A Tale Of Bad Blood And Baby Steps

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, at the start of a five-day trip to Pakistan commencing September 19, 1960, and Pakistani President Ayub Khan, ride through Abdullah Haroon Road (old Victoria Road) in Karachi in a Cadillac convertible after the signing of the historic Indus Waters Basin Treaty, with Eugene R. Black, President of the World Bank as the main witness.  - Photo: PID
Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, at the start of a five-day trip to Pakistan commencing September 19, 1960, and Pakistani President Ayub Khan, ride through Abdullah Haroon Road (old Victoria Road) in Karachi in a Cadillac convertible after the signing of the historic Indus Waters Basin Treaty, with Eugene R. Black, President of the World Bank as the main witness. - Photo: PID

THE relationship between Pakistan and India is decidedly unique. In order to understand this strange and complex relationship, which arouses both the best and the worst of our emotions at different times and has resulted in a strange obsession with each other, we must delve long into our shared history, as well as its many distortions by vested interests.

Pakistan and India are not peculiar in that there have been attempts to rewrite history in all modern states which acquired independence in the second half of the 20th century. Other nations, too, have recast their past to support their national narratives. India and Pakistan, however, have indulged in such revisionism more than others, and have also paid a higher price for it. One could say that Pakistani and Indian revisionists have gone so far as to ‘murder’ their history.

Consider, for example, that even the favourite villain of modern-day Hindutva bigots, Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir, had many Hindu generals in his army. Jai Singh, Aurangzeb’s great general, fought against Shivaji on behalf of Aurangzeb. In some cases, Aurangzeb offered grants and land for the maintenance of temples. Later, leading Muslim and Hindu chiefs united under Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, during the War of Independence in 1857.

Coming to more modern times, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is painted as a bigoted communalist in Indian history books, and it is never pointed out that he was himself in the Indian National Congress at one time. He was considered by many Congress leaders, like Sarojini Naidu, Mahatma Gandhi and others, as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Pakistan and India have had a toxic relationship since Partition. Is there hope for a rapprochement between the two bitter rivals and how might this be achieved.

Similarly, in Pakistani textbooks, Gandhi is painted as a scheming Hindu politician who said one thing and meant another. It is never pointed out that he actually went on a hunger strike to force the Congress to hand over Pakistan’s assets after partition and that, for this reason alone, he was regarded by many bigoted Hindus as a friend of Muslims and Pakistan. He was murdered on this account by an extremist, Nathuram Godse, a member of the Hindu Mahasabha.

H.M. Seervai, the famous Indian jurist and author, writes that religious sentiment was first introduced into politics by Gandhi, not Jinnah. Moreover, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Jaswant Singh and Stanley Wolpert hold that the division of India was more the work of the Congress leadership than the Muslim League’s, since the Quaid had already accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan.

This is not to deny that distrust between the Hindu and Muslim communities was not there before partition. There were many periods, nevertheless, where the two communities lived in harmony. In fact, until the advent of the Modi government in 2014, and more so post-2019, many Indians used to proudly proclaim the virtues of the syncretic nature of their Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, which had evolved between the ‘Doab’ region of the Ganges and Jamuna rivers. There was also a lot of cultural and architectural fusion. It was the bloodshed and suffering at the time of partition, unparalleled in modern history, that had an extremely negative impact on future relations between India and Pakistan.

From Pakistan’s perspective, it is believed that a section of the Indian leadership had been wishing an early end for Pakistan ever since partition. From the very early days, therefore, the Pakistani leadership was determined to do everything in its power to prevent this from happening.

This naturally increased animosity between the two countries. The Kashmir war of 1947-48, the 1965 war, the 1971 war, and the Kargil war in 1999, as well as the near-war situations in 1987 at the time of Operation Brasstacks, and the 1990 confrontation on the borders at the time of the Hazratbal incident in Kashmir and others, served to ensure the continuation of hostile feelings between the two countries.

