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Can India And Pakistan Make Peace?

Can India And Pakistan Make Peace?

T here is a new wind blowing in the Indian sub-continent. It carries with it a new hope, a new dream.  Suddenly, emotions laden with peace and tolerance are wafting over India and Pakistan.  After the historic peace talks between North Korean leaders Kim Jong-un and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in to pursue a permanent peace treaty and denuclearize the Korean peninsula, sentiments of whether it can happen with India and Pakistan are wafting in both the countries. Can we resolve our differences and work towards making our countries stronger by focusing on growth and ensuring a better standard of life?

Dawn, a leading newspaper in Pakistan that is respected for its independence and quality said that a shared history between India and Pakistan and rising aspirations for peace in both countries among the commoners who have similar cultural similarities  is reason enough for pursuing this noble goal.

The warring Korean leaders spoke a different language after decades shocking the world with their newfound statesmanship. It ignited hope of how India and Pakistan could also talk peace; bury the hatchet and move ahead to concentrate on nation building and not inflating its defence budget every year.

 A similar feeling was ignited when former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made a historic trip to Lahore 19 years ago. But it fizzled out soon after Pakistanis took over strategic positions in Kargil leading to a war within Indian Territory. Hope was ignited again before the Agra Summit between President Pervez Musharaff and Vajpayee.  But that too ended up as a dampener.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to normalize relations with Pakistan soon after taking over which was remarkable in its own way considering that he was such a hawk when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. At all his political rallies, he would take potshots at Pakistan in vitriolic speeches taking a belligerent stand, much to the delight of his audiences. But, after he rode to power in a landslide victory in 2014, he invited the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath taking ceremony, a gesture which got wide acclaim. He later paid surprise visits to Pakistan that raised a new hope of normalistation.

These gestures were soon ruined by terror attacks in Kashmir, Pathankot and elsewhere. India responded with surgical strikes. Pakistan sentenced Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav to death on charge of spying in a case that had too many holes just to prove India was fiddling around with the separatist movement in Baluchistan. Bilateral talks collapsed. Diplomats of both countries were humiliated and harassed. It was a hopeless situation.

Ever since the partition of India and Pakistan by the British in 1947, there has been simmering palpable tension that has been on for the last 71 years. There have been three wars and border skirmishes. The Siachen standoff that has been on for decades costs India over one crore rupees a day. 

Whenever there was an Indian move towards peace, it would invariably get derailed by the top brass of the Pakistan army. There was a pattern to it. Soon after the talks, there would be intensified firing on the border leading to some Indian soldiers being killed. Or there would be a terror attack where there would be a footprint of Pakistani trained jihadists.  

It was often noticed during talks between Pakistani and Indian diplomats, that a Pakistani official would often leave the room to return soon after. Sources indicate that it was to take orders from the army on what should be the line to be taken on every discussion point.  When General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was at the helm as the army chief, there was a clear sign that incidents on the border or elsewhere were designed just to ensure that peace talks collapsed.  Time and again.

There was a definite pattern. In 2008, every public statement by the then President Asif Zardari proclaiming his intention to make peace with India was followed by an attack on a soft Indian target. There were border skirmishes. Then the Indian Embassy in Kabul was attacked.

Obviously, this derailed the peace process. When it was resumed again, the dastardly Mumbai attack happened leading to many deaths in India’s commercial capital. India reacted with Operation Parakram where it was on the brink of war. But good sense prevailed.

It is a no brainer that politics in Pakistan is completely controlled by the army. They dictate on how its democracy should be run. Even when there is a seemingly democratically elected Prime Minister, it is the army that calls the shots.

Ultimately, political heads wanting peace means nothing unless the army wants it too. The Pakistan army will never want peace as then it would completely make them redundant.  They would have no role, no power. More importantly, it will not have control over huge finances involved in the purchases of arms and other financial activities that it has got involved in other than defending its borders.

No one questions how army officers have such luxurious lives even after retirement. Or, where the money is coming from.  

