the regional environment. Failing this, the two countries will continue to grope in the dark. Let us face it; no amount of gamesmanship or, indeed, the debilitating exercise of leaning on imported crutches is going to help either country. The world has moved ahead at a pace that is dizzying, particularly for the relaxed and cultured folk of this region. There is just no alternative to regional cooperation and that connotes moving forward hand in hand, rather than at each others’ throats!
There is a lobby in India that believes that as the biggest country in the region, India has no obligation to show flexibility. That, they feel, would be a sign of weakness unworthy of a ‘big power’. This is a defeatist philosophy that would not pay dividends in the long run. What is called for at this juncture is foresight and a positive attitude. That is what should logically lead to the burying of the brittle and inflexible attitudes on both sides for all times to come. But will it ever come to pass? That is the moot question. The peoples of South Asia have suffered a lot over the past several decades. They certainly deserve a break. It is up to the leaderships of the two countries to read (and decipher) the writing on the wall. Then and only then will the region be in the position to move out of the impasse!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.