Recently, the two countries engaged in aerial combat between their air forces in 2019. Despite these hostilities, however, neither country has been able to achieve their objective regarding the changing of the territorial status quo in occupied Kashmir.

War is clearly not an option. Forget nuclear war, which no sane person can contemplate; even conventional war is now unthinkable since both armies have now achieved the capacity to cause immense damage to each other. This is not just my view: it is also the view of British, American, and Indian writers on the subject.

In the words of authors George Perkovich and Toby Dalton in Not War, Not Peace?, “India and Pakistan are approaching rough symmetry at three levels of competition: sub-conventional, conventional and nuclear.” Likewise, Dragon on Our Doorstep, by eminent Indian authors Pravin Sawhney, a defence analyst and former Indian army officer, and Ghazala Wahab, concludes that war is not an option for India. Of course, it is not an option for Pakistan either.

I am not surprised that many have grave doubts about whether talks can really be restored at a time when Hindutva supporters are terrorising both minorities and the BJP’s political opponents; when the Taj Mahal has been described as a ‘blot on Indian culture’ built by ‘traitors’; when Muslims are being lynched for either eating beef or trading in meat; and when Pakistan is being accused by India of all sorts of wrongdoings.

I agree that the current situation is not at all propitious for a meaningful dialogue. The question is: how long can this last? The rising business community in India will soon find the atmosphere counter-productive to its interests in an age of globalisation.

Sticking to rabid Hindutva will come with steep costs. Consider the recent blasphemous comments made by leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP, which sparked a lot of tension in the Muslim world and led to the BJP’s suspension of its spokesperson. Arab social media had been ablaze with anger. Countries ranging from Saudi Arabia and Iran, to the Maldives and Indonesia lodged official protests against Modi’s government, with some business groups asking for a boycott of Indian goods.

I am aware that a lot of negativity has been engendered by Hindutva supporters under the Modi government. But the cost of this polarisation, as we now know, has been quite high: both in terms of social instability in the country and its rapid economic decline. A recent book, Price of the Modi Years, by India’s respected author, journalist and human rights activist Aakar Patel, gives exhaustive details of India’s economic decline.

Is there hope? Some Indians regard Pakistan army as a major impediment. My experience in dealing with the military leadership, specifically on the Kashmir issue, suggests that the army is neither opposed to, nor is a roadblock to better relations with India. I can thus speak with confidence, at least regarding the military’s attitude to backchannel talks with India on Kashmir during my tenure.

During the course of discussions on Kashmir, spanning over approximately three years, input from the army leadership was neither rhetorical nor laced with ideological spin often associated with mid-level officers. It was invariably supported by reason and informed perspectives.

Prominent Indian politician and analyst Mani Shankar Aiyar, India’s former petroleum minister as well as former foreign service officer, reached the same conclusion: “I do not think the objective record makes for any insuperable difficulty in India dealing directly with the Pakistan military or with a civilian government that has the military breathing down its neck. It was indubitably during the Ayub regime that the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed. The IWT has weathered three wars and continues to offer a forum for the resolution of water disputes, as witnessed in the recent spats over Baglihar and now Kishangana. Yes, the battle in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965, and Operation Gibraltar in August that year, followed by the September war, took place in the Ayub dispensation, but much of that seems to have been stoked as much by civilian political forces as by the armed forces.”

A recent speech by the Pakistan army chief, delivered on March 18, 2021, needs no elaboration and is worth quoting. “This geo-economic vision is centred around four core pillars: one, moving towards a lasting and enduring peace within and outside; two, non-interference of any kind in the internal affairs of our neighbouring and regional countries; three, boosting intra-regional trade and connectivity; [and] four, bringing sustainable development and prosperity through the establishment of investment and economic hubs within the region.”

Apart from the IWT and the Rann of Kutch dispute, which were settled through international mediation, even the 1965 war was ultimately resolved between the two countries through the Tashkent Agreement in 1966 under the auspices of the government of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

In Kashmir, various moves have been made over the years to reach a negotiated settlement. The inspiration for these moves comes from the vision of Quaid-i-Azam, who hoped for a friendly and cooperative relationship between Pakistan and India provided they could resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in a just and fair manner.

