- Feb 23, 2009
Peace with India By Ayesha Siddiqa
‘But why do we have to talk to India?’ was a line echoed by many on television screens in Pakistan with similar sentiments being expressed on the other side. The national security community on both sides suddenly sees no value in building peaceful relations.
Under the circumstances, it is very clear that the romantic notion of peace is now defunct. Ordinary people probably get excited when conservative rightwing leaders come on television and say that talking to the other side is of no use. The sad reality is that the days of desiring a great friendship are over.
Indeed, the post-Egypt meeting days did not bring a lot of joy to the Indian and Pakistani premiers. Both were lambasted for sacrificing vital national interests. While the Indian opposition and rightwing media criticised Dr Manmohan Singh for compromising on key principles, those in Pakistan were angry that Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani appeared to sacrifice Pakistan’s key interests in Kashmir. After all, why didn’t the joint statement mention the disputed territory? So, right now there is a crowd on both sides that would rather experiment with the missiles.
Historically, the governments in both countries have been belligerent towards one another. But the people wanted peace. Now, the tables have turned and while there are always those that understand the worth of peace in the neighbourhood, the rightwing national security community dominates the present discourse. Since the Kargil crisis in 1999 followed by tensions in 2002, both governments have adopted a reasonable stance in handling tensions.
We are at a stage where talking peace is becoming boring. Indians ask why peace should be discussed when Pakistan keeps shipping terrorists to their country. Why, they ask, should their great country that has prospects of becoming a regional and global power come down to the level of a small neighbour that cannot match India’s capacity. Moreover, many in India believe that Pakistan will exhaust itself in this competition. For this category of Indians, Pakistan’s collapse would be something to celebrate.
However, they might be disappointed to know that Pakistan is not about to collapse. It may not have the capacity to fight and faces countless challenges but the national security community can think of many ways to stay alive, at least to fight their rival.
What a sordid state of affairs. It is a fact that the days of bonhomie are over. Peace does not seem possible mainly because there are parties on both sides that benefit from conflict. The Indian prime minister was both wise and rational when he explained to his own constituents that they could not wish away Pakistan because it is a neighbour. The problem lies in thinking in terms of a best pal or worst enemy. A friend from South India labels this a Punjabi fixation. I am always tempted to remind her that South Indians too suffer from the syndrome!
Even the most intelligent Indians get angry when confronted with the question of Pakistan saying that the country is inconsequential where India is concerned. Surely, these people would react differently if they were not bothered about Pakistan.
The Pakistani government might have a myriad problems but it is being prudent in desiring good relations with its next-door neighbour and in saying that India is not a primary source of threat to the country. This certainly does not mean that we surrender our key interests. It means that we recognise that military conflict will not bring any solutions. How do we expect our neighbour to talk about concessions when we continue to allow non-state actors to use our territory to launch attacks on it?
It is also a reality that since the end of the 1990s it was twice that we came close to embarking on the path of peace. Had this venture not been upset, we could have moved to a better level of understanding. The beneficiaries of conflict ask why India should be spared when it used similar tactics against us. The defeat of 1971 is still fresh in the minds of many — especially those who derive benefit from conflict.
The much-despised Gen Pervez Musharraf, who still claims that Kargil was a brilliant idea, later understood that the only viable option was to make peace so that Pakistan could be put on the road to harnessing its human resources and concentrating on socio-economic development. This is when he began to think of and suggest ‘out of the box’ solutions. Had it not been for the laziness and lack of imagination of India’s strategic community, the problem might have been solved then.
New Delhi can always argue that quick action is not possible in the backdrop of its coalition politics and so it could not move fast on resolving minor issues like Siachen or the more doable Sir Creek border issue. The fact of the matter is that the thinking of its national security and political community is almost as myopic as that next door.
One wonders what it would take for strategists in India to realise that the troubled Pakistan has nine lives and will always be there. In fact, a weaker Pakistan will be detrimental to India’s security. So, not talking is not an option that either side has. In fact, not talking is not going to solve any problem at all. It is foolhardy to imagine that there could be a way to block out the bothersome neighbour as the rich do with the poor. Or imagine that the problem will wither away on its own. It would be wise to pray for sanity to return to the strategic community on both sides. Since neighbours can’t be wished away, a better future can only be constructed through cooperation and not ‘mutually assured destruction.’
The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.
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