Cover page of 'In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations'. (By Arrangement)
To this generation, accustomed to viewing the world in terms of binaries and comfortable cliches, the term "peace" has a particularly alluring quality. It is on a par with concepts such as promoting universal love, fighting global warming, supporting animal charity and similar causes. In India, too, these are popular ideals and there are many in this country whose eyes glaze over when talk arises of peace in the subcontinent and friendship with neighbours.
Among the advocates of such a pleasant route is Mr O.P. Shah, a Kolkata-based chartered accountant who runs the Centre for Peace and Progress. His latest work is a book titled In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations. What could be a more worthwhile endeavour? Everybody would accept that if anything needs improving, it is our relations with our Western neighbour.
Trouble is Pakistan has proved to be a particularly nasty neighbour, one that has over the years honed its capability to kill and maim as many Indians as possible. This trait has been exhibited in relations with many other countries, too, causing the world, in general, to treat it as a rogue state in recent times.
Yet, Mr Shah has not abandoned hope. He has been "working on improving Indo- Pak relations relentlessly, now for more than 30 years." The fact that he is still at it tells us a lot about those relations. However, he believes that "the desire for peace and normalcy in Pakistan is as strong (if not, stronger) as in India. The only way to bridge this inherited chasm is by dialogue. It is only through dialogue that we can deepen our understanding of each other’s priorities, fears and limitations and find creative and innovative ways to devise win-win solutions that are acceptable to all stakeholders in India and Pakistan."
The main theme of the book he has put together is the need for Indo-Pak dialogue. He has got together forty nine Indians and Pakistanis to pen their views on the subject. The tenor of the book is set at the outset by Abdul Basit, former Pakistani high commissioner to India, who was known for his particularly hawkish views.
He writes "bilateralism, as India insists, has largely failed" and argues that the onus to break the deadlock lies with India. He suggests a slew of measures New Delhi could take to set the ball rolling, which includes the release of all leaders of the separatist Hurriyat conference, lifting of all black laws in Kashmir, allowing the United Nations human rights commission to visit Kashmir and resuming Supreme Court hearings on the August 5, 2019, measures. He concludes by saying "avoiding to settle the Kashmir dispute upfront will keep the bilateral diplomacy in disarray and future relations wobbly and unpredictable."
In other words, the first prerequisite is to "settle" the Kashmir dispute. Here, the Indian government is very clear there is nothing to settle with Pakistan; the Indian Parliament has also time and again made it clear that the only unfinished agenda regarding Kashmir is the return of the territories under the illegal occupation of Pakistan and China. On the other hand, for successive Pakistani governments, including the present one, the aim is to compel India to come to the discussion table with Kashmir on the agenda. This no Indian government can accept and is one reason why successive attempts at dialogue have failed.
Several Pakistani writers in the book suggest the main impediment to talks is the attitude of the present government. The fact is that terrorists, drones laden with arms, narcotics and so on pushed from across the border is glossed over, almost as if the message is that we will keep terrorism alive as long as you don’t accept our terms. This is the fundamental problem and the failure to recognise it is the cause of continual failure of any dialogue process.
In the book, Jammu & Kashmir, BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Chungroo refers to Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa’s remarks that "India and Pakistan must resolve the J&K issue in a dignified and peaceful manner" and that "Pakistan is a peace-loving country and committed to peaceful coexistence in the region. We stand firmly committed to the ideal of mutual respect. It is time to extend the hand of peace in all directions". Chungroo points out that Pakistan’s past record of terror and insurgency do not substantiate its claims on peaceful coexistence with its neighbours given its actions in Kashmir and Afghanistan. He says there is no change in India’s doctrine that terror and talks won’t go together.
Tathagata Roy, the outspoken BJP leader, argues that "while there are quite a few people of goodwill and common sense in Pakistan who want good relations", they do not matter. "What matters in Pakistan is GHQ Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistan Army…Common sense tells us that an army ruling a country (for all practical purposes) cannot want lasting peace. If it did then what would be the need for the army?"
An additional problem in strategic terms, points out retired Pakistani Lt. Gen.Talat Masood, is India’s big power aspirations: "The fallout from India’s aspirations to be part of the big league and a partner of US in countering the rising influence of China in the region has its negative repercussions on Pakistan although Pakistan’s proximity to China is its great leverage against India." In other words, many complex issues are at play in the Indo-Pak relationship and while dialogue is a laudable objective, history suggests that only time and relative power determine the course of geopolitical disputes. One can only hope that Mr Shah, the eternal optimist, will not have to labour for another thirty years to fulfil his dream.
In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations
Centre for Peace and Progress
pp. 320, Rs.600