India, Pak make-believe
A good trading relationship between the neighbours will hardly put demons of history to rest
POINT OF VIEW
It was over ghazals by Ghulam Ali that foreign ministers of India and Pakistan dined at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel at the end of their latest meeting in which they signed an agreement on a liberalized visa regime between the two countries. Ali sang his all-time favourite number ‘Dil Main Ik Lehar Si Uthi Hai Abhi, Koi Taza Hawa Chali Hai Abhi,’ which echoed the positive mood of the occasion. Ali also sang Chupke, Chupke Raat Din, his another popular ghazal which over the years has become an inalienable part of the romantic imagination of a majority of people in both countries.
More than the visa agreement the dinner over Ali’s ghazals captured the new bonhomie in Indo-Pak relations. It was almost as if the two countries had made a certain psychological leap in their relationship where they consciously tried to outgrow the habits and approaches of the past six decades. In the words of Rabbani, the two countries were now looking for “a mantra of future”.
“What has happened till now is history, and we will not be held hostage to history. We build on convergences that unite us,” she said adding that Pakistan had a desire to look at India with a “different mindset”.
But a week into these warm atmospherics, India and Pakistan engaged in a familiar slanging match on Kashmir at United Nations. Starting with Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari terming the lingering dispute over Kashmir “a symbol of failure of UN system,” and its rejection by Krishna to the vocal slugfest between their envoys a week later, the two countries reminded everybody that little had changed between them. Signing of the visa agreement hardly seemed to have made any redeeming difference.
Does this tell us anything about the gains of the ongoing phase of engagement between the two countries? The answer is that no matter the significance of the visa pact, it hardly makes them good neighbours. India and Pakistan can hardly expect to be delivered from their bitter history unless they squarely confront and address it. And this history is not about the inability to carry on good trading relations but about the consistent failure to resolve their political disputes with Kashmir at the front and centre of it.
But in the ongoing process of dialogue, India and Pakistan have chosen to ignore this reality. The effort has been to promote trade and economic cooperation and hope somehow that things somehow fall into place. But as UN example has duly underlined, this is not easy. Long festering disputes can’t simply go away. They have a way of staging a comeback at the unlikeliest time and spoiling the party. Six decades of bitter history is enough of a proof of it.
The pragmatic way would be to take a political approach to the dialogue between the two countries rather than the economic one. In fact, this is what the neighbours were doing through 2003-2007 during Pervez Musharraf’s time. The dialogue was primarily focussed on the resolution of Kashmir. Musharraf plied a radically flexible line on the state. His four point proposals envisaged a Kashmir solution without any radical geographical modifications and New Delhi was beginning to warm up to the ideas when the General suddenly lost power. But this was the phase of dialogue that really seemed to confront the real problems bedeviling the two countries which are essentially political in nature. Besides, the process didn’t limit itself strictly to India and Pakistan but also involved a substantial section of Kashmiri opinion across mainstream-separatist divide. Re-opening of cross-LoC routes and the ceasefire along LoC were the biggest achievements of this period.
As against this, the current engagement has been all about trade and economy. A liberal visa regime and economic cooperation is being seen as a short-cut to good neighbourly relations. These measures will certainly leave a positive impact and in time even generate an alternative way of looking at things. But a trading relationship alone will hardly put the demons of history to rest. And for that the two countries will need to solve real problems.
Lastupdate on : Tue, 16 Oct 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 16 Oct 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 17 Oct 2012 00:00:00 IST
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