FOR once Mr Zardari’s critics seem to have run out of their stock of vitriol. Even those who were sceptical of his one-day flight to India admit that by breaking bread with Mr Manmohan Singh he did not lose anything even if the gains secured by them are not visible to everyone.
A little reflection will show that these gains are not so obscure. If nothing else, the fact that the leaders of the South Asian twins can have a civilised conversation has greater significance than is generally conceded. The Indians, by and large, welcomed the event. The Supreme Court of India too contributed to the spirit of bonhomie and took a step that could lead to a bilateral humanitarian protocol on relief to prisoners/convicts.
At home, Mr Zardari has received support from unexpected quarters. Mian Nawaz Sharif has not only approved his hop across the border but also supported what he describes as promotion of ties with India in a positive way. His wish to play against the Indian cricketers should be added as a strong argument in favour of resuming India-Pakistan cricket competition in home countries. He has also called for talks with India on all issues including Kashmir. This should be taken as a PML-N policy statement voluntarily made while the party chief was under no obligation to speak.
However, the compliments Mr Zardari has received, including the left-handed ones, cannot conceal the fact that on relations with India he has been quite consistent. Normalisation with India was one of the first objectives he had set for his government and he gained nothing by bowing before the storm the hate-India lobby had raised. Experienced diplomats know better than others that accidental summits are rarely fortuitous.
Much planning and patience in waiting for fair winds are required to make a ping pong game or an exchange of pleasantries at a luncheon look accidental. If nothing else, last week’s encounter in Delhi must be seen together with Islamabad’s decision to remove the obstacles to normal trade with India, which is perhaps one of the most significant steps taken by the present government.
This is not the first time that the hope of normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan has been rekindled. If the present opportunity offered by a broad agreement between the PPP and PML-N is not to be lost it is necessary to avoid the mistakes that led to post-accord miscarriages in the past.
The Tashkent Accord and the Simla Agreement were in the interest of both India and Pakistan and were especially favourable to Pakistan — because it got more than it deserved as the losing party in the wars of its making — but they made no positive impact on public opinion in this country. Indeed, hostility towards India increased. The story was repeated when Mian Nawaz Sharif extricated the country from the Kargil misadventure by forcing himself on Mr Clinton on a holiday. In each case the feeling of having been humiliated on the battlefield did not permit a rational assessment of the settlement. By ignoring the need to educate the people in the imperative of peace with India successive Pakistan governments have denied themselves the possibilities of building upon peace accords.
What is urgently needed is a frank discourse that should enable the Pakistani people to bury the myth that friendship with India can never be in their interest. It was this mindset that threw up the plea against Mr Zardari’s trip to Delhi on the morrow of the Siachen tragedy although this was the right time for the leaders of the two countries to take a fresh stock of their costly confrontation in glacier-land and to ponder the consequences of their 1989 retreat from a sane compromise.
To the same mindset can be attributed the plea that the Indian offer of electricity should be accepted only if no price is demanded, because India is producing power from the water it is said to have stolen from our rivers! What about getting help from Britain?
The main problem with this mindset, as has often been discussed before, is that it does not accept the possibility of friendship with India until all disputes with it, especially Kashmir, are resolved.
The un-tenability of this hypothesis no longer needs to be emphasised. India-Pakistan issues will never be resolved in an environment of confrontation. On the contrary, goodwill between the two countries should facilitate the solution of even the most intractable problems.
This is particularly true of Kashmir which is primarily an issue between India and the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Nobody can absolve New Delhi of its sins against the Kashmiri people. Pakistan could only extend them moral support but it compromised its position by trying to solve the issue by force.
Now it is clear to all that Kashmir cannot be solved according to 1947 formulas. To delay India-Pakistan normalisation on this count will be contrary to the interest of all parties concerned. It will prolong the agony of the Kashmiri people; it will prevent the people of Pakistan from realising the importance of peace with India for their progress; and it will increase the threat to the Indian polity from the merchants of communal hatred.
Fortunately, the Pakistani people have not been totally unable to learn from over six decades of barren confrontation but they have to learn much more about the art of living by the side of a more populous, militarily stronger and economically more advanced neighbour.
Pakistan will gain nothing by competing with India on the latter’s strong points. To do better than India it has to strive in other areas — the quality of governance and achievements in the area of education, public health, scientific discovery and excellence in arts. Ignoring these fields of competition and condemning a large part of the population to hunger, disease and want in the hope of forcing India to its knees, in one way or another, makes no sense at all.
Of course, the same counsel can be given to the Indians but wise people do not wait for the other to break the ice. The reward for those who take the first step towards peace and justice is sweeter.