The Unneighbourly Neighbours


Now or Never to Rethink Pak-India Relations

The history of relations between India and Pakistan right from their inception as sovereign independent states on the map of the world is one of the baffling episodes of conflict and animosity marked by mutual rivalry, scepticism, distrust and jealousy. There is, save a few cases, hardly any point in history on which both the countries got along with each other unless with a no love lost.  During the 69-year span of their independence, they have gone to four major wars; in addition to intermittent clashes and frequent border skirmishes.

Where lies the fault line?

The genesis of the longstanding conflict between Pakistan and India is based on more than just one cause. The ideological divide between Muslim nationalism and Hindutva, which gained currency in the period between 1857 and 1947 and buttressed later by the partition of India, can be itemized as the major, if not the only, factor to preclude bonhomie in their mutual relations as immediate neighbours. This has been further reinforced by their respective national narratives which view one people as the inveterate enemy hell-bent on extirpating the other. The presence of frenzied elements on both sides of the Radcliffe Line, which are patronized by the establishments of two states, has further added to this sense of insecurity from each other. This can distinctly be felt in the anti-Pakistani and anti-Indian sentiment being manufactured in the national curricula of both the countries.

Second to the ideological rift, the chronic Kashmir dispute has screwed up their bilateral relationship. It has brought them into direct military confrontation four times; besides wreaking an immense loss on the heavenly valley. Furthermore, right from the get-go, it has put an unwarranted drain on their economies which ultimately resulted in their transmogrification virtually into police states and made them cast their attention away from the sufferings of their respective populaces.

The next bone of contention between the two countries is the distribution of waters of the rivers flowing into Pakistan from India. Since Pakistan is essentially an agrarian economy, it heavily depends on the adequate supply of water for irrigation purposes. Thus, for it, water is a matter of life and death. When the water dispute escalated, the situation was calmed down through the Indus Waters Treaty, which was mediated by the World Bank in 1960. However, the issue has once again reared its head upon India’s construction of hydroelectric projects on the western rivers to which Pakistan is solely entitled. Given the sensitivity of the issue, and the charged environment in the wake of the recent developments, both the countries are doomed to lurch into a sorry showdown at a slight flare-up.

Why peace is a distant dream?

Having said all that, we are given to think: “Are the issues between India and Pakistan too intractable for them to settle?” and “Are both of these countries condemned to live with an air of unceasing hostilities hanging over the heads of their populations like the sword of Damocles?”

Indisputably, a minor mishap can turn their tussle into a full-fledged nuclear war, that may culminate into what is termed in strategic jargon as “MAD” i.e. Mutually Assured Destruction. Not just these two states, rather the entire South Asian region has been a victim of instability that marred all the prospects to realize its potential. Needless to say, if France and Germany, and Japan and China can come to terms, can’t Pakistan and India emulate them and bury their historical hatchet and focus on the areas of common interests? Obviously, they can.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” It is, indeed, true of the establishments, and political elites on both sides of the border. To an extent, the relations between India and Pakistan have not bettered over the years, perhaps because those at the helm of affairs do not want them to improve; reason being their personal interests that are lost if things are back to normal. Now is the time for the ruling elites to digest the truth.  Admission alone would serve no purpose; the broad national interests must take precedence over the petty individual interests, and those of the institutions.

What lies ahead?

India has been adamant that terrorism is a major bone to be picked with Pakistan.  Although terrorism should be itemized as one of the issues on the negotiation table, India needs to shun its crybaby approach to hang the totality of relations on a single subject, cognizing that Pakistan itself is a victim of this menace, and has suffered a lot more than any other country. For its part, Pakistan should not let its relations with India lapse into a breakdown by setting Kashmir dispute as the only agenda. To realize this, both countries need to break the shackles of the traditional, decades-old narrative. The prospects for their bilateralism are near to nothing, if they are given to stay as the prisoners of the historical baggage.

