Byline by M J Akbar: Peace means the summer of 1965
There is a duality but not a contradiction running through the complexities of the India-Pakistan relationship. Friday’s newspapers, for instance, reported a confrontation between Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani: the former is convinced that Islamabad is protecting the widely-acknowledged principal architect of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Gilani thinks India has not supplied sufficient evidence against Saeed. Chidambaram counters this with, “What can I do if a Government closes its eyes to the evidence?”
Outside the squat offices of power, a virtual festival of Indo-Pak peace is being celebrated in major Indian cities, with full participation by Pakistani writers, musicians and its cultural elite. Why isn’t this a contradiction?
There has always been a peace constituency in both India and Pakistan, but it consisted of idealists, regional-romantics and do-gooders. It used to be drowned out by a coalition of viewpoints and ideologies ranging from indifference to hostility to blood-thirst. Change has come in most categories of opinion, on both sides of the border, though not on a mirror-track. The bloodthirsty lobby in India began to lose its appetite after Bangladesh, an outcome beyond its imagination. For a while it compensated by continuing to target Indian Muslims as a surrogate enemy, but that too has waned since there is no longer any electoral reward in domestic conflict, an important consideration in a democracy.
Pakistan’s fanatics flourish because they have lifted elements of their multi-level agenda above the compulsions of domestic power. We should not waste newsprint on their fantasies, except to note that their terrorism remains the single greatest provocation for a fourth, and potentially devastating, war between India and Pakistan.
Perhaps it is just such a prospect that has driven the most useful lobby on the subcontinent, that of realists, towards peace. Realists have clearly strengthened Pakistan’s variable and possibly fragile peace constituency immeasurably. You don’t have to fall in love to be a good neighbour; in fact romance can have harmful side-effects. But good neighbours do not pelt each other with stones [through media] or test nerves with sniper fire during their waking hours.
Peace has to be defined, or it will remain elusive. It has to be a specific, objective, negotiated condition, neither too ambitious nor too insignificant. If it is mere absence of formal war, then we have found it already. The search continues because we know that the present uncertainty is inherently volatile, prone to exploitation by anarchists and terrorists. If we want a mutually fruitful peace, we need to diagnose the causes of war.
There are two defining dates in the Indo-Pak relationship, only one of which is recognised for its spawn of consequences. There have been, in effect, two partitions of India: the one in 1947 is in every child’s history book; the one in 1965 has not been adequately understood. 1947 divided the land; 1965 divided the people. Till Pakistan launched, in 1965, its second effort to seize our part of Jammu and Kashmir through a formal military offensive, people travelled freely on easily-available documents, the rail border at Wagah bustled with business even if the occasional customs officer bristled with pompousness in an effort to disguise harassment and petty corruption, the border on both wings was so porous that humans and goods were easily smuggled in both directions, businessmen retained cross-border investments, media was freely available and conflict was the prerogative of politicians and military brass. In 1965, we built a wall between neighbours that the Cold War architects of the Berlin rampart could have envied.
Those who want to reverse the reality of 1947 are either fanatics or fools. [Terrible as they are, the former could be less troublesome than the latter.] India and Pakistan are separate nations, and may they retain their present borders for eternity. Those Pakistanis dreaming of breaking India should be sent to a mental asylum, where they can befriend those Indians who want to capture Islamabad.
Sanity demands a return to the summer of 1965 [war began in September] and not a return to the summer of 1947 [partition came in August]. This objective has the merit of being possible. If we link Indo-Pak harmony to a solution of the Kashmir problem, we will remain frozen in a subcontinent-wide Siachen. Harmony will induce steps towards a solution; not the other way around, because there are impenetrable barriers on the way around.
A road with dual carriageways is logical; a road with contradictions is an invitation to deathly accidents.