Cross-border relations: It’s in India’s best interests to have peaceful neighbours, says Dr Raghavan

Indian high commissioner speaks about relations between two countries at Habib University.

Hira Siddiqui May 28, 2015
Dr TCA Raghavan

KARACHI: Like a true diplomat, Dr TCA Raghavan does not mince his words when he lays down the elements that form the basis of India-Pakistan relations.

"The perception is wrong that India needs Pakistan's economy to enter Afghanistan and eventually Central Asia," said the high commissioner of India to a lecture room full of students and academics at Habib University on Wednesday. He was invited to speak on 'History and Diplomacy - Contextualising India-Pakistan Relations'. "We already have a huge market in India, so big that sometimes we struggle to cater to it entirely."

However, Dr Raghavan felt it is in India's best interests to have a peaceful environment in its neighbourhood. "In India, the overwhelming challenge is to grow consistently at high rates for the next three decades to be able to address its social and economic challenges, such as poverty," he said. "Hence, the emphasis on improving relations with all its neighbours."

From the start

Dr Raghavan, who holds a PhD in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, traced the history of the two countries since 1947 and pointed out how the memory of Partition is believed to be more traumatic than what the actual relationship between the two states reflects. "Many of us felt that we [India and Pakistan] cannot live together but the pragmatic view was, 'Let's try to live together separately'."

He shared some examples from the early 1950s that show near-cordial relations between the two neighbours. "The first time that cricket teams from the two countries played each other was as early as 1951 and, in 1955, the then president of Pakistan was guest of honour at the Republic Day parade," he pointed out. "These don't show a history of such strong trauma." In Dr Raghavan's opinion, the most significant achievement of those early years was the Indus Water Treaty. And he dismisses the critics of the treaty as merely those who have limited understanding of the agreement or have political motivations.

"Relations between neighbours are always difficult," he admitted. "History weighs heavily on these relations." But Dr Raghavan believes these relations have improved over time. There are several examples from across the world of countries that split and their relations with each other in the aftermath. "There is a wide range of options available to us, the choice is ours and the policies we adopt," he said.

A ray of hope that Dr Raghavan sees is among the people of the two countries and the way technology has changed how diplomacy is conducted now. "Government policies play a diminishing role in how people access information and form opinions," he said.

The diplomat pointed out, however, that not all public sentiment is in favour of cordial relations between the two countries mainly due to the threat of extremism in Pakistan. "It is not as if some bureaucrats or politicians are the only roadblocks in relations between India and Pakistan," he said. Ordinary people are also involved in tensions between the two countries. "We need to acknowledge this to be able to go beyond it."

This simplistic approach towards the issues between the two countries did not sit well with some members of the audience. Habib University provost Dr Anjum Altaf pointed out that those who want improved relations with India are not the ones making the decisions.

Habib University president Wasif Rizvi questioned whether or not India is willing to extend to Pakistan the same oversight as it is offering other countries. He gave the example of US Senator John McCain's visit to Syria. "We would react to any country's involvement in any transgression the same way, especially if it affecting us directly," assured Dr Raghavan. Rizvi urged him to consider that most of what happens in India and Pakistan is planned somewhere else. "It is a more convoluted picture rather than a binary one," he said.

For Habib University School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences dean Nauman Naqvi, the problem lied with the concept of the nation state and its functions. "The project of decolonisation has failed," he said. "If you had to replace the goras [British colonisers] with the kalas [local bureaucracy], then what was the point of decolonisation?" he asked, referring to an observation that Mahatma Gandhi made. He smiled as he pointed out that the diplomat works for the nation state.

Dr Raghavan disagreed. He saw a lot of potential of the nation state in South Asia as long as it is dealt with correctly. "We shouldn't accept Western notions of nationalism," he said, agreeing with some of Naqvi's points, but continued to advocate for the system. "I don't see it as a regressive force. It has a liberating characteristic."

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2015. 


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