DAWN - Opinion; December 29, 2003

29 Dec 2003

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Bringing Saddam to book

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty


THE capture of Saddam Hussein from a mudhole near his birthplace, Tikrit has received a build-up in the US that is already considered exaggerated by objective analysts. All the hype of election year politics has got involved in this event, whose effect on the war in Iraq is not likely to be decisive.

However, there can be no doubt that it has proved to be a bonanza for George W. Bush, whose stock as a leader has gone up dramatically. There can be no difference of opinion that the capture itself was seen as a great success for the US military, that should discourage Saddam loyalists whose continued struggle received sustenance from his being at large.

There has not been any perceptible diminution in the attacks on the coalition forces, though it is the Iraqi police and others supporting the US who are currently being targeted. The Centcom Chief, General Abizaid, estimates that the Coalition forces would have to stay in Iraq for at least two more years, by which time the constitutional process now set in motion will be completed.

Internationally, the position of the major countries with regard to the US pre-emption in Iraq has not changed. Though the leaders of France and Germany offered their felicitations to Bush, they reiterated their view that power should be transferred as early as possible to the Iraqis. The manner in which the UN is to be associated with political and humanitarian tasks in Iraq is unclear, and another debate has been suggested.

The handling of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq has also generated controversy, with President Bush declaring that the countries that opposed the war on Iraq would not be eligible. At the same time, he has sent former secretary of state James Baker on a tour of these very countries, to persuade them to write off most of the massive debts Saddam’s regime built up with them, to facilitate the task of reconstruction.

The general assessment in the US is that Saddam’s capture would dampen the spirits of the elements personally loyal to him. However, it is estimated that other elements have gained strength since the fall of the Saddam regime, including terrorists and Islamic militants, on the one hand, and Iraqi nationalists on the other. The Iraqi population is perhaps one with the highest literacy in the region, with a high percentage of technocrats, and both Arab and Islamic sentiments have a powerful hold, accompanied by deep resentment of Washington’s pro-Israel bias. This partly explains the stress being laid on reviving the “roadmap” for Palestine.

In the aftermath of the capture, British prime minister Tony Blair who was the first to make a public statement, after consulting Bush, issued a call for peace and reconciliation. He stated that the insurgency may not go away immediately, and the urgent problems remained those of providing security and basic necessities to the people. The long-term goals still were to promote democracy and to facilitate reconstruction, with an enhanced role for the international community. Bush’s speeches have been laced with a note of triumph accompanied by a resolve to carry on the war against terrorism; points designed to help his campaign for re-election.

There is a contradiction in the celebrations over the capture of the Iraqi dictator, whose pathetic and bedraggled condition at the time has been highlighted in a manner that even his opponents in the region consider needlessly degrading. Saddam had been at odds with most of his neighbours, and what stands out about him is the manner in which he was used to attack Iran, causing enormous material and human losses to both Iran and his own country. An impression persists that the US initially encouraged his adventure against Kuwait and then used the 1991 Gulf War to re-establish its military presence in the Gulf region. This development led another former US ally, Osama bin Laden, to turn against Washington’s goals in the region that were seen to be underpinning Israel’s security, and the control of the oil resources.

Even the capture of Saddam has not given credence to the two main accusations against him, that he had links to Al Qaeda and was building weapons of mass destruction. By all accounts, terrorism has made headway in Iraq since Saddam’s ouster, and is fusing into the nationalistic reaction in Iraq against foreign occupation. Indeed, the discussion as to how Saddam should be tried for his crimes is revealing some interesting facets of the concerns of the sole superpower. A trial by an international tribunal, such as the one trying former Yugoslav Prime Minister Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, is generally seen as not in US interest. It would provide an opportunity to the defence to bring up US involvement in many of Saddam’s alleged crimes. Another aspect stressed is that a UN backed court would not award the death penalty.

The preference being shown in the US for a trial by an Iraqi tribunal has drawn objections from Saddam’s family, who are convinced such a court will be packed with enemies of the Saddam regime. The Governing Council in Iraq, which is a US creation, has already decided to set up a tribunal to try officials of the Saddam regime. Such is the man’s background and personality that few tears will be shed over his fate.

How this event will affect the foreign and domestic policies of the US is clearly a subject of much greater interest to the world. The timing has been very good in relation to the election campaign. The Democratic candidates had been critical of the war on Iraq, and some had even taunted Bush over failure to capture Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden, the principal enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. The capture of Saddam by the US forces brought them high praise, in which Democrats had to join. All of a sudden, opposition to the war appeared unpatriotic, and the leading Democratic contender, who had built his campaign on this issue, was virtually described by some critics as disloyal to the country at a time it was at war.

