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Friday, September 03, 2010

India Pakistan - the key to peace

Dialogue is the only way forward
By Afzal Rahim

It is one of history’s ironies that a people who share so much, refuse to acknowledge their similarities and focus so avidly on their differences. It is time to restore the equilibrium. Public opinion is far too potent a force to be left in the hands of narrow vested interests. The people of today must find its voice and force the rulers to listen. Peace between India and Pakistan has been stubbornly elusive and yet tantalizingly inevitable. This vast subcontinent senses the bounties a peace dividend can deliver to its people yet it recoils from claiming a share. The natural impulse would be to break out of the straitjacket of stated positions and embrace an ideal that promises sustained prosperity to the region, yet there is hesitation. There is a collective paralysis of the will, induced by the trauma of birth, amplified by false starts, mistrust, periodic outbreaks of violence, suspicion, misplaced jingoism and diplomatic doublespeak. Hypnotized by their own mantra, the two states are reluctant to move towards normalization until certain terms and certain promises are kept. Transforming that rivalry into a mature, productive relationship will be difficult. But the consequences of continued animosity will be much worse.

The creation of India & Pakistan as independent states 63 years back raised the issues rooted in colonial legacy as well as historical acrimony. The region is often recognized as a high risk conflict zone because of history of tense relations- border clashes, limited or large scale wars between these two neighbours. India-Pakistan differences show several aspects of the historical enmity ranging from territorial dispute to water issues to security paranoia i.e. demarcation of maritime boundary. Sir Creek, Baglihar Dam, Siachen Glacier, Wullar Barrage. These perceptions between the two armed forces, arms proliferation so on and so forth. The future of the state of Jammu & Kashmir has been a highly contentions issue between India and Pakistan. From the very time these two states gained their independence. And since then this issue has continued to cast a shadow over the South Asian region. Worse, the two states fought three major wars (1948, 1965 & 1971) out of which two had their origins in the Kashmir dispute (1948 & 1965). That's why, this problem is the base of differences and any hope for peace and security in South Asia lies in the solution of this issue. Despite various efforts both India and Pakistan have failed to resolve this issue.

In this perennial season of inertia and zero-sum calculations prejudices continue to fester, stereotypes are entrenched and myth replaces reality. Tragically, opportunity knocks unheard on doors bolted on the inside. Opportunism, that appeals to atavistic passions, elicits an instant response to every single knock. People must write its own placards and fashion its own slogans. Why don’t we realize how alike we are, how the ‘other side’ wasn’t so much the ‘other side’ but more the ‘same side;’ how somewhere underneath all the layers of hatred and misguided passion fuelled by ignorance and propaganda, we’re all the same. We’re not Indian or Pakistani, we’re ‘subconties’ (sub continentals), we’re “youth without borders”, we’re “citizens of the world.” When the two neighbors meet they move almost seamlessly into the shared cultural and human ethos. They talk to each other about food, about music, about poetry, about films, about theatre and about the prolonged absences spawned by lost years. They share anxieties, discuss rising prices, seek advice on their children’s education, gossip about their in-laws, trade anecdotes and laugh at the foibles of politicians. A social compact based on a simple yet powerful impulse – India Pakistan people to people contact. A desire for peace!
We want to lower the walls so that the conversation continues. We have to nurture the seeds of peace that have nestled, untended, for decades in hostile soil. The leaders must learn to be led and not blindly followed. Skepticism about the given is often the genesis of faith. This skepticism has been brewing. It can be unleashed to forge a new social compact between the people of this region. We owe our unborn generations the right to rise out of the depths of poverty, and squalor. It is embarrassing to read the statistics confirming our resistance to positive change in the fields of education, health and poverty alleviation. All social indices are stacked against us and will remain so unless we scatter the war clouds that menace our skies. Such hypocrisy is compounded by the fact that most citizens in the subcontinent remain desperately poor and deeply frustrated by generations of neglect and exploitation by elites to whom they are invisible except when it is politically expedient. Politicians opportunistically drum up jingoistic diatribes, complete with rent-a-crowd protesters, against our neighbours, who can be conveniently blamed for everything, but mostly terrorism. It doesn't help that India and Pakistan have gone to war on four occasions and have a history of supporting violent insurgencies in each other's territory. There are external elements at work in the region that thrive on the animosity between the two neighbours. They have a stake in keeping the region in turmoil. We need to combat them by making them irrelevant.

Peace between India and Pakistan is not only necessary for sustaining economic growth but also vital for building pluralistic democracies and sustaining the integrity of both states. India, which is ranked at 142 in terms of per capita income, ranks first in the world in terms of arms imports. Pakistan is not far behind, being ranked 119 in terms of per capita income and 10th in the world in terms of arms imports. Peace with India and people to people contact will mean a substantially improved environment for the much-needed foreign and domestic investment for both the countries. The national security of both countries is threatened not by the neighbour across the border but by internal social forces of intolerance, violence, and poverty. A surge of goodwill and flexibility on the part of civil society and the media will push these forces back by denying them the raw material that manufactures hate. The continuation of Peace process between the two countries should not stop. These efforts will help to reach any logical conclusion. To further strengthen the peace process the principles of flexibility and reciprocity needs to be given utmost importance.

Out of the two stalling states, Pakistan is in deep internal trouble. Its economy is belly-up, posting its lowest growth rate, and inflation threatening to go hyper. Because of terrorism and regional disaffection, governance is at its lowest ebb. There are foreign and local terrorists on its soil who bomb any place they like and kill whomever they choose, anywhere in the country. Under pressure from shortages and natural calamities, the people are adopting extremist views and embracing xenophobia not suitable for a state in such dire need of external support. The courts are bending in the face of extremism and are not protected against terrorist threats when hearing cases against terrorists.

Those in India who think it’s no use talking to Pakistan when it is sinking should know that waiting for Pakistan to evaporate from the face of the earth may take too long and lose India the chance to help Pakistan at arriving at a bilaterally acceptable solution to disputes which will actually be Pakistan’s ‘self-correction’ in disguise. It is quite possible that Pakistan has lost its ability to set things right at home even if it wants to, in which case it needs to be helped rather than challenged

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  1. Wonderful! Hope this be shared with every one in world to know the truth! Appreciate your work!


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