Blow Hot, Blow Cold

The re­cent in­ci­dents at the LoC have once again plunged the Indo-Pak bi­lat­eral ties into cri­sis. Can the two neigh­bors rec­on­cile and find some peace in an oth­er­wise tur­bu­lent re­la­tion­ship?

Southasia - - Contents - By S. M. Hali Group Cap­tain (R) Sul­tan M. Hali, now a prac­tic­ing jour­nal­ist, writes for print me­dia, pro­duces doc­u­men­taries and hosts a TV talk show. He is cur­rently based in Is­lam­abad.

Af­ter the LoC cri­sis, can In­dia and Pak­istan sal­vage their re­la­tion­ship?

Pak­istan and In­dia have been ner­vous neigh­bors since their birth in Au­gust 1947 af­ter the Bri­tish de­cided to grant free­dom to the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent. The re­gion was carved out into two in­de­pen­dent na­tions be­cause the Mus­lims sought a sep­a­rate home­land for them­selves. Fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment for the cre­ation of Pak­istan, re­li­gious ri­ots broke out. The Hin­dus were out­raged at what they con­sid­ered the des­e­cra­tion of “Mother In­dia” while the Mus­lims re­tal­i­ated with equal fury. The par­ti­tion plan, not be­ing based on ei­ther Hindu or Mus­lim ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tions, re­sulted in a mass ex­o­dus of Hin­dus from Pak­istan and Mus­lims from In­dia to­wards their re­spec­tive “promised land.” Refugee car­a­vans were tar­geted by mur­der­ous hordes, with Sikhs and Hin­dus at­tack­ing the Mus­lims and vice versa. Thou­sands of lives were lost and the re­sult­ing trauma left deep scars.

Hardly a month had gone by that the first Kash­mir War erupted be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. Both laid claim to the beau­ti­ful val­ley, which was set ablaze with strife and blood­shed; Pak­istan at­tempted to lib­er­ate Kash­mir from what it con­sid­ered “un­law­ful In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion” while In­dia tried to con­sol­i­date its hold. The UN ul­ti­mately en­forced a cease­fire, with In­dia oc­cu­py­ing 46% of Jammu and Kash­mir and Pak­istan left with the re­main­ing 37%. In­dia agreed to abide by UN Res­o­lu­tions to hold a plebiscite al­low­ing the Kash­miris to opt for ei­ther Pak­istan or In­dia but later re­neged on its com­mit­ment.

Pak­istan and In­dia went to war in 1965 and again in 1971 but the fate of the Kash­miris did not change. “The Cease­fire Line”, a mil­i­tary con­trolled line be­tween the In­dian and Pak­istani-con­trolled parts of Kash­mir, was re-des­ig­nated as the “Line of Con­trol” ( LoC) fol­low­ing the Simla Agree­ment, duly signed on 3 July 1972. In 1989, the Kash­miris took up arms seek­ing free­dom but their strug­gle was bru­tally crushed by In­dia and dra­co­nian laws were in­tro­duced to fur­ther op­press them. In­dia al­leged that Pak­istan was aid­ing and abet­ting the Kash­miris. Blam­ing Pak­istan of “cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism”, In­dia fenced 550 km of the 740 km LoC in the 1990s.

Some ma­jor at­tempts have been un­der­taken over the decades to es­tab­lish peace be­tween the hos­tile neigh­bors. In Fe­bru­ary 1999, In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee vis­ited Pak­istan and the his­toric La­hore Dec­la­ra­tion was signed, herald­ing a ma­jor break­through in over­com­ing the strained bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in the af­ter­math of the nu­clear tests in May 1998. How­ever, in May 1999 the Kargil mis­ad­ven­ture marred the peace prospects. Iron­i­cally, in the af­ter­math of the Kargil War, Pak­istan came un­der a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor who launched a Com­pos­ite Di­a­logue for peace with In­dia and a cease­fire was duly de­clared. The Com­pos­ite Di­a­logue made some progress, with both sides agree­ing to in­stall con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures such as trade, com­merce, open­ing of routes for vis­i­tors from both sides of the di­vide and soft­en­ing the visa regime. Un­for­tu­nately, the Mum­bai at­tacks of 2008 scut­tled the ini­tia­tive and the two neigh­bors were back to square one.

Painstak­ingly, peaceniks again tried to re­build the peace process and things were look­ing up, when a fresh bout of scuf­fles across the LoC in early Jan­uary this year es­ca­lated an­i­mos­ity be­tween New Delhi and Is­lam­abad. The jin­go­is­tic saber rat­tling by In­dian po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers and a vo­cif­er­ous sec­tion of the In­dian elec­tronic me­dia was mer­ci­fully not re­cip­ro­cated by Pak­istan. Good sense ul­ti­mately pre­vailed; a tête-à-tête be­tween the Direc­tors Gen­eral of Mil­i­tary Op­er­a­tions on both sides and saner el­e­ments in the In­dian me­dia man­aged to bring the tempers down. How­ever, it is worth ex­am­in­ing how a few bul­lets fired across the LoC can bring trig­ger-happy neigh­bors to the brink of an out­break of hos­til­i­ties. How can such a frag­ile peace be main­tained?

Both In­dia and Pak­istan suf­fer from an acute trust deficit. Con­spir­acy the­o­ries abound to pro­vide a ra­tio­nale for each other’s idio­syn­cra­sies and odd be­hav­ior. It is pur­ported that groups in In­dia like the BJP, Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS), in other words the Sangh Pari­var, forced the hand of the oth­er­wise dovish rul­ing Congress Party to act bel­liger­ently, es­pe­cially with elec­tions just around the cor­ner. Oth­ers were of the view that In­dia wanted to di­vert at­ten­tion from its domestic is­sues, like the re­cent gang rape of a young girl or the rise of the Maoists. The om­nipresent “for­eign hand” is a pop­u­lar scape­goat. Opin­ions vary from the US urg­ing In­dia to pres­sur­ize Pak­istan and the equally pre­pos­ter­ous no­tion that Iran may be urg­ing In­dian bel­liger­ence to avenge the at­tacks on the Shia com­mu­nity in Pak­istan. It is per­ti­nent to ex­am­ine how sit­u­a­tions like the LoC in­ci­dents can be avoided. It seems that the en­tire world holds its breath ev­ery time there

is a devel­op­ment, as a mi­nor in­ci­dent can spark a flashpoint be­tween the two nu­clear armed states and cause a ma­jor catas­tro­phe.

The good news is that the Pak­istanIn­dia trade re­la­tion­ship is in­tact. The care­fully grafted visa regime for se­nior ci­ti­zens may have been put on

hold but is likely to be re­vived soon. If the num­ber of stake­hold­ers in the Pak­istan-In­dia peace process is in­creased, the trust deficit may re­duce. The busi­ness com­mu­nity, which weighs profit and loss de­nom­i­na­tions and is gov­erned by ba­sic eco­nomic prin­ci­ples of sup­ply and de­mand, should be more deeply in­volved in en­sur­ing that peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween the hos­tile neigh­bors is pre­served. Af­ter all, if the Euro­pean states could sink their cen­turies old hos­til­i­ties and dif­fer­ences to be­come a union, sans bor­ders, have a com­mon cur­rency and ex­e­cute mu­tu­ally sup­port­ing eco­nomic strate­gies, then what is keep­ing Pak­istan and In­dia from ris­ing to their true po­ten­tial by bury­ing the hatchet? Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the har­bin­ger of peace. All chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion must re­main open, in­clud­ing those from the government, mil­i­tary, me­dia, peo­ple and the cor­po­rate sec­tor.

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