Making peace with Partition

Relatively little has been written on the positive aspects of India-Pakistan relations and only a few bother to explore ways to put the scarred relationship back on the positive track. Undoubtedly, the 1947 partition brought enormous suffering for Hindus and Muslims alike. The Indians’ view was that Muslims cannot co-exist with other religious and cultural communities as rulers hardened with the creation of Pakistan. Conversely, Pakistanis widely believed that the Hindus are unable to forgive the Muslims for depriving them the opportunity to rule over the entire subcontinent. Furthermore, ruthless killing of around a million people and forced migration of over 12 million inhabitants laid the foundations for bitter bilateral relations, at least for decades.

A prominent Indian academic, Radha Kumar, in her recently published work Making peace with Partition, sheds some fresh light on the whole saga. She explains that the phenomenon of partition created a contradictory combination of acrimony and goodwill between two neighbours, leaving the political analysts confused ever since. Drawing a parallel, Radha notes that Ireland, Palestine, Cyprus and recently Bosnia have gone through a similar partition but it took a longer time to settle down. In contrast, the three men who were to supervise India’s division, Lord Mountbatten, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru had no desire to go to war for partition. Unlike Croatian president both Nehru and Jinnah discouraged violent feelings and tried hard to restore peace.

Could the violence have been prevented? Radha Kumar says Congress and Muslim League leadership committed the sin of omission rather than commission. They were externally busy in drawing maps to decide borders and they did not pay attention to the warnings of violence. Having fought World War II, the British government was not in a position to make a transfer of its population safely. Interestingly, Radha regards the two respective armies of India and Pakistan as a ray of hope for keeping away from mindless killings. Not only did the two armies avoided supporting sectarian paramilitaries to cause unrest but also refrained from targeting each other’s civilian infrastructure. Radha refers to the security forces of the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus and Israel for its ugly treatment towards civilian infrastructure and civilians.

Radha Kumar describes the 1965 war as a turning point and the 1971 war as the final nail in the coffin of goodwill. In fact, it is still a festering wound in Pakistani pride, shaping Islamabad’s long term enmity towards New Delhi. The author deplores that both India and Pakistan do not contribute to the peace process. On the contrary, they always tend to attribute all positive initiatives to international pressure, threat of nuclear war or short-term electoral gains. The Indian academic misses out the fact that intellectuals seldom get the opportunity to first-hand knowledge from the other side of the divide as none trusts the other’s scholarship. Even today, the same perception exists on both sides.

Radha recalls that New Delhi lost two key opportunities to settle the Kashmir conflict. The first chance was lost to the poor statesmanship of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao which betrayed JKLF while negotiating a ceasefire. Then Narasimha Rao’s administration promised the JKLF that ‘the sky is the limit’ if it lays down arms, but it did not stand by its promises. The other lost occasion for peace emerged when New Delhi failed to hold fruitful talks with militant leaders in Casablanca despite the ISI nod. Radha could have safely added another opportunity offered by Majid Dar’s ceasefire call in July 2000. Perhaps, the initiative caught New Delhi off guard and so it failed to appreciate its implications. India stood by its stated position which was unacceptable for the Hizbul Mujahideen and other outfits.

Besides, Radha also sheds light on the current bonhomie between the Indian government and Mirwaiz-led APHC. Referring to various back channel players, Radha claims that the Indian government and Hurriyat had a tacit agreement to call a two-year ‘time out’ from the battle over Kashmir’s self-determination, to restore some degree of peace and some measure of governance in the state. Meanwhile, formal talks between the two and between New Delhi and Islamabad could have yielded their own positive results.

The Indian author refers to a visit by the Pakistani Parliamentarians in March 2003 who conveyed a message from Musharraf to New Delhi that Islamabad would no longer back cross-LoC infiltration while India was erecting the fence.

In the last 24 pages of her book, Radha puts forth some ideas on the current peace process between India and Pakistan and for the permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Radha as well as many other Indian experts do not visualise Kashmir out of the Indian union. Although, she shows a visible tilt towards Kashmiri aspirations but offers the same wine in a new bottle. Radha’s road map for Kashmir settlement includes:

–¢ The erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir would have wide-ranging autonomy or self rule.

–¢ However, Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas would remain under formal Pakistani control, and Jammu and Kashmir would remain under formal Indian control.

–¢ On the ground, de facto partition would end and a soft border would erase the lines of division, and be jointly managed by India and Pakistan.

–¢ The Kashmiris would have access to both Indian and Pakistani markets as well as wider South Asian markets.

In fact this formula is not viable as a permanent solution of the dispute. However, there is no harm to consider it as an interim solution without compromising on the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris as it may lessen the sufferings of the people for the time being.

Radha Kumar’s book is small in size but brings a new perspective to the ongoing debate with objectivity and optimism, both of which are normally a casualty in such discourses. While the book reflects that Indian scholarship has been exploring new avenues to settle contentious issues with Pakistan, it is also evident that their thinking remains imprisoned within Indian borders.