The leadership of the two rival neighbours India and Pakistan surprisingly made a u-turn from their traditional and hostile postures against each other. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee surprised the world in the last couple of weeks when he unexpectedly reversed the loud-mouthed Indian stance of equating Pakistan with Iraq (under Saddam’s regime) by offering ‘decisive‘ peace talks and restoration of full diplomatic relations with Pakistan during his address in Indian Parliament. For opening a way to friendship, Prime Minister Vajpayee wants to upgrade the diplomatic presence and lift the ban on air space and landing for air-travel. Responsively, Pakistani Prime Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali extended a formal invitation to Mr. Vajpayee to visit Pakistan and showed his full willingness to talk with Indian counter-part on all the issues between the two countries.
The latest move towards friendship and diplomatic mechanism by the Indian and Pakistani leaderships is being largely appreciated by the world leaders as the friendly neighbouring relation between these two nuclear powers is the dream of not only the people of India and Pakistan but the entire South Asia region. Tied with myths of history, race, culture and custom these two neighbours are as thirstier of peace as they politically induced revulsions due to their geopolitical disputes. As a matter of fact, for obvious reasons the underlying assumption is that a vast majority of the people involved are genuinely interested in peace between the two countries. It is also recognized in the South Asian capitals that the advent of peace in South Asia is indeed heavily dependent upon Indo-Pak relationship.
Like in other parts of the world, India and Pakistan have also been inherited the territorial conflict by the Britain colonialism in the form of flashpoint dispute over Kashmir. In the last 50 years, Pakistan and India fought three wars. Kashmir which became a ‘disputed territory‘ is historically a unique and gorgeous land, where Muslims in majority once lived with Hindus and Buddhists in relative peace and harmony. It is the most beautiful place on earth. It is a home of culturally tolerant and religiously hybrid people, and a center of Sufism in the subcontinent. Unfortunately, since the partition (1947), the rulers of both India and Pakistan valued the solution of the Kashmir dispute in their own interest rather than in the benefit of the people of Kashmir. Neither India, which controls the state through its army, nor Pakistan, which backs Kashmiri freedom-fighters, came out with a solution which could be acceptable to the governments of both the countries and the people of Kashmir, in the last 50 years. India blames Pakistan for cross border terrorism by funding and training the infiltrators and Kashmiri fighters which Pakistan always denies. On the other hand Pakistan blames India for human rights abuses killing thousands of Kashmiris through its army operations. According to a western human rights report, in the last 12 years, more than 35,000 people have been killed in Kashmir. The Kashmir dispute has been in turmoil since, after the war in 1948, both India and Pakistan went in United Nation and the UN Security Council passed its resolution on 21st of April 1948 which states; “both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite“. Since then no action could be taken except both the countries had two wars and unrelenting tension on the border. The freedom movement in Kashmir became stronger since the Hindu extremist party BJP came into power in India which opted to use Indian army as a force to crash the freedom movements and groups.
The political history of the two countries shows that in the past the issues between the two countries were being vocalized by the ruling heads or political gurus only to gain or maintain the support from the public. It is also on record that whenever a peace initiative is laid down either the tension or fight broke out on the borders or the terrorists’ activities are prevailed within the country. For example; after the ‘bus-diplomacy’ – visit of Vajpayee from Amritsar to Lahore in February, 1999, Kargil war broke out in October, 1999. Following the ‘Agra Summit‘ – the visit of General Musharraf to Agra, in July 2001 é there was suicide attack was on Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. Tensions between the two countries reached at the boiling point again when Kashmiri militants killed more than two dozen Indian soldiers’ wives and children in an attack on an army housing complex in Jammu and Kashmir. India deployed 700,000 Indian troops on its border alongside Pakistan with the threats of ‘decisive’ action against Pakistan by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In response, Pakistan deployed about 300,000 troops to its side of the border to counter the Indian mobilization. Both the countries tested series of highly visible long range nuclear warhead career missiles. Then General Musharraf offered hands of friendship by shaking hand with Prime Minister Vajpayee at the 11th SAARC conference in January, 2002.
The game of threat and diplomacy has been going on for many years between the two countries and at the same time both the countries are in the race of stockpiling dangerous weapons, justifying their deeds by the blames of threat and fear on each other. Both the countries, miserably and quite consistently, failed to provide the very basic facilities to their people but spent enormous amount of their budget on arms build-up especially the nuclear arsenals. India, who has the second largest population in the world, spends 25 to 30% of its budget on defense; on the other hand Pakistan – which since creation, most of the time has been ruled by the army – spends 74% of its budget on defence.
The recent gestures of mutual communication and willingness for bilateral talks by the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers are the key factors to de-escalate tension, establish understanding and trust to find out the ways and means to resolve all the political and geopolitical issues between the two countries and to eliminate the hanging threats of possible break of nuclear war. There could be enormous opportunities and countless incentives in many fields for both India and Pakistan to establish friendly relations for mutual benefits. Both the countries can save major part of their budget currently being spent on defence which can be used on providing basic facilities to their people in health, education, clean environment and other human development programmes.
One hopes that this time the leaderships of both the countries should, open heartedly, understand each others genuine grievances and view points; resolve the issues on the basis of ‘give and take’ and lay down the foundation of an on-going plan for steady and friendly neighbouring relations in the best interest of the people of India, Pakistan and Kashmir and for stability and peace in the region. In this regard, the media especially of both the countries can also play a vital and positive role in rebuffing hardliners, condemning obstacles and bringing the Indo-Pak ruling heads closer for better understanding.
The writer is a Sydney-based freelance journalist and a political analyst.