The jump in the popularity rating of Bush, which has risen to 65 per cent from 52 per cent in the week since the capture, may not last long. The level of unemployment remains high, and if insurgency persists in Iraq and Afghanistan, causing further casualties, the present euphoria may prove temporary. Many analysts believe that the war on terrorism will be executed in a manner that will help the Bush candidacy. Some say, half seriously, that the capture of Osama bin Laden may be timed in such a way that it reinforces his chances close to election time next year.

Some of the long-term issues pertaining to foreign policy will have to be tackled in a more serious way, and the very resort to unilateralism needs to be balanced against the need for multilateral solutions to many problems. US military superiority is a fact of life that can be demonstrated at any time. However, the continued instability in Afghanistan and Iraq, and lack of progress in tackling social and economic problems, underscores the imperative necessity for the US to hark back to the statesmanship displayed after the Second World War.

The war against terrorism has to be waged not only against terrorist networks, whose activities are the symptoms. The disease lies in political and economic injustice. Palestinians and Kashmiris have risen up against state terrorism, and would welcome the return to normal, peaceful pursuits, once their just aspirations have been met.

The poor and disadvantaged people of the Third World want to share in the good life the affluent nations enjoy. As was rightly emphasized after the terrible events of 9/11, the world has not only to defeat terrorism, but also to address its underlying causes. The US has the means and the tradition to provide leadership for creating conditions in which Saddams of the world do not flourish.

A presidential system?

By Anwer Mooraj


SEMINARS devoted to a variety of subjects keep popping up in Karachi, like the proverbial bad penny. Most of them never start on time, and their themes are often tame and prosaic. Who really wants to listen to a bunch of sycophants talk about how the mandarins in Islamabad are making every effort to alleviate poverty. Or how the cavaliers in the capital are swelling the foreign exchange reserves? Or, that highly contentious topic which has re-surfaced in recent times — the rights of women in Islam?

I invariably stay away from such gatherings, unless one has fore knowledge that the audience might catch glimpses of a fascinating mind.. Most seminars are inundated with colloquially written treatises, bristling with heavily worn erudition, and are essentially vehicles for espousing a pet grouse or for presenting a political manifesto.

The recent seminar organized by Dialogue Pakistan, which centred on the alienation of Sindh by the centre, was a refreshing change. To start with, neither of the organizers, Irshad Abdul Kadir or Adrian Hussain, has a political axe to grind. And neither has any plans to use their forum as a springboard for leaping into the senate.

Kadir inaugurated the session, by stating that Pakistan came into being against a perspective of anxiety about what many of its citizens perceived to be an overall systemic failure in the country. This naturally resulted in an erosion of the credibility of the rulers, both in the past as well as in the present, which has placed in jeopardy the peoples’ rights and interests.

The theme, whether Sindhis are privileged citizens or native aliens of the federation, is not a new one. It goes back to the early days when educated Sindhis pointed out that the money doled out by the centre for the development of their province, was totally disproportionate to the amount of income tax collected from their area. However, what made this seminar different from others, was that more attention was paid to possible solutions.

The first speaker, Kunwar Idris, a former civil servant and a columnist, was a refreshing departure from the usual run-of-the-mill speakers one comes across in seminars devoted to the raw deal inflicted upon a smaller province by the centre. His presentation was scholarly and his observations were based on cold logic and common sense..

He set the ball rolling when he pointed out that the parliamentary system had weakened democracy, as most of the important decisions pertaining to Sindh, as indeed to other provinces, are taken by the federal authority.

Syed Qurban Ali Shah of the PPP, who succeeded him in the programme, had a little of the fire and brimstone of the southern Baptist speaker, as he lashed out at the series of indignities that had been heaped upon his province by the centre. But as each indictment flickered into view, one couldn’t help getting the impression that the MPA had hijacked the seminar in order to make a political statement.

What he said made a lot of sense, but unfortunately he didn’t offer any solutions, which, according to Adrian Hussain, was the basic purpose of the forum. A number of issues came in for their share of rebuke and evoked sporadic applause from a captive audience.

Why was the centre insisting on using population as a basis for distributing funds under the National Finance Commission, when it had refused to accept this very principle before 1971, forcing the Bengalis to accept the principle of parity?

Why was the National Accountability Bureau being used to single out and victimize opponents of the government? And why was this body not made answerable to parliament?

