The posturing over the twin Line of Control (LoC) incidents by India and Pakistan has continued unabated, despite the occasional reassuring statement. India has been by far the more belligerent party, with the government preventing Pakistani officials from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival and public opinion in the country becoming so anti-Pakistan that our hockey players had to leave the country and concerts and plays by Pakistani artists were cancelled. Even more crucially, a long-planned move to allow visas on arrival to senior Pakistani citizens was postponed indefinitely. Given these tensions, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s Republic Day speech, in which he said that peace is the country’s ultimate goal and that it is always ready to extend the hand of friendship to Pakistan, comes as a welcome change in tone.
Mukherjee, however, was also circumspect, saying that Pakistan shouldn’t take India’s peaceful intentions for granted. This is a reminder we hardly needed. The LoC issue is still not close to being resolved with both sides maintaining different versions of what happened and India intractably opposed to allowing the UN to settle the matter. The Indian media, too, has gone into overdrive with anti-Pakistan sentiment. In such an atmosphere of mutual anger and mistrust, the chances of taking the peace process forward seem minimal. Neither country will want to give an inch lest they appear weak. And thus, a simple misunderstanding continues to grow and grow, leaving the progress of the last couple of years in tatters.
The one trump card Pakistan holds is that it can still offer most favoured nation economic status to India, which would provide a huge boost to Indian exports. It is unlikely that we will go through with this move as long as current tensions persist but it may be worth a try to convince India that hateful rhetoric can quickly escalate and barter this economic agreement for a ramping down of anger and bad feeling. India also has to realise that breaking cultural and sporting ties serves absolutely no useful purpose beyond mere posturing. The increase in people-to-people contact in recent years has been one of the main engines of progress in peace talks and putting an end to that will serve the interests of no one but hawks on both sides.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2013.