Monday, March 17, 2014

The Meerut Scar

When, in June 1977, then Prime Minister Morarji Desai visited Srinagar on the eve of the elections for the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, he was greeted; it is said, by women singing a traditional Kashmiri anthem, the wanwun. “Desai was the prince”, they sang, “Who had arrived from Pakistan (Pakistanuk shahzad aww)”. Unruffled by this unexpected tribute, Desai quickly became a hero for the Kashmiris as he promised and delivered the only fair election in Kashmir’s history till then, even as his Janata Party aligned itself with the pro-Pakistan Awami Action Committee of Maulvi Farooq. For Desai, winning the trust of Kashmiris was critical to India’s strategic objectives; if that happened, Pakistan would remain for most Kashmiris no more than a slogan or a song. It is worth recalling this probably apocryphal anecdote to illustrate not just how the challenge before every prime minister  of India since 1947 has been to make the Muslims of Kashmir believe in and perhaps even celebrate the idea of India, but also the complex and ambivalent relationship that the people of Kashmir have had with Pakistan.

The ugly treatment meted out recently by the authorities of a Meerut university and the police to a group of Kashmiri students, who were said to be cheering for the Pakistan cricket team during the Asia Cup match against India, has just added to the disconnect between the Valley and the rest of India. It is precisely such events that demonstrate how that complex and ambivalent relationship manifests itself too often as a lack of understanding of the uniqueness of Kashmir and of the Kashmiri identity.

It is easy to forget that unlike most other parts of India, Kashmiris consciously chose India over Pakistan in 1947. If it had not been for the vacillations of Maharaja Hari Singh, there would have been no Kashmir dispute. The then most popular Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, believed in the ideals of India’s freedom movement and was convinced that the Kashmiri identity would be more secure in Mahatma Gandhi’s India than in Jinnah’s Pakistan. In turn, a Muslim majority state that voluntarily acceded to India in 1947 lent tremendous strength to the construction of India as a vibrant, pluralistic state.

Despite the huge resources invested by Islamabad, few in Kashmir have ever really wanted to be part of Pakistan, least of all the dysfunctional state that exists today. Consider this. In 1947, it was the Kashmiri Maqbool Sherwani who led the resistance against the tribal invaders from Pakistan and sacrificed his life in defence of his cause. In 1965, it was the Kashmiris who revealed the presence of Pakistani infiltrators and foiled the Pakistan army’s Operation Gibraltar. More recently, it was the Kashmiris who resisted the “foreign” militants who had been sponsored by Pakistan.

And yet, Pakistan has loomed large in the Kashmiri imagination and continues to do so for a variety of reasons. In his masterly study, Weapons of the Weak, James C. Scott emphasises the importance of subtle everyday acts of resistance as an instrument of protest. Cultural resistance and non-conformation is often an articulation of the collective anger of a traumatised people. In this case, pro-Pakistan sentiment is simply a symbol of anger against India. Pakistan is the choice that Kashmiris did not exercise, but each time India makes yet another mistake, Sheikh Abdullah’s decision is called into question. Pakistan is the “alternative” Kashmiris have to prevent India from taking them for granted. In failing to understand this paradox, the authorities of Swami Vivekanand Subharti University in Meerut (led — not surprisingly — by a chancellor who is a retired IAS officer, a pro-chancellor who is a retired general, and a vice chancellor who is a retired police officer) have failed India.

Remember when the disconnect with India intensifies, Kashmiris are ready to support just about anyone else — not just Pakistan. On October 13, 1983, at the first one-day international between India and the West Indies in Srinagar, Kashmiris booed the Indians and cheered for the West Indians to the point that the visiting captain, Clive Lloyd, said  he could never expect such a reception even in his hometown, Guyana. Twelve Kashmiris were arrested for digging up parts of the pitch that day and were acquitted only 28 years later for “lack of evidence”. Many spent several months in jail, and later formed the backbone of the militancy. One of them, Showkat Bakshi, became a top commander of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. He later told a newspaper: “I was a kid then, and we were simply protesting against holding the match here. I was arrested and put behind bars for four months initially and booked for waging war against the country. For the next six years, I was continuously harassed — so much so that I picked up the gun.”