Dr Hamida Khuhro, author and historian, who possesses a firm grasp of political nuance, steered the discussion back to its original theme. She pointed out that democratic principles had never really been observed since the declaration of independence. This naturally led to the deterioration of political and social values.

Quite a few eyebrows went up when she said that though the founder of the nation firmly believed in democratic values, the elected government of Sindh and the Frontier were nevertheless dismissed soon after partition.

When the seminar came to an end, I mulled over something that Adrian Hussain had said in his well crafted speech. Civil society is, in the words of Adam Ferguson and other philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, simply another term for society, the common man or the people, as distinct from the political structures and the state.

It is often argued that the majority of the people of Pakistan are uneducated, and hence lacking in political awareness or the will to act in concert to bring about social or political change. The people have all the awareness they require. They have ready access to the philosophy that is of relevance in this context, and that is the philosophy of want.

It is for those of us who have the good fortune to be reasonably well educated, to harness that philosophy, to ensure that society as a whole has recourse to positive rather than negative action, so we can provide succour to the wretched in the land.

An enormous sucking sound

By Gwynne Dyer


“THAT enormous sucking sound you hear,” third-party candidate Ross Perot told American voters during the 1992 presidential campaign, “is American jobs disappearing south to Mexico.”

But now the enormous sucking sound comes from west across the Pacific: US Treasury Secretary John Snow reckons that America has lost 2.4 million manufacturing jobs to China. If his numbers are right, Chinese competition accounts for about 90 per cent of the drop in US manufacturing jobs (from 17.3 million to 14.6 million) since the Bush administration came into office three years ago.

They won’t be coming back — not when labour costs an average of $16 an hour in the US and only 60 cents in China. Revaluing the Chinese currency by 40 per cent, as many American officials now demand, would merely raise the cost of labour there to 84 cents an hour, which is hardly going to change the picture. Desperate union officials offering concessions to US manufacturers to save jobs are told that American workers could work for nothing and still not match the cost structure in China, once overheads are taken into account.

British manufacturers have been saying the same thing for years, because Britain is much further down the road to de-industrialisation. Yet Britain has prospered mightily in recent years, with a much higher growth rate than the other big countries in the European Union, because it has managed to balance its lost industrial jobs with new jobs in the service sector. Some are unskilled, low-paying jobs in call centres and the like, but many more are in high-paying fields like financial services, computing and design, and average incomes have gone up. So far, so good, but now Britain’s new service-industry jobs are starting to drain away too.

The American economy has actually been following the British model with some success in the last few years. The so-called ‘jobless growth’ under the Bush administration has seen industrial jobs vanish in large numbers, to be replaced by about the same number of service-sector jobs at higher average wages. These new jobs don’t necessarily appear in the same places, so ‘rust-belt’ cities that depend on traditional manufacturing have taken big hits, but the overall US economy is growing very fast at the moment. The threat to American prosperity from China may be greatly over-rated — but the US has not even begun to contend with the challenge from India.

The immense Chinese export boom — heading for a trade surplus of over $100 billion with the US this year — is based on industrial goods and largely financed by American business, which cannot resist the cost savings of out-sourcing production to China. Manufacturing processes are easy to transfer to another language and culture, and manufactured goods move easily between countries in a more or less free-trading world. It used to be assumed that services are far harder to out-source, but that was before people realised the full potential of internet-based technologies. The British have just woken up to discover that a lot of their service industry is moving to India.

It has to be India, not China, because the services must still be delivered in good English and only India has the large numbers of educated, English-speaking people who can do the same job for one-tenth of the British salary. But over the past few months the announcements by British companies moving thousands of jobs from their home-based call centres to India have been falling like rain — BT, British Airways, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, National Rail Enquiries, Prudential, Reuters, Standard Chartered, and half a dozen more — and that is only the tip of the iceberg.

So far the work being out-sourced to India is mainly data-processing (which already accounts for several hundred thousand jobs) and now the call-centre jobs, but in a year or two it will also include accountants and corporate lawyers, managers and insurance underwriters, architects, designers and engineers.

In August, London’s ‘Evening Standard’ published leaked consultancy documents which concluded that Britain would lose at least 30,000 executive-level jobs in the finance and insurance industries to India in the next five years. In the same month, US consultants Forrester Research forecast that United States will export 3.3 million white-collar jobs between now and 2015, mostly to India. It is almost certainly an underestimate.

