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NEW DELHI: Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari on Wednesday released a book that calls for a confederation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh but without undoing the partition as the only way to address poverty and resolve the Kashmir dispute.

“Regional cooperation with a focus on human security problems, on movement of people and on trade without unreasonable restrictions” was the need of the hour, Mr Ansari said at a function in Mumbai, apparently agreeing with the book’s argument.

“The common traits in cultural traditions and historical narratives need to be transmitted to younger generation through conscious promotion rather than prevention of cultural exchanges, films, and other cultural activities,” Mr Ansari said in his appeal to the governments and civil societies in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Mr Ansari made these comments while releasing August Voices, a new book by Indian peace activist Sudheendra Kulkarni, which calls for an India-Pakistan-Bangladesh confederation.

“Common action is easier on areas of convergence than of divergence,” Mr Ansari said. For convergence, there is a need to move “beyond the traditional paradigm of conventional security into those of human security and human wrong. Both are ignored by the governments and societies in our region. There is a crying need for the recognition and implementation of both. Only then would we develop the perception and capacity for correctives.”

Mr Kulkarni said his book sought to ‘harmonise’ the nationalism of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. “The people and governments of our three countries should refuse to remain prisoners of the past. We must create a better future for our coming generations, a future of peace, shared progress, eradication of poverty, justice and dignity for every human being in our subcontinent. To do so is our moral responsibility towards humanity. After all, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have the world’s largest number of poor, deprived and divided people with common civilisational ancestry. Besides, neither India nor Pakistan nor Bangladesh can develop to their full potential without transitioning from discord to concord, from hostility to cooperation.”

Mr Kulkarni claimed that the idea of a confederation was embedded in the movement for independence from British rule. “It was favoured by several principal actors of the freedom struggle, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”

His book argues that the existence of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as three separate, independent and sovereign nations is a reality that cannot be altered. Partition cannot be undone.

However, its negative outcomes can — and must — be undone jointly by the peoples and governments of India and Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The continued hostility between India and Pakistan, in particular, has created many problems for the two countries. It is also the principal reason for the lack of movement in regional cooperation in South Asia, as is evident from the fate of Saarc.

The book calls for India and Pakistan to arrive at a just, amicable, peaceful and compromise-based solution to the long-pending Kashmir dispute. It suggests that a lasting solution to the dispute is possible only through a ‘confederal’ agreement between India and Pakistan, which recognises that Kashmir belongs simultaneously to the two countries and also to the people of Kashmir.

Mr Kulkarni said that the three-nation confederation should not be seen as an idea of Indian expansionism. “It is based on the principle of equality. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh should remain separate, and yet together on issues of common concern and common benefit.”

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2016