While the Muslim world is in turmoil from Tunis to Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, certain States and Regions of CIS and Pakistan, India is readying to engage her next neighbour in the west to discuss old political disputes and resolve “most crucial issue” between the two, “trust deficit”. We welcome purposeful engagement and pursuit for good neighbourly relations with all countries in the region.
However, as a humble student of Political Science and an observer of International Affairs for the last 4.5 decades, to me terms “friendship”, “trust” and “ally” etc. used in international relations are most deceptive in their essence. “National Interest” is the only guiding factor for making or breaking relations. Oft repeated saying, “there is no permanent enemy or friend in politics” equally applies to international relations.
India and Pakistan have been discussing with intervals and interruptions the elusive “trust building measures” without moving ahead for the last 12 years, from the day then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee travelled to Lahore by bus (Feb 19, 1999). We must ask ourselves if any point is left in burning more oil repeating same arguments again and again! Do we not need some fresh approach to reach the destination? The world is moving faster and we are still stuck in six-decade-old issues. Are we doing justice to ourselves? No. But certainly we need to do.
What is the way out? There is one. Look towards the misery of your people and put old issues on hold for some time to discuss ‘our’ mutual interests and list avenues where we can co-operate for shared benefit. When we say ‘our’, we do not mean political interests of ruling parties, persons, groups or intelligence and military establishments, but interests of the people of two countries in particular and in general of our region and the world at large. India and Pakistan urgently need to ameliorate the living conditions of the masses and lessen their miseries.
During his recent visit to Washington (January 14) President A. A. Zardari told President Barak Obama: “Pakistan does not want to be a permanent recipient of US aid. We want to be able to stand on our feet.” Obama administration also believes that, “efforts to bring economic stability and build democratic institutions are crucial.”
President Zardari’s concern for economic self reliance is understandable. But looking towards Washington instead of New Delhi may not be termed as the best choice. Strategically, India may be the best partner. He needs to open doors and move ahead from mere Onion and Cotton.
Inclusive Growth (IG) must be the plank as a basis for co-ordination and co-operation that will ultimately result in “confidence building.” IG implies a direct link between the macro and micro determinants of growth. It covers sustainable and speedy development in industrial and agricultural productivity, expansion in infrastructure, safeguard and improvement of ecosystem, elimination of un-employment, bonded labour, hunger, deceases, social ills like illiteracy, extremism, demeaning plight of women, coercion and disgrace of have-not’s, which are deep rooted in various degrees all over the region including our next neighbours like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Burma.
Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi are expected to meet in Thimpu in the first week of February on the sidelines of SAARC Ministerial Conference. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has expressed her cautious optimism when she told Pakistani journalists, “I cannot promise you any breakthrough during the Foreign Minister-level talks, but I am sure things would move ahead.” She said, “One has to be sober about expectations.” (New Delhi, 25th January). Rao is scheduled to meet with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir on 6-7 February before Ministerial meeting.
Unfolding Indian priorities, Rao referred to the Mumbai terror attacks and said, “It’s an issue that is very much a part of what we want to speak to Pakistan about.” Slow pace of the trial of Mumbai attack suspects in Pakistan is highly deplorable. Indian Government has certain internal compulsions too for pressing upon speedy trial. However, we understand that unfortunately India and Pakistan have inherited same legal systems with common feature, ‘stretching the process of litigation for decades’. Investigation systems of both countries also replicate in delaying and derailing to suit political scenario. Samjhauta Express blasts case (February 18, 2007) may be cited for example which is being used by Pakistan as an excuse.
India needs to set an example by punishing real perpetrators of all bomb blasts since 2004 in a transparent manner and by speedy trials. Delaying in delivering justice in our own courts and pushing innocent people behind bars has left little moral ground for us to press upon Pakistan which has her own compulsions as Rao has underlined: “Though India was mindful of Islamabad’s compulsions in taking action against masterminds behind the Mumbai attacks, it was expecting speedy results.”
It is unfortunate that India and Pakistan have developed a tendency of covering up crimes for their diplomatic or political considerations. What we need to discuss and resolve is creating an atmosphere in which such political and diplomatic considerations become irrelevant. Concept of enmity should be replaced by good will as Rao wished when she stressed, “India wants to see a peaceful, stable, energy-secure and prosperous Pakistan that acts as a bulwark against terrorism for its own sake and for the good of the region.” We need to take steps beyond verbal assurance to establish our intention.
We must evaluate the depth of Mumbai attack. It has deeply hurt the Indians and no democracy can afford ignoring sensitivities of its people. Mumbai attack was not merely a terror incident, but an attack on our good faith and good will. It tore hopes of early resolution of long standing irritants. I quote Saeed Naqvi’s account which he wrote after recent visit of Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri to India, the foreign minister of Pakistan from 2002 to 2007, when Indo-Pak relations peaked:
“When I was travelling around Pakistan during the February 2008 elections, the atmospherics were perfect. Not once was India or even Kashmir mentioned throughout the election campaign. Then 26/11 happened. Obviously someone in the Pak establishment was searching for a strong anti-Pak reaction from India, strong enough for it to destroy all traces of Indo-Pak goodwill so diligently put in place by Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Kasuri with total support from Musharraf. Kasuri remembers most tellingly: “When I came to India in February 2007, the Samjhauta Express happened; when Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited New Delhi, Mumbai blew up.” Obviously, powerful interests on both sides are opposed to peace.