Not every service-industry job is equally mobile. Some 60 percent of the economic activity in any country is almost impossible to out-source beyond the borders: construction, health and education, retail sales and leisure services.— Copyright

Rethinking plebiscite

By Pervez Hoodbhoy


BY declaring that “we have left aside” the United Nations Security Council resolutions for a solution to Kashmir, General Pervez Musharraf shattered a long-held taboo.

While the general had given some confusing hints during his 2001 visit to India and spoken of the need “to move away from stated positions”, never before had a Pakistani head of state made an explicit public admission that Pakistan cannot realistically hope for a plebiscite to end the Kashmir dispute and, therefore, is willing to explore other ways.

Subsequent attempts by Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, to dilute Musharraf’s remarks have been insufficient to control outrage and accusations of treason from those in the Pakistani military, political, and jihadist establishment who remain convinced that Kashmir can someday be liberated by force.

Interestingly Pakistan Television, which slavishly follows rulers around, did not cover the general’s comments. Mr. Kasuri need not apologize for the General, nor go overboard to placate those who insist on the impossible.

It is true that plebiscite was indeed the solution mutually agreed upon in 1948 and that India had reneged on a solemn commitment. But the passage of five decades, and drastically changed geo-political circumstances, demand a reappraisal. Today, plebiscite is no longer the obvious way of determining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For example, it clearly excludes a major section of Kashmiris that would opt for independence today but which, in 1948, may not have wanted it.

More frightening is the likelihood of a plebiscite igniting communal passions leading to horrific Gujarat-style bloodbaths across the subcontinent. Moreover, at a practical level there is no agency, including the UN, that is capable and willing to implement a task that all nations (except Pakistan) see as impossibly difficult. Therefore to insist on plebiscite is the surest way of guaranteeing that a bloody stand-off continues.

Why the change? Unfortunately, much of Pakistan’s conspiracy-obsessed intelligentsia appears eager to believe that the general is merely obeying marching orders received from George W. Bush. But the simplistic world view that everything comes from Washington disallows an appreciation of some critically important, but unpleasant, facts about Pakistan’s failed Kashmir policy. One hopes that these considerations, rather than external pressure, have influenced the general. First, there has been an alarming decline in international support for Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. Even at the level of passing resolutions, Muslim states and the Organization of Islamic Conference have been lukewarm. More importantly, their trade with India is many times greater than with Pakistan.

Today Indian workers, particularly skilled ones, are still welcome in the Middle East while Pakistanis are finding it harder and harder. It goes without saying that Europe does not agree with Pakistan’s actions in Kashmir. But more significantly, even Pakistan’s immediate neighbours — Iran and China — are extremely wary of liberating Kashmir through jihad. As if to send a signal, both countries have had joint military exercises with India during the current year. Afghanistan, which Pakistani generals long regarded as no more than their backyard, now has hostile relations with Pakistan.

While acknowledging that India is winning the propaganda war, Pakistani hardliners continue to insist that it is merely the failure of Pakistan’s diplomatic missions. This is nonsense — many Pakistani diplomats and embassy officials have tried valiantly but they could not make up for the failure of a short-sighted and indefensible surreptitious “bleed-India” policy formulated by the military establishment around 1990.

One consequence was that the horrific crimes committed by India’s occupation forces in Kashmir, amply documented by various human rights groups, were eclipsed by widely publicized crimes committed by the mujahideen clandestinely dispatched by Pakistan to “liberate” Kashmir. The massacres of Hindus, targeting of civilians accused of collaborating with India, killings of Kashmiri political leaders, destruction of cinema houses and liquor shops, forcing of women into the veil, and flaring up of sectarian disputes, severely undermined the legitimacy of the Kashmiri freedom movement and deprived it of its most potent weapon — the moral high ground.

In an age of television cameras and instant communication, nobody believed Pakistan’s denials of aiding and arming militants. Pakistan’s diplomats therefore had an impossible task, especially after September 11, 2001, when jihad became the most notorious word in political lexicon.

Second, the recent split in the Hurriyat Conference, originally set up with Pakistani help to mediate disputes between different anti-Indian Kashmiri organizations has sharply reduced Pakistan’s influence on the Kashmiri freedom movement. Kashmiris have realized that their interests are by no means identical to Pakistan’s. In a clever move, after having stubbornly resisted talking to the Kashmiri leaders for years, the Indian establishment — including the hawkish L.K.Advani and N.N.Vohra — now has had direct talks with Maulana Abbas Ansari’s majority faction of the Hurriyat. Pakistan is now left isolated with the small Geelani faction. Moreover, by fencing off the LOC, acquiring high-tech surveillance and night-vision equipment from Israel, and increasing pressure on Pakistan to limit infiltration, India is likely to further decrease Pakistani influence in Kashmiri domestic politics.

