Pakistan-India Relations: Lets Engage By Rules

The buzz cannot be better. The words all come outright. Everyone of any significance is calling for cooperation not confrontation and development not destructive war between India and Pakistan. The chant is that lessons have been learnt. Animosity is unaffordable. Above all it traumatizes national souls. Hours before his death in January 1966 India’s Prime Minister Lal Bahadur was prophetic when he said peace with Pakistan is important for India’s soul. His friends were opposed to his decision to sign the 1965 Taskhent agreement between India and Pakistan. Fifty bruised years testify that hating has a bitter yield. There is nothing deadlier than hating in the name of Allah or Ram; as there is nothing more beautiful than promoting universal humanism in the name of Allah and Ram. And when Allah and Ram co-exist as within India, hate devours tolerance, a ‘vital’ of a multi-communal society. Similarly if Allah’s name becomes divisive within an overwhelming muslim nation then the tragedy is no less.

But is that the only lesson of our bruised history ? No. Indeed the highest cost extracted from South Asia has been by those not ‘playing by set rules.’ More than even what the hate calculus has extracted. Not ‘playing by the rules’ has been the cardinal sin. It was the ‘original sin’ too. Many third party historians including Stanley Wolpert maintain that the Congress’s approach of not playing by the rules’ alienated the minority Muslims. It significantly contributed to the break-up of India. After all it was only when confronted by the reality of an absence of fair ‘rules of the game’ for the Muslims in a post-British India, that Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ called for an independent Muslim homeland.

At the core of a paralyzing if not pathological animosity has been the near abandonment of any objective rules that would define interstate relations. Such rules alone provide the framework for thriving relations Hence the inevitability of animosity thesis is intellectually irresponsible, politically self-serving and historically incorrect. Intellectually we need to admit hard facts. India violated rules set for the accession of states including Hyderabad Junagadh or Jammu and Kashmir. Ironically this when Pakistan opted to appoint an Indian national, a Muslim jurist from Lucknow as its first ambassador in Delhi.

Pakistan opted for covert ways to right the wrong. India’s political giant Nehru took the matter to the UN, but ignored the UN rules to resolve Kashmir. Pakistan again opted for the armed option culminating in war. Pakistan’s East Pakistan crisis demonstrated India’s neighborly ethos; ‘get ’em when the going is bad’. Pakistan withdrew to strengthen itself through its nuclear program and opted for engagement in the Middle East. Eighties was many parallel tracks ; near agreement on Siachin, agreement to not attack Nuclear Installations, Pakistan’s opted to ‘settle scores’ and weaken India’s Kashmir occupation by using the Khalistan card, India’s near military operation Brass Tacks. Nineties has been the low intensity conflict over the unsettled Kashmir dispute ; dangerous and dehumanizing. The strong overtly violated ‘rules’ while the weak covertly and deceptively conducted affairs. Both created an ‘underworld’ of death, destruction and dangerous divides. Behind the handshakes of smiling heads of States were distrusting hearts and suspicious minds.

The nuclear tests proved the strategic equalizers. The balance of terror created space for the dialogue. The cloud of historical inter-state antagonism and distrust began lifting. At Lahore guided by a vision for peaceful co-existence the two Prime Ministers met in 1998. The first very small yet critical step towards agreeing to play by the rules was taken. Kargil was a damaging detour. It greatly set back the chances for cooperation. Indians felt violated, Vajpayee personally humiliated. Pakistanis knew violation of confidence; beginning with 1948 through 1971 and Siachin onwards. Vajpayee the statesmen, for numerous reasons moved on. He offered Agra to the Kargil man General Parvez Musharraf. Musharraf was a serious negotiator at Agra. Together Vajpayee and Musharraf and their teams again drew up rules for bilateral engagement. Agra fell through. We need to pick up the threads.

Pakistan and India need to agree to play by rules. This alone must be the thrust and objective of Pakistan-India diplomatic track. The rule of law alone not of the jungle provides the framework for a genuinely cooperative Pakistan-India and of South Asian relations.

Yet often when matters perpetually fall apart between us intellectual populism takes over. Bashing favorites are picked up; doves or hawks, parochial nationalists or romantic South Asians, pro-establishment or anti-state. Intellectuals ‘clash’ over the ‘blundering’ two-nation theory and over India’s refusal to accept Pakistan’s existence. Mere shadow boxing and worse its intellectual reductionism. Grand utterances that blur specificity , facts and logic of causation. India indeed accepts Pakistan’s existence. Likewise the two nation theory finds the unfortunate advocate in a state that promotes communal not citizenry’s interest.

Ironing out conflicting historical narrative is another process. Long winded and ongoing. Often nations live with their own narratives. Some of the narrative changes when the message from the State changes; when the leadership points another way. A fact illustrated by the positive impact on the press and people’s perception of bilateral relations within hours of the April 23 Vajpayee-Jamali telephone conversation.

Politics in both countries has to be drained of the ‘anti’ each other card. BJP has yet to decide if it will opt for the Pakistan-bashing or the peace with Pakistan card. Our respective domestic challenges require us to focus on issues of human progress. Cross-border propagandist or moralistic ‘firing’ should cease. There are enough problems within for either side to address.

Clearly sustained dialogue not sustained subversion is the only way forward. We need to abandon the religion card as an inter-state score-settler. We must begin dialogue on all tracks including Kashmir as it concerns all the parties. India must end the human right violations in Kashmir and reduce its forces in Kashmir.