After seven decades of independence from the colonial tutelage, it is time for India and Pakistan to examine why the two are unable to mend fences and how they can live as ‘normal’ and peaceful neighbours? Hostility, antagonism, paranoia and mistrust which continue to influence and shape the mindset of leadership of India and Pakistan is not a new phenomenon but it is as old as their existence as sovereign states.
Why India-Pakistan moment of truth has arrived and how it is termed as an opportunity for New Delhi and Islamabad to take fresh initiatives for mitigating seven decades of unabated tension and confrontation? Because of three main reasons one can argue that a paradigm shift in Indo-Pak relations is possible in the years to come. First, after going through three wars and numerous armed conflicts, India and Pakistan tend to reach a stalemate or cul-se-dec thus exhausting their energies to sustain the level of conflict. Armed with hundreds of nuclear weapons capable of inflicting colossal material and physical damage in the event of an all out war, the challenge for India and Pakistan is how to deal with the costs of conflict while at the same time also manage the task of social and human development. As unresolved contentious issues namely Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek ought to be a zero-sum game for India and Pakistan, there is no option left for the two countries except to resume composite dialogue and follow the path of purposeful negotiations. The age-old rhetoric based on ‘blame game’ has been counter productive and cannot go on for ever.
One harsh reality that has never gone away over the last 70 years is the deliberate omission by both sides of their shared rich cultural heritage and strong traditions of tolerance and harmony regardless of cultural and religious variations
Second, lethal threats like global warming, climate change, energy, water and over population will cause havoc in South Asia if the regional countries particularly India and Pakistan continue to neglect issues which will deepen human security predicament of their more than one billion population. While not being mindful of such threats which will endanger the lives of millions of people of the two countries, the outcome will be further marginalization of South Asia in terms of global human development index. Without united and coordinated efforts to deal with such threats, India and Pakistan cannot escape from the implications of issues which will further degenerate their quality of life.
Furthermore, extremism, intolerance, militancy, violence and terrorism particularly among the youths are the issues which India and Pakistan cannot deal in an isolation; without coordinated and united efforts. Unfortunately, the option of composite dialogue which could have been of enormous use for the two countries to deal with contentious issues and move ahead remains dormant primarily because of New Delhi’s adamant stance not to proceed with dialogue unless its precondition to first deal with the issue of terrorism is met. Yet, sooner or later, India will have to reconsider its behaviour and stance and revert to composite dialogue with Pakistan because confrontation cannot be a permanent option. India’s ambition to emerge as an Asian and then a global power would remain elusive unless it normalizes its relations with Pakistan. Third, scores of missed opportunities in the last seven decades by India and Pakistan to mend fences plunged the two countries deeper in the web of underdevelopment, backwardness and marginalization in world affairs. It is the realization of being left out in global competition like world Olympics that is sufficient to reinforce the impending ‘moment of truth’ emerging in India and Pakistan about the price of conflict which they have paid in the last five decades at the expense of human and social development.
After seven decades of independence, India and Pakistan must look into some of the hard realities and unleash a thought process for transforming their failures into successes. One major hard reality which is quite obvious in 70 years of relationship of India and Pakistan is deliberate omission of their rich cultural heritage and strong traditions of tolerance and harmony regardless of cultural and religious variations.
When partition of the Indian sub-continent took place amidst large scale violence and migration, neither Jinnah nor Nehru or Gandhi had visualized that the two countries would turn out to be permanent enemies and their borders would be inaccessible for normal travel and trade. But their successors made sure that ‘enemy images’ which shaped post-1947 Indo-Pak relations must remain intact. That the baggage of history must be carried out by the post-partition generation so that efforts for peace and reconciliation remain futile or fragile. Hostility, mistrust and suspicion permeated in the post-partition generation because of history text books which instead of advocating peace, tolerance and reconciliation promoted antagonism and ill-will. That is the reason why India and Pakistan failed to produce leaders like Nelson Mandela, Charles de Gaulle and Willy Brandt who in their respective countries followed the path of peace and economic progress through prudence and vision.
The way out for India and Pakistan from present impasse is an uphill task but not impossible. In the last 70 years scores of proposals and plans in the realm of conflict management, resolution and confidence building measures were presented through Track-I, Track-2 and Track-3 initiatives but without plausible results. However, it doesn’t mean that one should abandon hope and optimism for a better future for more than one billion population of India and Pakistan. If their present is painful then their past and future will also be unpleasant.
Dr Moonis Ahmar is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi. E. Mail: email@example.com
Published in Daily Times, August 12th 2017.