Mani Shankar Aiyar, a member of the Rajya Sabha and former consul general in Karachi, said on Thursday that the time was ripe for the India and Pakistan to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues.
He was peaking to students at the Forman Christian College University on ‘Pakistan-India peace: Can it happen? while the Home and Interior Secretaries of India and Pakistan engaged in two day talks in Islamabad.
Aiyar said that the two countries were inching towards peace and must engage in an ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ series of dialogues.
Aiyar said that the only sane thing for the two countries was to use the diplomatic channel to move towards peace.
Aiyar said that there was much scepticism in India on continuing dialogue with a state [Pakistan] that supports and sponsors terrorism.
“After the Mumbai attacks in 2008, there was a great bitterness towards Pakistan but what India needs to understand is that Pakistan is the single biggest victim of terrorism,” he said.
Having served as consul general of India in Karachi from 1978 to 1982, Aiyar shared anecdotes from his tenure with students.
“There is a lot of plurality in Pakistan,” said Aiyar. “What it needs is for democracy to flourish.” He said that Pakistan had a rare cultural, linguistic and religious diversity.
Blaming army interventions for destabilising Pakistan’s democratic polity, Aiyar said that the legitimate role of the army was to “defend borders and no more.”
Speaking about Siachen, he said, “There are several technological [sic] ways out if a ‘new General Musharraf’ decided to break the status-quo and withdraw the army from the world’s highest battleground.”
Calling nuclear weapons “stupid weapons,” Aiyar said that nuclear weapons which were sold as instruments of deterrence had resulted in escalating the crisis.
He said that the political will to work for better Pakistan-India ties was growing faster in Pakistan than in India.
“In Pakistan, the people have put pressure on the government and their opinion has traced the government to improve ties with India,” he said. “In India, it is the reverse.”
He advocated a relaxed visa regime, student exchange and better economic and trade relations between the two countries. Despite being a large country, he said that India had failed to achieve global recognition due to its long standing conflict with Pakistan.
Aiyar said he hoping that the youth of the two countries will pave the path for better ties. He said that the youth were devoid of the prejudices which earlier generations had been exposed to. “Let’s learn to smile and not just cry in each other’s presence,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.