Turning on the lights

The peace lobby has grown despite the ridicule and the jibes from hawks in both Pakistan and India.


Seema Mustafa April 26, 2013
The writer is a consulting editor with The Statesman and writes widely for several newspapers in India

Senior journalist Kuldip Nayar visited the Wagah border when even the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan was at best a figment of government imagination, to light candles for peace. At the onset, he went with a handful of faithfuls, hearing but not responding to the jeers and snide comments from the hawks of both countries. Slowly, the numbers have swelled to thousands with even two warring hardline newspapers like The Times of India and the Jang group floating “Aman ki Asha” in a bid to capture the sentiment, and hence, the market.

This initiative has transformed into a 100 initiatives, with students, journalists, cultural troupes, academics, litterateurs, et al defying government restrictions to embrace each other in a mutual desire for peace. And this is not without reason as those supporting peace on both sides know that long-term development, growth and progress are linked irretrievably to the doctrine of peace. After all, the calls for peace with India comes not from the strategic hawks sitting in Islamabad, but from persons like Asma Jahangir and Lieutenant-General (retd) Talat Masood who have made peace a mission. Similarly, the voice of restraint that punctures the clamour for war in India comes from the peace strategists here, and certainly not from those who have somehow climbed into the civilian strategic space as ‘experts.’

The peace lobby has grown despite the ridicule and the jibes from hawks in both countries. And it is not a mindless, soft articulation of weak-minded individuals as the ‘establishment’ likes to project it but actually a reasoned, thought-out, strategic position that strongly believes that answers to complex bilateral and even global issues can be found in peace, and not war. The ‘eye for an eye’ argument proffered by the hawks as the only response of a ‘hard’ state, is rejected by the supporters of peace as a juvenile, outdated response of a confused and actually weak state as it is always more difficult to negotiate peace, than go to war.

India and Pakistan both opted to build nuclear arsenal with the first arguing that its deterrent was aimed at China, and the second making no bones about the India-centricity of its programme. The official arguments made two points: one, that the nuclear option was a demonstration of the concern that the state had about the safety of its people; and two, it would actually help maintain peace in the long-term as nuclearised governments would hesitate to declare war on each other. Neither is true and as the non-proliferation lobby knows, nuclear bombs are no guarantee that governments will exercise restraint. In fact, the possibility that they will not (as North Korea has amply demonstrated) generates panic that allows nuclear blackmail to succeed. In other words, has the nuclear option made India and Pakistan more secure? Certainly not. Indian strategic experts share the US nightmare about the possibility of the nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of fanatics. Pakistani nuclear pundits are fearful of being beaten in the game by India and are convinced the decision to go nuclear was a great equaliser in strategic terms. And what they all together do not realise is that the threat of nuclear devastation does not buy peace, only the commitment to peace as a doctrine can buy peace.

The peace doctrine does not have to start with trust and confidence. It has to work towards this, by establishing mechanisms that allow both sides to talk to each other at the very beginning of the problem. After all, despite the media hysteria in Delhi over the Chinese incursions, both sides are demonstrating respect for each other by activating all lines of contact, refraining from hyperbole and accusations, and actually speaking of an exchange of top personnel to discuss and diffuse the issue. This is because India and China currently want peace, not because they have the nuclear bomb, but because they do not think that war will provide an answer to the border issues that need to be resolved through dialogue and time.

Essential to the peace doctrine is the willingness to ensure that these mechanisms — hot lines, political contacts, military contacts — are kept active at all times instead of being ‘switched off’ at times of tension. Peace efforts should be supported by the governments through a relaxed visa regime, free communication and flow of information and regular and frequent contact between opinion-makers, including leading politicians. Inherent to the doctrine should be the political commitment not to resort to violence, war or terrorism but to work to strengthen relations. Strong and secure states do not create shadows; they respond to shadows by turning on the lights.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2013.

COMMENTS (13)

Samad | 8 years ago | Reply

@Jackdaw

You're missing the point. Intractable issues such as Kashmir obviously aren't going to be fixed overnight. The gist of this article is to emphasise the importance of greater efforts being made towards encouraging dialogue and cooperation between the two neighbours. Higher volumes of bilateral trade, agreements on water security, greater collaboration in the arts - all this over time may have a positive impact inasmuch that the next generation will be exposed to greater interaction and communication between the two and ergo might not share its progenitor's animosity towards the "enemy."

Yes, it requires a change of mindset in Pakistan from the upper echelons all the way down to what parents teach their kids about India. On the flip side, it is incumbent on India to play its role as the biggest power in South Asia and encourage positive ties with Pakistan. The problem with your immediate reaction to articles such as this as "naive" is that it leaves no room for alternatives to fixing Kashmir directly. Mending this fractious relationship will take time - but it's as important for the citizens of both countries to be open to greater forms of cooperation as it is for both governments to seriously reassess their policies towards one another. Who knows, with sagacious policies and thinking, maybe the next generation will find it easier to solve issues like Kashmir.

G. Din | 8 years ago | Reply @deep: "Pakistan has to demonstrate good faith." Pakistan has consistently exhibited lack of good faith even with the sole superpower of the world and the only benefactor it has ever had and you expect it will change that behaviour with India which it, in all its foolishness, considers a "nooklear rival"? Now, who has been living under a rock, my friend! Even MaunMohan Singh has been made to shut his mouth. He has gone "maun" and not cooed even one word about Indo-Pakistan love-fest since Rahman Malik traveled to Delhi to hand him that fateful snub personally about Pakistan's "exertions" in its Supreme Court about the 26/11.
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