Third — and most important — is the inescapable fact that India, with its hugely abundant scientific and high-tech manpower, is set to emerge as one of the world’s largest economies while Pakistan’s educational and scientific institutions continue their decline. India has penetrated into America’s industrial core, providing it with scientists and engineers, and even drawing work away from US companies into India. Income from just one source — outsourcing and IT services — is expected to swell to an annual export industry of $57 billion by 2008. This far exceeds Pakistan’s GNP, current and projected. The outline of an emerging US-India strategic partnership is beginning to emerge. The recently concluded agreement on space and nuclear cooperation is one indication of things to come.

It is clear that the US no longer regards Pakistan as being in the same league as India. Therefore any expectation of equal treatment would be a delusion. Time is running out for Pakistan. Rather than perform another Afghanistan-style U-turn, it should seek practicable ways of settling Kashmir before a solution is forced upon it.

In effect this could mean a preparatory stage in which inflamed nerves are soothed and the high-pitched decades-old rhetoric is toned down. Subsequently, the Pakistani side of Kashmir and the Northern Areas should be formally absorbed into Pakistan. Negotiations should be conducted with India on an LoC-plus solution that allows for some territorial adjustments and soft borders, and possibly a 10-mile deep demilitarized zone.

While the division of Kashmir is unfortunate, it is better to accept this reality rather than live with endless suffering that has consumed nearly 90,000 lives since 1987. By dropping its insistence on plebiscite, Pakistan has now put the ball in the Indian court. If Mr Vajpayee is the man of peace that he says he is, he must respond to a move that is breathtakingly bold.

The move carries additional personal risk for General Musharraf, whose narrow escape from two assassination attempts shows the dangers of the line he has taken. The forthcoming Saarc summit provides an opportunity that India should seize upon.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

What cultural exchanges can’t accomplish

By Murtaza Razvi


COUNTRIES behave very much like people. This is because countries don’t have faces or voices of their own; but their people, including those in government, are their faces and voices. It then follows logically that what works in interpersonal relations should also work in international relations.

Cultural activities and practices lie at the root of human civilization. That is why in many cases cultural affinity often overrides differences in religion and colour and those among polities.

A common language, for instance, makes for a strong cultural bond. Take the case of the Arab world, where Arabic alone forms the single common denominator among polities, peoples and socio-economic diversities in various countries that are otherwise very different.

Among the Arabs there are bedouins, nomads, settled tribes, urban proletariat, Semites, Negroids, Caucasians, Muslims (Shias, Sunnis, Alawites, Druze), Christians and Jews.

Then there are absolute monarchies, quasi-democratic regimes, socialist republics, popular dictatorships, tribal emirates, etc, but they all share a common language and hence a more or less common culture. Anglo-Saxon countries are another example of this. These too stand united on the basis of a common language (a history of voting in the Commonwealth will vouch for that, as would the US-UK unanimity of views on major international issues).

Where cultural affinity based on a common language and heritage does not exist, cultural exchanges have played a role in bringing different peoples closer or in bridging the gaps that exist in mutual understanding of one another’s point of view. Take, for instance, the understanding brought about by cultural exchanges between western and Far Eastern cultures, including the Chinese and the Japanese. But this has only been possible after the resolution of major political conflicts on territorial disputes.

In the post-colonial context such cultural exchanges have also introduced African and Islamic art forms to audiences in the West and, though to a lesser extent, to those in the world at large.

But what do you do with countries and regions marred by intense conflict, such as Palestine, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, North and South Korea, China and Taiwan, the Jaffna Peninsula, India and Pakistan? It is here that the real challenge lies for all those who feel that cultural exchanges can serve as an effective conflict-resolution mechanism.

The learning in these areas of intense conflict unfortunately has not been very encouraging. You can’t send out an Israeli cultural troupe to perform on the debris of a just demolished Palestinian apartment complex, nor can you send Madonna to Baghdad to give a concert on New Year’s eve. Even the trigger-happy Americans know that.

The challenge is even harder to meet in conflict zones involving two countries whose relations don’t have a pattern of violence. The absence of war does not always mean peace, nor having diplomatic relations with a country means that you will be welcome in that country. Despite peace holding strong between Egypt and Israel for nearly a quarter of a century, there is no history of cultural exchanges between the two neighbours.

