Making peace relevant


Ayesha Siddiqa July 17, 2010

Pakistan-India peace talks have not taken off again. This is not surprising given that both states have not crossed the crucial hump after the collapse of the Musharraf peace initiative. Geo-politics remains in a flux with the two states doing their best to flex their muscle to impress the other side.

This is not to suggest that we were any closer to resolving our conflict during Musharraf’s rule. In fact, we were no closer to solving our issues after signing the Lahore declaration than under Musharraf. Lest we forget, conditions change only when the mindset begins to. I had a conversation with a friend during the months of Musharraf’s peace initiative, touted by most as an irreversible peace process. People were of the view that since the peace initiative included people-to-people contact, which in itself denoted an appreciation of a public desire for peace, bilateral relations between the two neighbours were bound to change. I told my friend that I doubted her opinion about the irreversibility of the process. The state bureaucracy, which represents the state, did not seem ready for peace. The Mumbai attacks proved the fragility of the process.

The Islamabad talks demonstrate that both sides are not willing to find an end to their conflict. Even if they manage to find some temporary breakthrough the fear is that it will not last, as has happened in the past. However, it is important to understand that the peace initiative never really takes off because of the limits of the design of the initiative. Since the process has always been very elitist, people will not lobby for a genuine initiative unless they appreciate the relevance of the other side. India and Pakistan remain irrelevant for each other.

I suggested to an Indian diplomat that peace was always temporary because the two nations didn’t know each other. His perspective was that we knew enough about each other since his high commission gave a large number of visas to visiting Pakistanis every year. My argument was that the majority of Pakistanis and Indians who get visas are from lower-middle or middle classes with relatives on the other side. They have to register with the local police of every city they visit. Knowing the efficiency and behaviour of our police, and the Indian police not being any different, such people return to their countries with their bias superimposed. A limited number of people who do not have to register with the police are part of the elite. This group finds the other side highly exotic, boasting of having friends there. But they wouldn’t object if the state embarked on a military conflict with the other side.

Meanwhile, the other side remains an enigma forever. Our cultural interaction in the form of Indian cinema and Pakistan TV plays do not mean anything. The society of the other state does not mean anything either since a majority of people do not have to confront the possibility of visiting the other.

Trade and greater people-to-people interaction are two ways for changing perceptions. But will the leadership increase these activities? It is the bias of the ruling elite that does not allow bilateral links to alter. Recently, a western scholar argued that peace happens only or mainly through an initiative at the top. It takes a strong leadership, which is convinced of the benefits of improving relations, to make the essential shift. An elite not convinced of peace will always thwart such an initiative and justify it on the basis of negative public opinion. The elite can only be made to see the light in terms of peace if the absence of it challenges their core interests. Unlike the Pakistan-India peace initiative the Greek-Turkish one experienced positive movement and is a good example to consider.

Until then, peace in the subcontinent will remain a pipedream.

Pubished in The Expess Tribune, July 18th, 2010.

COMMENTS (11)

SKChadha | 11 years ago | Reply Imran Sahib, As regards to Bangladesh what I did was to put other side of the prism before you. As regards to Kashmir refer AG Noorani’s assessment in Dawn at http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/consensus-on-kashmir-550 . The dispute about Kashmir is only as regards to the territory you call as ‘Ajad Kashmir’ and we call it as ‘PHK’. As Pakistan call it ‘Azad’ hence, in its own terminology, it is an aggressor to this territory. This and probably for many more reasons, even in UN resolutions Pakistan’s withdrawal was pre-condition for any plebiscite basically in PHK. This dilemma of Pakistan in the past has resulted in periodical raising and dropping of plebiscite issue by it. Please read carefully in aforesaid article to understand the dilemma: “What is the status of the Kashmir dispute today? Since 1990 even the US ceased to talk of the UN resolutions. In February 1958 Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noon (of Pakistan) met the US envoy to the UN, Henry Cabot Lodge, in Karachi. Ambassador James M. Langley recorded: “Noon made no mention of a plebiscite and it seemed to me that he was clearly thinking of a compromise which would provide for a territorial division between India and Pakistan.” Noon was no traitor. A few months earlier on April 29, 1957, the UN mediator on Kashmir Gunnar Myrdal had, in his report, pronounced those resolutions as virtually obsolete: “The situation with which they were to cope has tended to change.” That was 50 years ago. On March 23, 1962 Ayub Khan was prepared to drop plebiscite if India offered an alternative. The Z.A. Bhutto–Swaran Singh talks (1962-3) centered on a partition line in Kashmir; not on plebiscite.” It is in this context that India negates Pakistan’s any claim to PHK and demands its territory back. Because of this reason only, every nation says that UN Resolutions on plebiscite are redundant and Pakistan is also mum as it suits them. My saying that somewhere in our dealings with Pakistan; India is compromising its sovereignty over the land known as PHK is also because of this reason only. Please note the consistency in India’s stand when Mr. SM Krishna reiterated that unrest in J&K is an internal issue of India and is being looked after by elected government of J&K and Mr. Kureshi was quite in the matter. Please read the history of Kashmir valley with open mind and clear spectacles. Only then you will realize the secular credentials of this land since last over 1200 years. Imran Sahib, nobody is right or wrong? On this side of the border we call it difference of opinion which we express through ballot or consensus. The same difference of opinion by few others is expressed by Arms (dictatorship) or violence (terrorism).
imran | 11 years ago | Reply @chada: so as per u what india did was ok...even though BD has no UN resolution on it...and what pak is doing in kashmir is wrong even it has been declear a disputed issue....i dont find any logic...if pak was supporting maoist,naxals or naga then i could understand that it is india's own problem....dont u find ur self a hypocrite....and the funny thing abt all this is that now after 60 odd yrs india is trying to create a religious divide in kashmir....so the bottom line from u is what ever suit you is wright BUT if the same suit us its wrong.....
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