For some time now, I have been reiterating the fact that both India and Pakistan are too entrenched in their respective ways of thinking about the other. For any meaningful progress in their relationship they shall have to find some parallel or alternate avenues of engagement; else Kashmir, Siachen and terrorism can only keep them pegged to where the relationship began in 1947 — inimical, speculative and distrustful. Siachen, Mumbai and Kargil only reinforced the older paradigm.
So when Mr Anand Sharma, India’s minister of commerce who recently visited Pakistan and declared that trade has the potential to improve trust and confidence between our two countries to tackle more intractable issues, he had at least one supporter in me hailing his vision. Kudos also to our rather young, but increasingly-maturing foreign minister on saying in her presser how trade indeed shall be freed between the two countries by the end of the year, and how doing so does not in any manner ‘dilute’ our gradually increasing list of core issues (though she may be half right there).
Pakistan has strong reservations about India; and, this perhaps cannot be more understated. But there remains a need for a serious introspection on most issues from Pakistan’s perspective. It must include a genuine cost-benefit analysis that indicates the realism in actualising some of Pakistan’s long-held objectives. It is true that over a given time, issues between nations mutate, morph and take different connotations. The questions on Kashmir must include: Is the issue a greater albatross now around India’s neck, or was it a bigger pain when Pakistan may have had something to do with it in the 1990s? Isn’t Kashmir now big enough to become India’s own problem, than when Pakistan was more involved in it? The Kashmiri leadership is grateful for the default morality that Pakistan’s abstention has given to the issue.
On water, the deficit in intellectual understanding of the issue and in being literate enough on the Indus Water Treaty is ours. India has spent enough capital, time and intellect in educating itself on the various benefits she can muster within the bounds of the treaty. There is an imperative need to develop a ‘water intellect’ in Pakistan before we raise any banner of patriotic fervour with a capacity to inflict further damage to our long-term interests. That way, we can confront some of India’s deviations from the treaty, based on reason and logic and avoid the bluster that can save Pakistan some blushes.
I have just returned from a couple of Track-II meetings between the retired military brass of both India and Pakistan; and, I am greatly encouraged by what I heard and saw. One, the interaction between the two formerly sworn adversaries was greatly civil and respectful. You could tell the professional respect that each showed to the other, quite unlike our usual mix of bureaucrats, academics and others. More likely the latter categories remain unsure of the flex that each of their constituencies can afford even as they discuss the same issues without official encumbrances. And two, the realism that each military man — after having been a practitioner of the art of war and acutely aware of both its efficacies and inadequacies — brings to the discussion makes such an interaction promising and positively motivated.
Some of the agreed resolutions were to begin a military to military interaction between senior training institutions; invitation to each other’s senior retired officers to address the other’s staff colleges and national defence universities, to be followed by interaction between the serving officers of the same institutions. Significant among this was a realisation of the futility of war and its irrelevance to the two neighbours as an arbiter of any meaning in resolving disputes. And with that premise, and acceptance that where possible offensive strike forces be relocated away from each other’s borders — and where that may be difficult because of infrastructure limitations and the heavy-cost involved in such relocation, adjust the force mix away from offensive to a more defensive orientation. This, in itself will make any claims and aspersions on offensive doctrines such as ‘cold start’ irrelevant — keep in mind that the Indians consistently deny any such doctrine, though they concede a move towards making defensive elements more potent with a force mix that may preclude long mobilisation periods. With a willingness to change such force deployments, South Asia may just have turned the corner.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.