It was in anticipation of precisely such a situation that during Musharraf’s visit to New Delhi in April 2005, the two sides agreed that acts of terrorism would not be allowed to derail the peace process. The peace process was “irreversible”.
Anybody can guess the authors of 26/11. Naqavi wrote: “Never was the Pak army more unpopular than it was in mid-2008; the blowback from the Afghan war, the attack on Lal Masjid aggravated by the chief justice and the lawyers had all recoiled on the army.” After 26/11 atmosphere has reversed, thanks to the media guided by anti-Muslim hysteria created by Sangh Parivar, which virtually declared war on Pakistan and Pakistani media responded in the same vein. This was exactly what authors of 26/11 and anti-Muslim elements in India wanted. Destroy good will between India and Pakistan. Should we allow them to be happy?
Political establishment in Pakistan lacks effective control on its defence establishment. It is feared that efforts to satisfy India’s demand regarding Mumbai attack may boomerang and harm democratic process there. Ultimately we will have to wait till equations change and democratically elected Government is strong enough to assert against the wishes of its Generals, as has changed in Istanbul. We need to strengthen the hands of democratically elected government.
Then what is the way out? Only economic ties and development of infrastructure can help us remove historical irritants, scars of partition and miseries of people. We wish our subcontinent to be like Europe where all countries have forgotten their past rivalries to live in harmony and where borders have become irrelevant.
Well known writer and journalist Ahmed J. Rashid observed in an interview to Aalia Allana (Indian Express, January 28, 2011): “The situation in Pakistan is dire – we’re in a complete economic crisis. Of course, the only real (and potential) investor could be India. India is investing across the world; it can in Pakistan too. The society, traders and the industrialists are crying for engagement. When relations were normal five years ago (under Musharraf), Pakistan feared Indian products would swamp our markets but Indians like our products too. The old fear, that India would swallow us economically, is no more. Economics can unite us.”
This is exactly what India has stressed. We need to change mindsets in a positive manner and reduce and forget the animosity that has been adversely affecting relations. Look forward towards mitigating the sufferings of the poor and pay more attention towards the development of our countries.
S.M. Krishna, External Affairs Minister of India, shared this vision with visiting Pakistani journalists (New Delhi, 27th January). Krishna said that issues like poverty, health, education and building of infrastructure should take precedence over the main irritants which could be put on the back burner till such time the atmosphere becomes more conducive. Relationship between India and Pakistan could grow much faster if we mutually accommodate each other’s point of view. India, he said, desired peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan because it sincerely felt that “this would enable both the countries to concentrate more on fruitful issues and economic development” which would ultimately result in progress and prosperity and bring gains to both the countries.
Krishna impressed upon visiting guests on the occasion of our Republic Day, that India has come out of that particular mindset and sincerely wants peace and cordial relations with Pakistan. “India and Pakistan will have to learn to live as good neighbours.” He made it clear that peace was not only in the interest of Pakistan but was in the interest of India too because if both the countries remained angry with each other nothing would be achieved for the betterment of masses on either side of the border. We must iron out differences, sooner the better so that both the countries focused on issues which could bring peace and prosperity in the entire region, he added. He, however, admitted that all the problems which have existed between India and Pakistan since decades cannot be resolved in one sitting. For this he suggested: “step by step guarded and forward looking approach.”
Touching the chord of sympathy with the victims of sectarian terror in Pakistan, Krishna said that it hurts India when innocent Pakistanis are killed in terror attacks. He said he has told his Foreign Secretary to go all out in assuring that India desired to live in peace with Pakistan and was willing to talk on all the issues.
Pakistan must consider seriously coming on board with India for inclusive development of the nation. India is emerging as a major economic power. Its economy is so robust that world leaders are in rush to expand economic ties with her. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who came to New Delhi in July, was followed by U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in a span of two months.
It was the first time that all five permanent members of the UNSC visited India in a space of six months. Among the top items on their agenda was closer trade and business ties with the country’s fast-growing economy.
Economist D.H. Pai Panandiker, who heads the research group RPG Goneka Foundation in New Delhi, says Western leaders see in India the potential for exports and investment, and the prospect of creating more jobs at home. “The Indian economy is now over a trillion dollar economy, and it is developing pretty fast, that means a very big market for the countries where the growth rate is very small. They are looking at India as a market which can give a fillip to their own economy.”
Multi-billion dollar deals were announced during these visits. Why Pakistan is shying away to share the benefits of surging Indian economy? Open your hearts and your markets to Indian trade and industry. This will create conducive environment to resolve outstanding issues.
[The writer is a senior journalist of Urdu, Gen. Secretary, Forum for Civil Rights. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org]