The question of Indo-Pak peace has been, at best, at stop-and-go process – for every three steps forward, there have been two steps back. The recently launched Aman ki Asha campaign, a joint peace initiative by the Times of India and Pakistan’s Jang group, represents an effort to add an organized voice to the debate. However, developments like the recent bombing in Pune, (claimed by a Pakistan-based group), not only threaten to derail the peace process, but also undermine civilian attempts at goodwill and better relations. Below, Rakesh Mani, a Teach for India fellow, argues that despite these attempts, the stars are aligned for positive steps in the India-Pakistan peace process:
It’s one of the most remarkable campaigns the subcontinent has seen: a joint peace initiative run by the Times of India, India’s most powerful media empire, and the Jang group, Pakistan’s most influential media group. Their joint ‘Aman ki Asha‘ (Hope for Peace) initiative looks to develop a stronger Track II channel in the diplomatic and cultural relations between India and Pakistan.
The Urdu language Jang newspaper’s involvement is relevant and crucial, although the Jang Group’s English language The News is also involved. However, it is probably the vernacular Jang reader who needs to be made more open to establishing a rapport with India. The case of the linguistic divide is less pronounced in India. Readers of the English press and vernacular press often share similar opinions on relations with Pakistan.
The criticisms about such civilian initiatives are probably fair: the assortment of cricketers, musicians and matinee idols who are lending their names and faces to the cause have little influence in either country. As long as the politicians and mandarins in India’s establishment and the military men and mullahs in Pakistan’s power elite are not involved, what difference does it all really make?
Given this reality, it is fair to assume that such a concerted initiative must have the approval of those who matter in Delhi and Islamabad, and possibly in Washington as well. Clearly the intent is to build a strong peace constituency among the masses in both countries for a pact that’s being made in the highest echelons. Because war, in its adversity, unifies nations while peace divides them and gives rise to arguments about the price.
Negotiations on Kashmir have never gotten anywhere because neither country has been willing to compromise. For years, we have heard the familiar volley of archaic recriminations; with India refusing to budge from the status quo, and Pakistan looking to significantly alter it. Clearly both countries, at some point, will have to make some compromises to build peace. The gradual process of selling that compromise to their respective electorates has now begun in earnest.
Indians and Pakistanis, raised on animosity and mutual suspicion, now have to be programmed to yearn for peace. At any cost.
There have always been romantics and idealists in both countries who spoke fondly of their neighbor and lobbied for peace. But these constituencies were always relegated to peripheral positions by realist viewpoints that stressed strategic interest. And today, after years of opposing interests, we have a situation where the strategic interests of India and Pakistan seem to coincide.
The galaxy of strategic stars in the subcontinent is now aligned for peace. And things are moving quickly.
A few days ago, the governments of India and Pakistan announced that their foreign secretaries will meet for talks at the end of February to resume the formal dialogue on a number of key issues, including Kashmir. In an apparently unrelated gesture, India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that the scores of Indian militants from Kashmir who have crossed into Pakistani territory should be allowed to return to India without punishment.
It is in New Delhi’s interest to stabilize the democratic regime in Pakistan to prevent a nightmare scenario: a million Pakistani refugees, fleeing a theocratic Taliban-dominated country, pounding the gates at Wagah. It’s a real threat, with a precedent. The Indian government hasn’t forgotten the 1971 crisis, when millions of Bengali refugees flooded into West Bengal from erstwhile East Pakistan. Almost forty years ago, the question was economic and humanitarian.
Today, it’s a catch-22: let the Pakistani refugees in, and you run the risk of a phalanx of anti-India militants being camouflaged among them; refuse them entry, and it becomes horrible publicity for a country that fancies itself a responsible, emerging superpower.
Islamabad, on the other hand, feels that the time is ripe to pressure Delhi into a settlement. With Washington leaning on them heavily for support in the war on terror, their approach will be to convince the Americans that they can’t fight the battle on their Western border when there are Indian guns being pointed at their back in the East.
One suspects that Manmohan Singh, having seen the nuclear deal through in his first term, is looking to make a settlement on Kashmir his foreign policy priority for the UPA’s second term in office. If all goes well, each player in the love triangle has their strategic interests fulfilled and becomes a sure shot for the Nobel Peace Prize.
A fine feather in their caps, but also the possibility of a final and lasting peace in a subcontinent that has been saddled with sorrow and disquiet for decades.
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