A whole generation of Kashmiris has been born and has grown up during the worst years of violent conflict. They have viewed India through the traumas of militancy and the lack of any form of governance. Two years ago, more than a 100 young Kashmiris were killed during largely peaceful protests. But there is a change. More and more Kashmiris are now realising that there is an India beyond bunkers, security forces and corrupt and corrupted politicians. It is the vibrant India of entrepreneurs, professionals, civil society activists and the robust and free media, among others. The authorities at the Meerut university have unfortunately deeply damaged the Kashmiris discovery of this India, hopefully not beyond repair. The first substantive political engagement of the new prime minister should thus be to reach out to the people of Kashmir, particularly if the BJP were to be elected to power, given apprehensions about the party in the Valley. And in doing so, the BJP will merely be strengthening the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who, on his first visit to the Valley, had recited lines from the Kashmiri poet Mahjoor: “Wala ho baghawano, nav baharuk shaan paida kar, pholan gul gath karan bulbul, timay saman paida kar (let us celebrate the arrival of a new spring, let the flowers bloom, and the birds sing in this paradise)”. Not surprisingly, he remains — apart from Desai — the most popular Indian prime minister in Kashmir.

(Source: The Indian Express)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Prof Mattoo's take on Chinese warships in Australia's backyard...

Richard Stubbs of ABC caught up with Prof Mattoo to discuss the news that the Royal Australian Air Force had monitored an unprecedented and unannounced exercise involving three Chinese warships in international waters to the north of Australia. They discuss whether or not it really means anything or whether it's the beginning of a fascinating power struggle.

To listen to the interview, click on the link below:

(Source: 774 ABC Melbourne)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Start of something extraordinary in India

Two years ago, India witnessed its version of the Arab spring in the fiercest extra-parliamentary movement against corruption in its history as an independent nation. We are now seeing the electoral dividends of the movement that many had begun to write off as yet another failed attempt at reforming a robust but increasingly tainted political system.

The Aam Aadmi (ordinary man's) Party, a by-product of the protests of 2011, has emerged as the second-largest party in the state elections in the capital, Delhi, and could potentially break the mould of Indian electoral politics. India's noisy and resilient democracy does not need a revolution, but, for many, the Aam Aadmi victory is the sign of great hope at the end of a year in which the nation's political and economic stock reached a nadir. Using a broom as its symbol, Aam Aadmi promises to clean Indian public life of its muck and has injected the capital's voters with new energy and enthusiasm.

In April 2011, Anna Hazare, a 74-year-old follower of Mohandas Gandhi who was known for his work for rural empowerment, led the protests against the corruption that is almost endemic in Indian public life, and particularly entrenched in traditional political parties. The demand was for the appointment of a constitutionally empowered ombudsman who would have extraordinary powers to deliver swift justice.

While the demand was never fulfilled and Hazare all but retreated to his rural haven, the need for more honest politics became the zeitgeist of an anti-establishment political culture among India's growing middle class. Led by a Hazare protege and former civil servant, the 45-year-old Arvind Kejriwal, Aam Aadmi has defied all odds by emerging as the second-largest party in Delhi and holds the balance of power in the state's legislature.

Few believed the party would do so well, with Kejriwal defeating the capital's most recognised face, its thrice-elected chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, by more than 22,000 votes.
In India belonging to a political family and having huge financial backing were seen as critical requirements in the electoral system. Many parliamentarians belong to political families, many are millionaires, and political parties are widely seen as dependent on ''shady'' or ''black'' money on which no taxes are paid.

Aam Aadmi, by contrast, had no political lineage, raised money transparently, was driven by a spirit of volunteerism, and relied on the social media for political mobilisation. It refused to have any truck with either of the main parties, the ruling Congress or the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and has now declared its preference to sit in opposition rather than form a coalition with either party in a hung legislature.

Many view Aam Aadmi as a sign of middle-class radicalism, which has captured the imagination of the people in a city-state that represents, more than any other part of the country, a middle-class sensibility and middle-class aspirations. In the past few years, while the capital's infrastructure has improved beyond recognition, it has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons: the rape of a college student in a moving bus; the scam involving the Commonwealth Games; and the evidence of crony capitalism with lobbyists making deals to influence the appointment of cabinet ministers. Ironically, the government is led by unarguably one of the most honest political leaders in Indian public life. And yet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has an Oxford doctorate in economics, in public perceptions, is seen as having presided over the most corrupt government in recent years.

While Aam Aadmi has been a game-changer in Delhi, the capital is not India and the party barely has a presence elsewhere in the country. In other states that went to the polls the mood against the Congress was clearly in evidence with the BJP gaining significantly. Caste, religion and traditional political loyalties a well as big money have traditionally played a significant role in elections. But these differences may be less important now than in the past. The internet, mobile phones and television may be building a pan-India spirit against outdated politics and traditional parties. In a country of 1.2 billion, with nearly 500 million aged under 25, there seems to be a new awakening, new aspirations and anger towards a system that fails to deliver. Aam Aadmi in Delhi may hence be just the beginning of new politics in India.

