LLF: On Pakistan’s frenemies

01 Mar 2015

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Panellists at the session, ‘No Permanent Friends or Enemies’

Photo credit: Tariq Mahmood / White Star
Panellists at the session, ‘No Permanent Friends or Enemies’ Photo credit: Tariq Mahmood / White Star

By SABA IJAZ

INDIA, USA, China and Bangladesh — these are the four countries which remain the centre of most discussions for intellectuals, analysts, think-tanks and academics in Pakistan. LLF organised a number of sessions on the relationship of Pakistan with the aforementioned countries. The first day of the festival kicked off with ‘Politics, Pluralism and Khushwant Singh’s Punjab’. Moderated by F.S. Aijazuddin, the panel included Aitzaz Ahsan, an eminent senior advocate, politician, and human rights activist; Basharat Qadir, son of well-known lawyer and Khushwaant’s ‘best friend’, the late Manzoor Qadir; Rahul Singh, son of man of the evening, Khushwant Singh, and Shobhaa De, a prominent Indian columnist and novelist.

Rahul Singh threw light on his father’s celebrated life by sharing cherished memories, declaring him a man who always spoke his mind. With the main focus on the ‘Punjabiat’ of Singh, Ahsan described Singh as a Punjabi first and an Indian later. Singh, who was born in a Pakistani village, Hadali in the Khushab district, used to consider Pakistan his homeland. He added that Singh discussed different issues with an open and tolerant mind. Singh had a way of holding up a mirror for hypocrites and he could literally mock everybody and anybody — as described by Shobhaa De. She fondly remembers him as a man who was naïve, gullible and prone to smooth talk from the ladies but at the same time, a henpecked husband. He enjoyed universal respect and admiration, even from his opponents and critics. Qadir remembered Singh’s love for Lahore. Singh used to say “I will come back to Lahore when the dust settles. If Lahore is in India, I will be in India. If Lahore is in Pakistan, I will be in Pakistan. I belong to Lahore”. He declared him a ‘humilitarian’ — an epitome of humility and modesty. He observed that Singh and his father Manzoor Qadir shared a penchant for intellectual honesty and intolerance for humbug. The session ended with a huge round of applause for the panellists.

From Indo-Pak relations, we go to US-Pak relations, which were discussed in the session ‘No Permanent Friends or Enemies’. Moderated by Lyse Doucet, BBC’s chief international correspondent, the panel included Andrew Small, a writer and policy researcher; Laila Bokhari, a diplomat and politician; Roger Cohen, columnist for The New York Times; Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times, and Salil Tripathi, a writer based in London.

The session started with Rahman, who briefly discussed the scenario of the post-Soviet war in Afghanistan when the US decided to pull herself out of South Asia. After 9/11, she had to shift her focus back to this region. Rahman was of the view that today the US does not have the luxury of forgetting this region, particularly Pakistan, again. Cohen termed the relationship of Pakistan with the US as “deeply unsatisfactory” and of a “contractual nature”; the US being frustrated over the lack of complete coordination from Pakistan; and Pakistan being disappointed by the feeling of being exploited, subjugated and ignored. He further added that Pakistan is short of the magnetism which India enjoys being a rising economic power and hence, the US has better ties with India.

Small was of the view that China is concerned with the rising tide of terrorism in her neighbouring states and in the province of Xinjiang. He described it as a stimulus for China to be actively engaged in the region. Continuing the discussion on the concerns of Europe and the US for Pakistan, Bokhari said that there are serious reservations as to why Pakistan is not putting her house in order. She pointed out that although there are many reasons for the US and Europe to stay in the region, they feel disconcerted over the lack of competence of the government of Pakistan to improve the political and economic condition of the country. Tripathi threw light on the India-USA relationship where he discussed the recent visit of President Barack Obama to India. The session lacked cohesion on the subject and most of the speakers were unable to highlight the complexities of the Pakistan-USA relationship viz-a-viz regional politics and internal social dynamics.

The second day of the LLF kicked off with a session ‘Do All Roads Lead to China?’ which was the launch of the book The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, authored by Small. Moderated by Peter Oborne, a British journalist, the panel included Small; Hasan Karrar, assistant professor at LUMS; and Mushahid Hussain, a well-known senator. Oborne invited Small, author of the book, to start the session. Small observed that a strong Pakistan is one of China’s biggest assets. Pakistan is important for China for keeping strategic balance in the region. He believed that the relationship between the two countries was short of cultural depth because of the language barrier and absence of people-to-people contact. He was of the opinion that a paradigm shift in the foreign policy of China would be visible in a couple of years. Picking up this thread, Hussain commented that this century witnessed a declining USA and a rising China. China and Pakistan share a relationship that comprises various fronts including energy, economy, and military. He further added that the USA needs China and Pakistan to ensure stability in the region. Karrar opined that Pakistan is part of a broader plan which China is devising for regional and international politics. The session lacked the interaction among the panellists, making it quite uninteresting for the audience.

History has been distorted in most of the South Asian countries. States that had indulged in committing war atrocities had never been held accountable. But it is only truth that can lead to reconciliation. Remorse must precede forgiveness. Such sentiments were expressed during the book launch of Tripathi’s The Colonel Who Would Not Repent. The session, ‘An Interview with Bangladeshi History’ was moderated by Taimur Rahman, leader of the band Laal and a political activist. The panel included Tripathi, the author of the book; Hina Jilani, an established human rights activist and Sadaf Saaz Siddiqi, a Bengali poet and activist. Rahman requested Tripathi to take the lead with the discussion.

The author told the audience that his book revolves around the atrocities committed during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. He was of the view that people are different from the government and the events of 1971 were an injustice done to the people of Pakistan. He approved of the intervention of India during the 1971 war. Continuing the discussion, Siddiqi said that women were greatly affected during the events of the war. Although the Bangladesh government declared them “Brave Women” after the war, it soon left them on their own. Today, these women only want their stories of physical and psychological violence to be told; they do not want these gruesome accounts to die with them.

Jilani said that the need of the hour was for us to learn from our history. She stressed that the process of accountability should not be static; it should go on forever. She considered the civil-military relationship as a main problem in most of the South Asian countries. Rahman moderated the session in a well-coordinated manner and speakers kept the audience glued to their seats till the very end.