Then take the case of the former Soviet Union and the US at the height of the cold war or those of the US and Cuba/Iran/ North Korea, of China and Taiwan, of the two Cypruses in the present day.

Any talk of cultural exchanges in such situations will have to preclude not only outright hostilities, but also a cessation of inflammatory and loaded rhetoric, such as ‘axis of evil’ or a disputed territory being called an ‘integral part’ by one country and ‘the core issue’ by another.

In other words, one would have to learn to behave in a civilized and cultured manner before cultural exchanges can mature into becoming an effective tool of conflict-resolution between any two countries. Cultural exchanges are like exchanging gifts and pleasantries. You don’t send a birthday present to someone who insults you every time you run into him at a public place.

In the context of India-Pakistan relations, cultural exchanges require a more challenging evaluation. This is because there has been no great dearth of cultural exchanges, at least at the popular level, in the post-Shimla Agreement years. Indian and Pakistani actors and actresses have mingled; performers, both classical and popular vocalists and instrumentalists, have crossed the border from time to time to give concerts, drama groups from one country have performed in the other, artists have met and worked together in workshops, etc.

At the popular level, Indian films have always been watched in Pakistan and form the staple entertainment diet here. Similarly, Pakistani TV plays have enthralled Indian audiences. That cultural exchanges have not taken place at the official level is a fact that hardly matters because there was no great hampering of such exchanges at the people-to-people, NGO and popular levels over the past thirty years.

The pertinent question to ask is: did these cultural exchanges bring about any real change in the way the Pakistanis and Indians have stereotyped each other? Cultural exchanges did not prevent the conflict over Kargil. Nor did they stop the Bollywood film industry, which has a huge following in Pakistan, from making a series of overtly anti-Pakistan films in the aftermath of the Kargil episode.

Cultural contacts and exchanges between the two countries did not spur the Pakistani or Indian cultural gurus to speak up against the worst phase of relations between the two countries since the 1971 war.

With such stark realities and odds defying cultural exchanges as an effective means of conflict resolution in South Asia, is it not surprising that the subject continues to be a matter for discussion at many forums like those that were held recently when peace activists from India visited Pakistan?

This by no means is an attempt to discard cultural exchanges as a conflict-resolution mechanism altogether; rather, it is a frank and honest attempt to understand the efficacy of this mechanism. It is critical to make that distinction so that we put only as many eggs in this basket as it can hold.

Cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts have become buzzwords in restrictive societies such as ours, because these offer the much needed breathing space to many of us who otherwise feel frustrated and stifled by a lack of progress in mending fences with India. We have a lot in common with India; perhaps more of us have a lot more in common with India than with most of our other neighbours. But the commonalties between Pakistan and India were never a cause of our conflict. It is other issues and differences of opinions rooted in politics and history that have torn us apart and that deserve to be addressed with a better degree of tolerance and in a spirit of understanding from both sides.

Nawaz Sharif may have been wrong in a lot of things he said and did while he was in office but he was right when he said that we needed to create a vested interest — based in trade and commerce — in both countries so that elected governments could be restrained from acting rashly and straining bilateral relations for political reasons. This was anathema to those in the establishment here and in India who saw their vested interest in perpetuating tensions and building on the differences rather than on commonalties of interest between the two countries.

Thus, in the India-Pakistan context, the notion of cultural exchanges as an effective conflict-resolution mechanism has largely remained a fancy one that is one step ahead of what needs to precede it. Cultural exchanges can only play their role effectively if we are first willing to have ‘cultured’ relations between us.

The sticking to one’s guns approach and the desire to be politically one-up on the other — as indeed the temptation to resort to loaded and inflammatory rhetoric — militate against building a cultured environment in which to pursue a meaningful dialogue.

In the ambivalent love-hate relationship that exists between India and Pakistan, cultural affinity is defined by the love we both have for our combined cultural talent; the rest is the baggage of our political history based in distrust and hatred and that itself is quite hateful. Unless we are ready to unload that baggage and also show a sustained and genuine will to understand each other’s positions, cultural exchanges will remain hostage to good and bad diplomatic and political relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, it is that will to show tolerance and magnanimity towards our mutual differences that has not been a consistent feature in India-Pakistan relations.

Cultural exchanges are welcome and, yes, it would be nice to hear Lata Mangeshkar sing live in a concert at the Alhamra in Lahore. President Musharraf would also like that to happen, but would that give way to burying the hatchet over Kashmir? One is not sure.