A few months ago, it invited me to join its policy group to prepare a policy document, ''A New Agenda for India'' that would offer ethical policy alternatives. I dismissed this as yet another maverick attempt at taking on the impossible and did not respond with much enthusiasm. It is time to review that decision as India prepares for change.

(Source: The Age)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Understanding Article 370

At the Bharatiya Janata Party’s recent Lalkar rally in Jammu, its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, called for a debate on Article 370. This is encouraging and suggests that the BJP may be willing to review its absolutist stance on the Article that defines the provisions of the Constitution of India with respect to Jammu and Kashmir. Any meaningful debate on Article 370 must, however, separate myth from reality and fact from fiction. My purpose here is to respond to the five main questions that have already been raised in the incipient debate.

Why it was incorporated
First, why was Article 370 inserted in the Constitution? Or as the great poet and thinker, Maulana Hasrat Mohini, asked in the Constituent Assembly on October 17, 1949: “Why this discrimination please?” The answer was given by Nehru’s confidant, the wise but misunderstood Thanjavur Brahmin, Gopalaswami Ayyangar (Minister without portfolio in the first Union Cabinet, a former Diwan to Maharajah Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, and the principal drafter of Article 370). Ayyangar argued that for a variety of reasons Kashmir, unlike other princely states, was not yet ripe for integration. India had been at war with Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir and while there was a ceasefire, the conditions were still “unusual and abnormal.” Part of the State’s territory was in the hands of “rebels and enemies.”

The involvement of the United Nations brought an international dimension to this conflict, an “entanglement” which would end only when the “Kashmir problem is satisfactorily resolved.” Finally, Ayyangar argued that the “will of the people through the instrument of the [J&K] Constituent Assembly will determine the constitution of the State as well as the sphere of Union jurisdiction over the State.” In sum, there was hope that J&K would one day integrate like other States of the Union (hence the use of the term “temporary provisions” in the title of the Article), but this could happen only when there was real peace and only when the people of the State acquiesced to such an arrangement.

Second, did Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel oppose Article 370? To reduce the Nehru-Patel relationship to Manichean terms is to caricature history, and this is equally true of their attitude towards Jammu and Kashmir. Nehru was undoubtedly idealistic and romantic about Kashmir. He wrote: “Like some supremely beautiful woman, whose beauty is almost impersonal and above human desire, such was Kashmir in all its feminine beauty of river and valley...” Patel had a much more earthy and pragmatic view and — as his masterly integration of princely states demonstrated — little time for capricious state leaders or their separatist tendencies.

But while Ayyangar negotiated — with Nehru’s backing — the substance and scope of Article 370 with Sheikh Abdullah and other members from J&K in the Constituent Assembly (including Mirza Afzal Beg and Maulana Masoodi), Patel was very much in the loop. And while Patel was deeply sceptical of a “state becoming part of India” and not “recognising ... [India’s] fundamental rights and directive principles of State policy,” he was aware of, and a party to, the final outcome on Article 370.

Indeed, the synergy that Patel and Nehru brought to governing India is evident in the negotiations over Article 370. Consider this. In October 1949, there was a tense standoff between Sheikh Abdullah and Ayyangar over parts of Article 370 (or Article 306A as it was known during the drafting stage). Nehru was in the United States, where — addressing members of the U.S. Congress — he said: “Where freedom is menaced or justice threatened or where aggression takes place, we cannot be and shall not be neutral.” Meanwhile, Ayyangar was struggling with the Sheikh, and later even threatened to resign from the Constituent Assembly. “You have left me even more distressed than I have been since I received your last letter … I feel weighted with the responsibility of finding a solution for the difficulties that, after Panditji left for America ... have been created … without adequate excuse,” he wrote to the Sheikh on October 15. And who did Ayyangar turn to, in this crisis with the Sheikh, while Nehru was abroad? None other than the Sardar himself. Patel, of course, was not enamoured by the Sheikh, who he thought kept changing course. He wrote to Ayyangar: “Whenever Sheikh Sahib wishes to back out, he always confronts us with his duty to the people.” But it was Patel finally who managed the crisis and navigated most of the amendments sought of the Sheikh through the Congress party and the Constituent Assembly to ensure that Article 370 became part of the Indian Constitution.

