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Sunday, July 15, 2001
Lead Article

The Bumpy Road to Peace

Economic Cooperation, and not Jehad, Shows the Way

In the 21st century, religion cannot be a unifying force, but economic well-being can be a major cementing force between two hostile peoples. The USA is a shining example of the success of a modern nation-state based on shared economic prosperity. Herein lies the lesson for President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, writes Hari Jaisingh

WILL the historic Agra setting produce results different from the earlier India-Pakistan summits at different times, against different backdrop and in different circumstances? An objective assessment of 54 years of blow-hot, blow-cold relations is not easy. For, the history of bilateral ties has been written more in emotion-soaked blood than with the dry ink of logic and pragmatism. Of course, there have been occasional departures from the war hysteria which have produced several agreements and documents from Tashkent to Shimla to Lahore. But they have hardly produced the desired results, and now expectations from the Agra summit between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee are high.

 


Will they be able to usher in a new turn in the relationship? There is a cautious optimism in New Delhi. For, Indian leaders are not sure of the writ of Pakistanís President within his country. They, therefore, would wish to create the right atmosphere for a better tomorrow. A lot will depend on how the General conducts himself.

This requires a bold approach to all outstanding issues. The moot point, however, is: why should the shadow of Partition still guide and sustain outdated thinking and concepts? To whose advantage is the hackneyed mindset?

To give honest answers to these questions is not an easy task in the absence of candid thinking and free exchange of views at the level of people and intellectuals. Being a free-wheeling democracy, India has had an advantage in this regard. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Pakistan for reasons which are easy to understand.

The main problem here is that the major players in subcontinental politics have been selective in their approach and understanding of men, matters and issues.

The Indian perspective points an accusing finger at the Pakistani mindset, and understandably so. The Pakistani leaders see the problems only from their side of the fence. In the circumstances, a meeting of minds becomes quite a complex exercise.

Perhaps, the Pakistani ruling elite is caught in its own web. Most leaders have been unable to come out of the psychological fallout of Partition which hurled untold misery caused to the people on both sides of the political divide. Most of the psychological factors prevailing at the personal and family levels, interestingly, have been sensibly depicted by the box office hit "Gaddar". I understand the film has also clicked with Pakistani viewers.

The problem with the rulers in Islamabad has been their failure to come out of the set mould of anti-India hysteria which derives its sustenance from religious jingoism. In a way, this is part of Pakistanís never-ending search for an identity. Its obsession with Kashmir right from Partition days is part of this desperate quest. Some Pakistani leaders call this an unfinished agenda. This thinking is both lopsided and misplaced.

In the 21st century, religion cannot be a unifying force, but economic well-being can be a major cementing force between two hostile peoples. The USA is a shining example of the success of a modern nation-state based on shared economic prosperity. Herein lies the lesson for President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee.

The rulers in Islamabad also believe that grabbing Kashmir will weaken the very foundations of the Indian state, based on secularism and enlightened liberalism, to the advantage of the Islamic state. This is erroneous thinking.

Pakistani leaders are, of course, entitled to their views and obsessions. However, it is high time they became realistic and stopped chasing the mirage called Kashmir.

To say this is not to rule out the possibility of a negotiated settlement. But for this, the proxy war and open support to militant groups will have to end.

As it is, the jehadi elements operating in concert with the Taliban are already posing a threat to Pakistan itself. Indeed, if Islamabad has already started feeling the heat of fundamentalism in the region, it will be in its interest to curb the activities of the jehadis firmly.

For that matter, what has Islamabad achieved after three wars and the ongoing proxy war? These have only vitiated the atmosphere of peace in the subcontinent and beyond.

Let Kashmir take a back seat. It can be discussed and deliberated upon.

But, meanwhile, why not explore avenues of cooperation in trade, economy and culture whose beneficiaries will be the people of the two countries and not feudal lords and scheming politicians?

Take the proposed India-Iran gas pipeline. It will give Islamabad $ 600 million by way of royalty every year. The expansion of trade between the two countries will also have several spinoffs.

Why cannot our friends in Pakistan think on new lines? There is an exciting world of cooperation and friendship for mutual benefit which will not only make South Asia a power to reckon with but also open up fresh arenas for investment and growth which will, in the next few decades, make the entire region a major economic power.

Why cannot the Pakistani leaders think in terms of the advantages they will derive by promoting better economic and business ties? They now get some of the most commonplace items via Dubai and Singapore when they can be had far cheaper through the Wagah border.

Donít our leaders understand the meaning of globalisation? The key element in globalisation is efficiency and competitiveness in producing better goods at economic rates. Combined South Asian efforts can not only raise the standards of living of the people but also give these countries new prestige and position in the comity of nations.

Pakistani leaders must realise that the road to peace between India and Pakistan lies not through Kashmir but through the removal of poverty of millions of people on both sides of the border.

Who has gained from wars fought at the cost of people? Perhaps some faceless Generals and vested interests.

I am not sure whether General Musharraf will be able to come out of this circle of tragedies. Merely flaunting civilian robes does not make Generals more amenable to peace overtures and negotiated settlements of problem areas. What is important is the overhauling of the frozen mindset. The problem with the Generals in Islamabad is Kashmir and the anti-India postures which have triggered a number of wars.

It is erroneous to think that peace in the subcontinent can be imposed by Moscow, Washington or Beijing. The road to peace has to be built by enlightened and statesman-like initiatives of the leaders of the two countries. This is possible if we become more pragmatic and less emotional about past happenings.

Ushering in peace is no problem. It can be ensured within the lifespan of the present generation. But this requires statesmanship ó the sort which brought about radical changes in the attitude of the Japanese towards the Americans; the change which buried mutual suspicion and hatred between Britain and France in Europe; the change which led to the emergence of the European Common Market.

History acts as a beacon light on how the future can be recast and rebuilt by bringing about elementary changes in attitudes and priorities. I know for Islamabad Kashmir is the one and only priority. But then it should also realise that under no circumstances will New Delhi succumb to pressures and give Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter.

For India, Kashmir is not a simple question of territory. It is part of its civilisational values and roots based on secular traditions. These have actually been part of subcontinental politics till 1947, and they are still very much part of the Indian ethos.

The problem is that Pakistan wants to rewrite history. This can be self-defeating. No country can acquire a viable identity as a modern state by disowning its past. How and why Pakistan was created is part of colonial history.

The Muslims have been very much part of the subcontinentís turbulent history. The Taj is also very much part of the Mughal glory. Innumerable Muslim shrines and mosques too are very much built into the Indian psyche. We do not believe in selectively disowning the past.

The Sufi tradition and several other reforms and Sikhism have also been part of the evolution of Indian civilisational values. They are as much applicable to Pakistan as they are to India.

Enough damage has been caused by misguided Pakistani leaders to bring about changes in the Kashmir valley through armed infiltration, militants and mercenaries. Outside elements have been absorbed in the Indian system. But they cannot be allowed to hijack history, people and established values which make Kashmir an integral part of the Indian nationhood.

Not that India and Pakistan should not discuss the Kashmir imbroglio. They must. But that can be done separately, dispassionately and objectively and not under the dictates of fundamentalists of all hues and opinions.

Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf will have to explore peaceful avenues to improve relations. Better economic ties and trade can create the right atmosphere for a give and take in areas of tension.

Equally vital here are people-to-people contacts, including the exchange of media persons and intellectuals. Once the voice of the people and thinking persons develops a stake in peace, everything will fall in line for a fruitful relationship between the two countries.

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