It is important to acknowledge that the Pakistan army controls a huge commercial empire that is worth billions of dollars. There is no reason why it would want to give it up just to have peace with India.  In many ways, the army controls a large part of the economy. 

Strategic affairs analyst, Ayesha Siddiqa’s book, “Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”, documents how the army has grown deep roots into the country’s economy in all kinds of areas. Some of them are: agriculture, manufacturing, services, transportation, and construction, of roads, bridges and storage facilities, collecting tolls, running bakeries, cement plants and fertilizer units, poultry farms, markets, commercial plazas, gas stations and so on.

But none of these economic activities are reflected in the country’s budget. It is not subject to accountability procedures. The varied commercial activities help both serving and retired army personnel as it is a well-oiled system that takes care of all. They get preferences all the time and that explains why so many of them own land. That should make it clear to all of us who yearn for peace that vested commercial interests will force the Pakistan army of ensuring that it does not happen.

There is also simmering anger among the military establishment about the Indian role in the breakup of Pakistan when it helped give birth to Bangladesh in 1971. That should explain why it wants so desperately to dismember Kashmir from India.

Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s had once told Pakistan it was making a colossal mistake by focusing its energies on an Indian threat that did not even exist. But Pakistan ignored it and adopted cross border terrorism as a means to slowly bleed India and keep the conflict alive. India has used every international opportunity to showcase this fact and show how Pakistan is incubating terror.

It is now a given that the Pakistan army belongs to the anti-talks and anti-peace faction as it has obvious vested interests. But, that should not dampen India’s continued stance to work for peace. The only way out is to engage with civil society which also wants peace.

Contrary to Indian public opinion, the fact is that there is absolutely no bitterness about India as far as civil society is concerned. Ask any Indian who has visited Pakistan and they will regale you with stories of warm hospitality and how even shop keepers give heavy discounts when they realize that they are dealing with Indian shoppers. Deep within, there is a bond of oneness which was there 71 years ago.  The bond has to do with the fact seven decades ago; we lived together, fought for independence, celebrated festivals and enjoyed culinary delights.  See how popular Indian films and film actors are in Pakistan.

Undoubtedly, wounds of partition are deep. Over 14 million were displaced; many continued to live as refugees for many years with memories of religious violence that took away their loved ones. Many religious conflicts in both countries as a consequence resulted in loss of thousands of lives for years after. But we cannot hang on to these memories for ever as politicians in both countries stoke it to ensure that the hatred simmers.

Given the narrow politics that various political parties practice, Indian civil society should not play into their hands and fall for the line that India shows up as a weak country when it tries to talk peace with Pakistan. The government in power in India must reach out to its populace to explain why peace is the only option so that there is no room for jingoism to flourish. War is not an option. If there is war, both the countries will run out of ammunition in two weeks. Both the armies know that.

If East and West Germany can unite after 41 years and if North and South Korea can think of it now for the first time after 1945, can India and Pakistan do it too? That is a very simplistic way to look at it as the situation between these two countries is far too complex. Both are among the largest arms and ammunition shoppers in the world!  Why would the developed world which sells both these countries defence equipment want India and Pakistan to stop piling up arms when peace happens?

C. Raja Mohan, director, Carnegie India and strategy affairs expert points out rightly that if there is one lesson for India from the current political dynamism in Korea, it is the fact that there is always room for creative diplomacy for the strong-willed.  But in the given circumstances, will Pakistan’s army want peace? It has a disturbing answer.

All said and done, efforts to reach out to Pakistan must continue with a stress on civil society as only the people can force both a civilian and military controlled regime to act. If right thinking people have the courage to get together and voice their feelings and be ready to fight for their convictions, the hawks will get marginalized. 

Civil society in Pakistan and India need to realize that if both the countries need to prosper at the speed they need to lift their populace out of poverty and race to the top of the world, the only way is to drop the past, forget and forgive and whip up both sports and cultural exchanges as the ultimate healing touch. Simultaneously, confidence building measures can be dovetailed in to smoothen the rough edges and change perspectives. Only hope can allow us to dream.

(Published on 07th May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 19)