Third, is Article 370 still intact in its original form? One of the biggest myths is the belief that the “autonomy” as envisaged in the Constituent Assembly is intact. A series of Presidential Orders has eroded Article 370 substantially. While the 1950 Presidential Order and the Delhi Agreement of 1952 defined the scope and substance of the relationship between the Centre and the State with the support of the Sheikh, the subsequent series of Presidential Orders have made most Union laws applicable to the State. In fact today the autonomy enjoyed by the State is a shadow of its former self, and there is virtually no institution of the Republic of India that does not include J&K within its scope and jurisdiction. The only substantial differences from many other States relate to permanent residents and their rights; the non-applicability of Emergency provisions on the grounds of “internal disturbance” without the concurrence of the State; and the name and boundaries of the State, which cannot be altered without the consent of its legislature. Remember J&K is not unique; there are special provisions for several States which are listed in Article 371 and Articles 371-A to 371-I.

Fourth, can Article 370 be revoked unilaterally? Clause 3 of Article 370 is clear. The President may, by public notification, declare that this Article shall cease to be operative but only on the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of the State. In other words, Article 370 can be revoked only if a new Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir is convened and is willing to recommend its revocation. Of course, Parliament has the power to amend the Constitution to change this provision. But this could be subject to a judicial review which may find that this clause is a basic feature of the relationship between the State and the Centre and cannot, therefore, be amended.

Gender bias?
Fifth, is Article 370 a source of gender bias in disqualifying women from the State of property rights? Article 370 itself is gender neutral, but the definition of Permanent Residents in the State Constitution — based on the notifications issued in April 1927 and June 1932 during the Maharajah’s rule — was thought to be discriminatory. The 1927 notification included an explanatory note which said: “The wife or a widow of the State Subject … shall acquire the status of her husband as State Subject of the same Class as her Husband, so long as she resides in the State and does not leave the State for permanent residence outside the State.” This was widely interpreted as suggesting also that a woman from the State who marries outside the State would lose her status as a State subject. However, in a landmark judgement, in October 2002, the full bench of J&K High Court, with one judge dissenting, held that the daughter of a permanent resident of the State will not lose her permanent resident status on marrying a person who is not a permanent resident, and will enjoy all rights, including property rights.

Finally, has Article 370 strengthened separatist tendencies in J&K? Article 370 was and is about providing space, in matters of governance, to the people of a State who felt deeply vulnerable about their identity and insecure about the future. It was about empowering people, making people feel that they belong, and about increasing the accountability of public institutions and services. Article 370 is synonymous with decentralisation and devolution of power, phrases that have been on the charter of virtually every political party in India. There is no contradiction between wanting J&K to be part of the national mainstream and the State’s desire for self-governance as envisioned in the Article.

Separatism grows when people feel disconnected from the structures of power and the process of policy formulation; in contrast, devolution ensures popular participation in the running of the polity. It can be reasonably argued that it is the erosion of Article 370 and not its creation which has aggravated separatist tendencies in the State. Not surprisingly, at the opposition conclave in Srinagar in 1982, leaders of virtually all national parties, including past and present allies of the BJP, declared that the “special constitutional status of J&K under Article 370 should be preserved and protected in letter and spirit.” A review of its policy on Article 370, through an informed debate, would align today’s BJP with the considered and reflective approach on J&K articulated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Only then would the slogans of Jhumuriyat , Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat make real sense.

(Source: The Hindu)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Masked men of Kishtwar

Known in the past as the land of sapphires and saffron, Kishtwar today is a metaphor for the larger collapse of the idea of Jammu and Kashmir. Once, the state's greatest strength was its rich cultural, linguistic, religious and geographical diversity. Today, as most of these identities have morphed into shrill, polarised and communally charged monsters, the real danger to J&K is from within. Unless the nation acts today, the state is sure to implode tomorrow. For, much of what we are witnessing is a consequence of the warped and short-sighted policies of the Centre and the state.

