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Friday, November 12, 2010

Peace not War

Indo Pak dialogue - the only way forward

Subcontinent leaderships have time and again floundered peace. Sometimes it is the recklessness on the Pakistani side and at other times the Indian officialdom chants the trust-deficit mantra. But this must end. It is clear that the peoples of the two countries want peace, security and progress. A causal look at India’s poverty and Pakistan’s social indicators proves this point.
When you have two long-feuding countries like Pakistan and India, each with a strong national ego, and each having powerful hate lobbies waiting to denounce any compromise as a betrayal, it is not easy to make progress in negotiations. In any event, diplomacy is a slow grind and a waiting game requiring great patience and perseverance and given our history, it is clear there are no quick fixes and no dramatic solutions.
The chequered, bilateral relationship between the neighbours is desperately in need of confidence building measures: i.e increased trade and people-to-people contacts. Well over a billion people on both sides of the border could immensely benefit if the their respective governments and establishments were to demonstrate the courage and will to resolve their differences (for India the bone of contention would be terrorism and for Pakistan Kashmir, Water) and let each other live in peace and without seeing the other as the enemy.
India’s troop reduction will give confidence to the national security apparatus. The second plank of this new framework should build on the Kashmir Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s) increasing the flow of people and goods backed by [in] formal diplomatic engagement. Furthermore, media and telecommunication restrictions need to be lifted on both sides.
The information deficit is even stronger than the trust deficit. A majority of Indians hold Pakistan fully responsible for the Mumbai event. The caveat here is that they often forget that Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism. It is clear that regional stability is a foremost priority for India given its focus on achieving a 10 per cent growth rate. Pakistan should benefit from this dynamic by expanding trade with India. Mutual trade will be a win-win situation and give a much-needed boost to our economy.

With the horrors wreaked by the Taliban in Pakistani cities (especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan) , it has become clear that it is as much in Pakistan’s interest as it is in India’s interest to eradicate violent extremism. India too must realise that the destabilisation of Pakistan would increase the menace of terrorism manifold, and that it is in India’s interest to strengthen the Pakistani government in fighting the extremists. Given this convergence of strategic interests, the most important requirement at this time is the need to dispel the trust deficit that seems to be the main impediment in improving relations between them. Both need to exhibit maturity: there has to be a willingness to understand each other’s concerns and sensitivities.

It is time for the two governments to take stock of their fast changing societies & economies and let the two countries and their people understand each other. There is a clear path ahead: keep talking and doing business for mutual gains. Concurrently, the two democracies have to deliver public goods and fight poverty. They need to be resolute and develop a new framework for peace. The overarching agreement should be to continue talking. This is not the time for point-scoring but redeeming our bitter histories.

A start has to be made and this should not be squandered, or else hawks in both India and Pakistan will feel further emboldened. It is fashionable to deride the vigil brigade for being unrealistic but there is no alternative to people-to-people contacts.

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