Saturday, January 30, 2010

Peace means the summer of 1965

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.


Abhishek* said...

As an Indian, I feel totally tired of the mind-blowing frequency with which the word "Pakistan" appears in our intellectual and casual conversation. It's like a perpetual mosquito-buzz in your ear, irritating you and reminding you of a constant bite-threat, and at the same time preventing you from getting violent-in-action because of the ridiculousness inherent to the context.

Ideally, I would like to have a BREAK. Ideally, I would like to do nothing with this neighbor, and forget the very existence of Pakistan. I would rather live without any exchange, cultural or otherwise, with the people of Pakistan. Why can't we all live in peace, if we can not live in love?

But peace seems Utopian, and impossibly impossible. It seems impossible because of plurality (if not ephemerality) of what we call government. Talk, everyone says. But who do you talk to? Who do you talk to reach a decision that is non-violable?

The history doesn't help either. The identity of Pakistan, as you say, revolves around religion and religious differences (especially with India). In Islamic media, the topic of talk is faith and fire, not reason and development. And unlike Hinduism, Islam pervades every conceivable sphere of life. Pakistan, which is Islamic by nature, will always contain anti-Hindu and anti-Indian elements. And they will always be effective, if not overwhelmingly popular. Their noise will disturb the harmony of the mild and the gentle.

India is not innocent anymore. We have been deprived of innocence by history. It's a no-brainer that the collective anger is mounting, and it is contained only by fear.

But the heart still longs for peace, if not harmony, and a world possibly without "Pakistan".

Binoy said...

M.J.Akbar rightly observes, "If we link Indo-Pak harmony to a solution of the Kashmir problem, we will remain frozen in a subcontinent-wide Siachen."

Unfortunately, the politicians of both India and Pakistan have been feeding their people on hatred since 1947 and citizens, by and large, are taken in by their words. From time to time, the Pakistani rulers are successful in convincing the United States also that a solution to the Kashmir issue is the key to the Indo-Pak problems. Even the Obama Administation had initially spoken in that language.

The tragedy in Pakistan has been that the political power remained centralized in the hands of a small oligarchy (military, mullahs and feudal lords) to the negligence of a vast number of people. In India, on the other hand, democratic institutions got strengthened and the weak were empowered.

In the absence of education and employment, these disenfranchised people turned to the fundamental religious institutions (the Madarsas). First, they were used as 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir. And now since they have begun to express their bloody ire against the ruling class (through the assassination of Benazir or prayer day attacks in mosques), they have been declared as terrorists.

In order to cover up their failure, the ruling class of Pakistan continues to blame India.
In India also, the communal card continues to be played as it yields political dividends.

With the rise of China as a global power, the Indo-Pak relation is likely to be further complicated.

The only hope is from the new generation of people on both sides who have been exposed to the modern world and democratic institutions -- a functional elite willing to play by the rules. They will outlaw wars and subversion as means of solving mutual differences and arrange for better education and employment to their people. Instead of exchanging bad words, they would exchange poetry and culture; instead of conflict, they would prefer to do the trade.
This will be an idealist's view.

However, the cold and cruel reality is that the ruling elites who read Kautilya and Machiavelli may talk of peace, but will not implement it on the ground because a threat of conflict keeps them in power.

Binoy Shanker Prasad
12 Feb 2010