Kishtwar, contrary to the instant commentaries that have appeared in the press, was not always a communal cauldron. I went there first as a child, only a few months old, in 1962, and stayed on till 1964. My father was posted as a divisional forest officer and as a young married couple, some of my parents' best memories are from their time in Kishtwar: picnics in the great meadow, the chowgan, driving along the mighty Chenab and the warmth and simplicity of the Kishtwari people. Every year, they went on horseback for the two-day yatra of Sri Sarthal Deviji, 30 kilometres from Kishtwar, and all the logistics — from the horses and the tents to the food — were arranged by the Kishtwari Muslims. Unlike the adjoining (the more developed and literate) Bhaderwah, there was virtually no communal tension, and as the sun set, everyone would rush home, lest the mythical dayans (witches with twisted feet) of the town preyed on them. There was harmony, a gentle togetherness and a resilience that prevailed until militancy overwhelmed the state in the 1990s. Indeed, in the 1960s, Kishtwar's greatest singer and poet, Ghulam Nabi Doolwal (Jaanbaaz) wrote what was his most popular song: "Maanun tse peyee, sahib chhu kunuyee, yaa yetti maanun yaa taetti maanun (Accept you must that the lord is the same, whether you accept it here or you accept it there)."

What we are witnessing across the state today is the ugliest form of regional and sub-regional chauvinism and sectarianism. And this is being articulated through what the Italian anthropologist Simone Mestroni describes as an assertion of "masculinity", which seems to define the culture of protests in the state. The masked men of Kishtwar, the arsonists of Jammu and the stone pelters of the Valley are the angry young men of a lost generation.

Is there a way forward? Yes, if there is an-all party national consensus on the following minimum agenda.
First, recognise that a J&K fragmented by sharp, conflicting identities is not in anyone's interest. There is a misperceived and dangerous idea, floating as a doctrine within the Indian establishment, that the less united the people, the easier it will be to manage them. This policy of divide and rule led to the partition of the country, and has accelerated demands for a trifurcation of the state.

Second, admit that there are deeply alienated young men across the state whose anger needs to be addressed through multiple initiatives. Jason Burke recently wrote in The Guardian of the possible emergence of a militancy led by educated young men in the Valley, and this anger is by no means restricted to Kashmir.
Third, do not reward chauvinism. Chauvinism is contagious, as we saw during the Amarnath land row controversy, and appeasement of chauvinists is a short-sighted policy fraught with dangerous consequences.
To give you a personal, anecdotal example. In 2010, Kapil Sibal, then HRD minister, asked me to be the first vice chancellor of the Central University of Jammu. I was reluctant to go in the first place, but as the news spread, there were protests in Jammu on the grounds that I was Kashmiri and pro-Kashmiri, despite having served as vice chancellor of the University of Jammu for six years. While I had no intention of going, I was still personally advised by the political leadership in the country to turn down the offer, as it could lead to instability in the state. Subsequently, a retired IAS officer from Jammu was appointed. If the republic of India is ready to compromise even on the appointment of a vice chancellor, will this not give a fillip to regional chauvinism?
Fourth, restore faith in the process of dialogue. Few people have any faith left in the dialogue after being repeatedly let down, and especially after the report of the three interlocutors was given short shrift by the home ministry. It will take time, effort and a national consensus before the people of the state regain trust in the intentions of New Delhi, but the investment is well worth it.

Finally, make the state government accountable. The impression being created is that the coalition government has been given a carte blanche; this is deeply counter-productive in a state like J&K.

In 2005, the prime minister made one of his finest speeches. He said: "Jammu and Kashmir is the finest expression of the idea of India. Diversity of faith, culture, geography and language has traditionally never been a source of conflict. In fact, the people of this state celebrated diversity and lived in harmony for most of the time. We now need to revive those bonds and that spirit of accommodation and mutual respect, even while we sit down, in good faith, to resolve many of our genuine differences. My vision, I have stated many times before, is to build a Naya Jammu and Kashmir which is symbolised by peace, prosperity and people's power. As I have often said, real empowerment is not about slogans. Only when every man, woman and child, from Ladakh to Lakhanpur and from Kargil to Kathua through Kashmir, feels secure, in every sense of the word, can we truly say that people have been empowered."

There is still time, even in the final months of his government, for Manmohan Singh to redeem that pledge, even if partially.

I returned to Kishtwar only in 2003, as vice chancellor of the University of Jammu, and the town had bounced back to harmony and relative prosperity due to the ongoing Dulhasti hydel project. I went for the Urs of the patron saint of the region, Hazrat Shah Asraruddin Baghdadi, and praying for peace in the state, I tied a thread at his shrine. I am looking forward to the day I can go back to untie that thread.

(Source: The Indian Express)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unless India acts today, J&K will implode tomorrow

Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir remains on the edge, four days after the outbreak of communal violence that left three persons dead. Is a dangerous mix of religion and terror at work? Is one of the most sensitive regions in the country being polarised on religious lines? Prof. Mattoo joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the issue. 

