Understanding each other

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At Agra Pakistan and India seemed very close to an agreement, post-Summit statements make it quite clear that both sides were in fact far apart in their respective perceptions about what the agreement amounted to. Pakistan held out that their long-standing stand on Kashmir being a core issue was about to be formally recognized, India felt that its main concern, “cross-border terrorism” was going to be addressed by Pakistan and this would drastically curtail the freedom struggle within Kashmir. Such different interpretations post-Summit would have made any Declaration a non-starter, the various clauses could have been used as enough pretext by extremists on either side to destroy whatever understanding was developing among the leaders and intelligentsia of both the countries, seriously retarding the peace process. Both Musharraf and Vajpayee are very conscious of hard-liners in their constituencies, that is why they avoided eroding each others’ domestic standing by giving these hard-liners due cause. When two people meet to solve a problem, the sensitivity each displays for the other’s problems despite disagreeing with each other goes a long way in creating the right atmosphere for eventual solution. The good chemistry between Musharraf and Vajpayee was the main success of Agra, that it did not result in an “instant Declaration” may be temporarily disappointing, in the cold light of reality one can understand it has created the foundation that will eventually lead to lasting solutions.

Kashmir as a conceptual issue does threaten India’s secular ideology. Most Indians are right when they say that any solution of Kashmir issue on the basis of religion would be used as a precedent by India’s many other disparate minorities, both in religions and races, to demand their independence on the same premise. At the moment India faces a number of armed insurrections other than the revolt inside Indian Held Kashmir, particularly in the East viz (1) Mizoram (2) Manipur (3) Nagaland (4) Assam (5) Bodoland, etc. What worries India is not only the religious and racial issues but also the language divide, not so much with the East as it is with the South. And the South is quite vehement about speaking their local languages as opposed to Hindi. The economic divide is also widening quite alarmingly, the South is far more affluent than the North, with the exception of Indian Punjab. With the exception of Haryana to an extent, the great Hindu heartland of UP, Behar, Maharasthra, Gujrat, Rajasthan, etc is well below the poverty line. This becomes very apparent not only in New Delhi but along the road from Delhi to Agra even though one believes that in Haryana and Indian Punjab one comes away with a definite perception of affluence. In contrast the highways and agriculture fields of Pakistan exude far more affluence throughout the country. While religious and racial divide may be bad enough, economic disparity is the source of most conflict in history and the portents are not good.

That is not to say that everything is hunky-dory in Pakistan. The most visible symbol of dispute between the various Provinces has been the Kalabagh Dam, shelved for the time being. Water has been an age-old problem to fight over, as the requirement increases and the quantity available decreases, the situation has become acute. Indian analysts were almost unanimous in their premise that what holds Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh together is Kashmir. While this is a very wrong perception the fact remains that the Provinces have problems with each other, mainly about water and revenue sharing. This is not unlike the problem in India between at least 3 States because of the Cauvery Dam and the sharing of water thereof. Moreover as the income level of the southerners in India become higher, mainly because of the IT boom, per capita they will pay for more taxes than their northern and eastern brethren. India is better equipped to handle this economic divide because the States exercise far more authority as envisaged in their Federal structure. This was not so for many years when Congress used to rule almost everywhere. The emergence of strong regional parties has ensured that the national parties such as Congress and BJP cannot form a majority government anywhere on their own. But exercising of their due mandate by regional parties within the sanctity of the Constitution does not spell secession by any means. To their credit, the military regime has addressed this issue because of the devolution of powers down to the District level in Pakistan, the local authorities will have far more control over their lives in Pakistan. District Governments should have come eventually but only after Divisional Governments or the creation of more Provinces but in the circumstances there is no argument about giving power back to the people. What is a democratic system without grassroots rule? Most of Pakistan’s problems stem from over-centralization of everything in Islamabad, to survive as a Federal entity we have no other alternative but to divide power. The only weak link in the Devolution Plan is the possible ascendancy of the feudal lord to almost absolute monarchy status in some rural areas of the country, particularly Balochistan. Instead of going step by step the military regime decided to go the full distance in one giant leap, only time will tell if this was “a bridge too far”.

Given that both the countries need to get their economics and political houses in order, it may be good for eventual rapprochement to learn from each other’s experience in dealing with such problems. As much as India does not want to treat relations with Pakistan as an Hindu-Muslim problems, the Kashmir problem is ground zero of a conflict that goes back more than a 1000 years. The Muslims of Kashmir are a majority and do not want to live under Hindu minority rule. To give them their due, most Indians sincerely believe that there is no Hindu-Muslim problem but a India-Pakistan problem. If so why don’t they give vocal support to Hasina Wajid’s Awami League in Bangladesh and see what happens to her in the coming elections in Bangladesh? It is no use putting our heads in the ground and ignoring reality. We must recognize that the solution lies in genuine Hindu-Muslim rapprochement, not an alliance against anyone but rather than alliance to overcome mutual suspicions and apprehensions. Over the past few weeks the traffic of E Mail from Hindu academics and intellectuals has increased from all over the world (in contrast to Muslims abroad they seem to read THE NATION more) who may not agree with my views but except for the odd madman full of abuse and hate they are mostly reasonable in their logic and explanation, we have a civilized debate with each other. One must also add that there is a also a growing and genuine feeling of mutual respect and understanding.

That is what Agra accomplished, the need for continued dialogue to resolve issues, while the Kashmir dispute needs to be resolved and “confidence building measures” will help, what is needed is more and more dialogue, not only between leaders and intellectuals but across the broad cross-section of the great normally-silent majority. The people of Kashmir need relief. We in Pakistan need to convince our Indian friends that in leaning backwards over Kashmir they may be tactically disadvantaged temporarily but in the strategic sense they would have laid the base in the long term for one South Asia. For all those who are privileged to comment and debate on the situation availing today in whatever capacity, even those like us who only live on the fringes of history, it is incumbent to drive home one salient point, South Asia is the most contiguous economic unit in the world. All the countries have complementary economies, and it is only with economic togetherness that we will alleviate the sufferings of our impoverished masses.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.

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