The problem of non-state actors and that of terrorism must be addressed with a concerted effort through some institutional mechanism. For their part, they should embrace it as a now-or-never policy to play the game, not meddling in the internal affairs of each other, disrupting the stability, and instigating fissiparous sentiments in regions, as India has been vigorously fuelling the separatism in Balochistan. India needs to pull its spy missions working on subversive designs immediately out of Pakistan to bridge the “trust deficit”. Pakistan may reciprocate by pursuing other “confidence building measures” to dispel its image as a terrorism-sponsoring state.

The writing on the wall is that granted the gravity of the problem, a deadly showdown is very likely if India cuts off water to Pakistan, because the water blockage is going to unleash an unthinkable havoc on the latter’s entire population. Therefore, prudence lies in urgently addressing the water issue through the terms of settlement provided in the Indus Waters Treaty.

The thorny subject of Kashmir can only be taken up with a midway approach. It can be said with certitude that it is impossible to negotiate an amicable settlement, if India dwells on its traditional stand on Kashmir being its integral part; while Pakistan insisting on its solution in line with the UN resolutions. A midway has to be struck if the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is really meant.

Two scenarios

There are two alternative scenarios only one of which appears to be palatable to both the parties:

1. It is suggested by many that the status quo be formalized; thus making the Line of Control a permanent border. Resultantly, India will give up on its claim on the areas it shows in its map. Pakistan, on the other hand, will integrate the part of AJK in its federation; nevertheless, leaving the disputed territory to India. This option is not feasible for a couple of reasons. First, it fails to appease the demands of the Kashmiri people who have long been striving for independence from the ‘monster’ India. Secondly, it doesn’t also fit in the Pakistani narrative on which it has long based its ideology.

2. The second scenario is that both the countries relinquish their control of the valley; letting it be made into a quasi-independent nation under the UN administration. It would be a kind of a buffer state or a neutral one, keeping the prospects of warfare between Pakistan, and India minimum. Moreover, India and Pakistan may provide it with the armed forces at a 50:50 ratio. If this bargain is struck, the advantages will be umpteen; for example, abiding peace, an end to a historical rivalry, reduction in the huge defence budgets of both countries and, above all, a long-lasting stability in the South Asian region. This will be a win-win situation for both the parties as well as the Kashmiris. At least, it fends off their chiding at the hands of their respective publics for any compromise or retreat.

However, India needs to take stock of stark violations of human rights in the Occupied Kashmir by its security forces. India’s role in fomenting separatism in Pakistan is ignorable to none. Besides, RAW’s launching of terrorists from the Afghan soil to orchestrate terrorism against soft targets in Pakistan has also become an open secret now. Therefore, blame-game, and crybaby posture is no longer a palatable option available to India for isolating Pakistan for the commission of sins the latter is not guilty of.

Future lies in reconciliation

There is a vast potential for the expansion of bilateral relations. Further, people-to-people contacts, free visa regimes, cultural exchanges and scholarship opportunities may go a long way in easing the tensions, and building anew the lost trust.  You can change friends, but not neighbours. If both these countries persist to be on bad terms, the whole region is going to suffer. Their future lies in finding out ways and means to cutting a deal with each other. That is the diktat of the reason, and political pragmatism. The sooner the elites in both the countries learn it, the better it is to save India and Pakistan from further destabilization.

Tailpiece: The subject of terrorism remained the focal point of debate in the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia—Istanbul Process held in Amritsar, the Republic of India, on 4 December 2016. Afghanistan accompanied by India took to firing broadside against Pakistan for its alleged harbouring of terrorists to operate against targets in Afghanistan and India. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was unequivocal in demonizing Pakistan as the nerve-centre of terrorism, and for latter’s purported undeclared war on his country for patronizing various terrorist networks. Mr Modi also missed no boat to lash out at Pakistan in his veiled ‘sermon’ on upholding of loftier principles of integrity of states, non-interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries, respecting human rights, and resolving conflicts through dialogue, etc. The Conference appeared to be systematically oriented to one point agenda, that is, terrorism, and toward the projection of Pakistan as a breeder of that.

The declaration at the end of the conference resolved to put up concerted endeavours to eradicate the menace of terrorism with multifaceted approach, and reiterated the need for enhancing close cooperation among the member states to jointly address the issues.

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