Over the years, Pakistani leaders have reached the conclusion that a solution to the dispute cannot be reached without Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir agreeing to it. This envisages mutual flexibility, while UN Security Council resolutions form the basis of Pakistan’s claim as a party to the dispute.

Starting with prime minister Firoze Khan Noon, to president Ayub Khan, to the Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks and including recent leaders like Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan, all have attempted to resolve the dispute through dialogue. President Musharraf recognised this increasingly after assuming office.

The nearest that Pakistan and India came to resolving the issue of Jammu and Kashmir was between 2004 and 2007, when I was the foreign minister. The two countries actually drafted an agreed framework for the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir, commonly known as the Four-Point Formula.

The details of the agreement, which I discussed in my book, Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove, have not been contradicted by any Pakistani or Indian of consequence. In fact, the book launch was attended by the principals on the two sides themselves: Parvez Musharraf, Manmohan Singh and India’s former leader of the opposition L.K. Advani. Each had been provided advance copies. I thus believe that given the political will, even this issue can be resolved.

Narendra Modi cannot rule India forever. Even at the best of times, he was able to secure about 37pc of the total vote, with an overwhelming majority voting for parties who are by and large opposed to the current policies of the BJP government on Muslims, Kashmir and Pakistan. He gains only as a result of divisions within the opposition.

Under present projections, most Indian analysts believe that Modi will win the next elections regardless of his mishandling of the economy and Covid. International observers and even some Indian writers and commentators have now started accepting the fact that India has lost Kashmiris and is only in possession of their land by force; that this position is untenable and, therefore, either the Modi government or its substitute, in due course, will find wisdom in the words of Vajpayee.

In his article ‘Kumarakom Musings’, Vajpayee openly admitted that two things were keeping India from achieving its potential at the international level: its problem with Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute, and the demolition of Babri Masjid. Prime minister Manmohan Singh showed equal wisdom in agreeing to a framework for the solution of the issue.

The way forward

I am aware that nothing major can happen in the current circumstances, but baby steps can still be suggested.

Media engagement: I engaged extensively with media in both countries to create an enabling environment for the agreed framework on Jammu and Kashmir, and this helped in changing entrenched negative attitudes. There is a need to allow representatives of major newspapers and news channels from both countries to be posted in each other’s major cities to create better awareness and increase human empathy.

Religious exchanges: Group tourism and religious pilgrimages to Kartarpur, the restored Katas Raj Temple, Hinglaj Mata Temple and various Muslim ‘dargahs’ will also be helpful.

Trade: According to a 2018 World Bank report entitled Glass Half Full: Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia, trade between Pakistan and India could be as high as $37 billion. It could be higher now.

People-to-people contact: I know how far we can go if the leadership of the two countries makes efforts with a positive frame of mind. Even public opinion can be changed, as we managed to do during our tenure by encouraging people-to-people contact and through a positive narrative regarding the progress that we were making. In the past (as now), cricket matches were the substitute for battlefields. We had an opportunity to witness the last one-day match of the Pakistan-India cricket series in Delhi in 2005, where Pakistan won both the match and the series. I discovered no hostility. Instead, a carnival-like atmosphere prevailed in the stadium.

I also remember the cricket match in Lahore, where Pakistan lost. Instead of showing hostility towards the visiting team, the young men and women of Lahore applauded the winning team. Given the right political direction, the sky is the limit.

Meaningful dialogue between Pakistan and India will enable them to focus on improving the socio-economic indicators of their people, which are perhaps the worst in the world. We are still home to almost half of the world’s poor, whereas China has lifted a massive number of people above the poverty line. Pakistan and India need to start a meaningful dialogue soon. As indicated above, a win-win formula for Kashmiris, Pakistanis and Indians does exist.

The writer is a former foreign minister.

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