To read the transcript of the chat, click on the link below:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Seizing the opportunity

As co-chairs of the Chaophraya Dialogue between opinion makers from India and Pakistan, we are encouraged by reports of resumption of the official dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi, and of a possible meeting between the two Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this September.
We believe, however, that it is also time for important gestures by the political leadership of the two countries to inject fresh momentum into the fragile peace process. An early visit to Pakistan by the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, would be one such gesture. While such a visit should not be burdened with the expectation of a grand strategic bargain at this point, as many summits tend to be, it should signal the need for genuine reconciliation. Dr. Singh’s visit to Islamabad should then be followed by a summit between the two heads of government meeting in New Delhi.
Both visits can be preceded or followed by a meeting in Islamabad of the Indian External Affairs Minister with his Pakistani counterpart. This would provide space for confidence-building between the two countries and allow them to frame a working agenda for ongoing talks on a calendar of unresolved and upcoming issues. There is a small window of opportunity in bilateral relations — the leadership of the two countries must seize this opening.
The power of democracy
India prides itself as the world’s largest democracy, while the people of Pakistan recently affirmed their thumping support for democracy in the face of terrorist threats. An elected government has handed over power to a new one in Islamabad after a national election. A resumption of official visits at this historic moment would signal the triumph of democracy in the region.
Unlike in the past, there is consensus among most major political parties in Pakistan on the need for improving relations with India. The outgoing federal government in Islamabad which leads the parliamentary opposition today, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is a strong proponent for talks. This gives Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif opportune space to consult other political parties (including the PPP, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement) to forge a national consensus on the need for reconciliation with India, and the leadership of key parties in settling on a viable timeline of confidence building measures. To build support for an ongoing dialogue that pivots to peace, Dr. Singh must also lead an all-party leaders’ delegation to Pakistan. The principal opposition party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will likely not oppose such a move. Some of the boldest initiatives towards building peace in the region were supported by Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his term as leader of the previous BJP-led coalition government.
Checking a drift
Indian concerns about the lack of progress regarding the trial in Pakistan of the perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai mirror worries in Pakistan over the lack of progress over several bilateral issues. Many issues seemed to have been agreed upon, yet have defied closure. Clearly, the current strategic stalemate has gone past its function of calming down post-crisis turbulence; instead, it has begun to reinforce a dangerous drift away from the will and momentum needed for peace.
The view that these issues should not stand in the way of sustained dialogue is widely shared among Track II interlocutors between India and Pakistan. In fact, last month, at the 12th round of the Chaophraya Dialogue which brought together parliamentarians, former government officials, generals, diplomats, academia and journalists from both our countries, the joint view was to press for moving away from the “pause” button and look for a new normal.
Moving forward
The menu for action forward on a reset does not need any reinvention. The recommendations from this round of the dialogue included the need to resume the back-channel dialogue on Kashmir; active, not pro forma, revival of the ministerial level India-Pakistan joint commission created in 1983, which should become a mandated official space for old and new problems to be cleared, such as visa, travel and communication, and the need for periodic dialogue between the two ministries of defence.
Leaps of faith have played a great role in building peace throughout history. Conservative and risk-averse bureaucracies have, however, systematically and deliberately underplayed the importance of such exchanges. After nearly 66 years of bilateral conflict, the resumption of dialogue at multiple levels, from the top to the joint secretary level, could have a tremendous impact on a region bracing for multiple transitions.
Islamabad has signalled more than once its interest in taking visits and negotiations forward. New Delhi has reciprocated but stopped short. It is time Dr. Singh moved away from the Cold War straitjacket India-Pakistan relations have fallen into, and infused a new sense of hope to the people of the subcontinent.
For real reconciliation between the people of both countries, gestures are critically important. Indeed, contrary to orthodox wisdom in India, unilateral overtures towards Pakistan need not be a political liability. The recent India Poll conducted jointly by the Australia India Institute and the Lowy Institute for International Policy revealed that while an overwhelming majority of Indians identify Pakistan as a threat, nearly 90 per cent agree that ordinary people in both countries want peace, and a similar number believe that a real improvement in relations requires courageous leadership in both countries. More important, nearly 80 per cent felt India should take the initiative in seeking peace with Pakistan.
The findings suggested that if Dr. Singh were to visit Pakistan and take the lead on a dialogue, he would have popular support at home.
We believe that the time has come for the political class in both countries to make important choices that will spur peace for both India and Pakistan.
- Co-authored with Sherry Rehman
(Source: The Hindu)