A Long Way To Go

For those who had placed their bets on ‘Aman ki Asha’, 2013 has certainly brought bad news. But aren’t they themselves to be blamed for expecting the impossible? Expecting that the venom of hatred infused into their people over the years by the leaders on both sides could easily and quickly be remedied merely by the antidote of ‘Confidence Building Measures’ (CBMs) while they themselves continue to foster an environment of mutual mistrust!

The reaction of New Delhi and Islamabad to the recent incidents on the LoC serves as a grim reminder that the basic philosophy of ‘building bridges’ through CBM initiatives by increasing ‘people to people’ contact is flawed. Flawed, not because the concept in itself is wrong, but because the leaders themselves don’t seem to be interested in setting an example by displaying confidence in each other. Though, both countries are now showing some sanity in their dealings, the damage done to the precarious bilateral relationship between the two by irresponsible statements like “there can be no business as usual” and “war mongering” has undone whatever little may have been achieved by the CBMs.

However, despite both sides reiterating that the bilateral ties had not been derailed, the recent turn of events suggest otherwise. New Delhi, suddenly like a bolt out of the blue, raked up the issue of the relevance of the UN Military Observer Group (UNMOGIP) on the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. Declaring that “UNMOGIP’s role has been overtaken by the Shimla Agreement of 1972 between India and Pakistan, signed by the Heads of the two governments and ratified by their respective parliaments,” the Indian representative suggested its termination. As expected, Pakistan strongly denounced New Delhi’s contention by saying that no bilateral agreement between the two nations had “overtaken or affected” the role or legality of the UNMOGIP.

New Delhi initiated the UNMOGIP debate under the garb of better spending of resources allocated for the Observer Group elsewhere in difficult economic times. However, as expected, this ‘noble’ proposition with fiscal import failed to cut any ice as the issue under discussion was an open debate on peacekeeping and not on austerity measures. Why New Delhi decided to deviate from its age-old policy of ‘letting the sleeping dogs lie’ to bring up the UNMOGIP issue and the timing it chose to do so, defies comprehension.  So, while nothing came out of this debate, old wounds were reopened and normalisation of the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Islamabad has taken yet another body blow.

Islamabad too seems to be itching for a chance to ‘take on’ New Delhi. Just a day after the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Chief, Hafiz Saeed offered ‘asylum’ to Bollywood star Sharukh Khan, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik too joined in by saying that though Sharukh Khan “is a born Indian and he would like to remain Indian, but I will request the government of India (to) please provide him security.” Not content with his ‘request’ to the Government of India, Malik went on to appeal to the Indian public that, “I would like to request all Indian brothers and sisters and all those who are talking in a negative way about Shah Rukh, they should know he is a movie star." While New Delhi may be annoyed at Malik’s ‘request’, the people of India will perhaps remain ever grateful to the Pakistani Interior Minister for enlightening them with the fact that Sharukh Khan is “a movie star!”

Can bilateral ties between India and Pakistan improve if Pakistan agrees that the UNMOGIP is not required any longer in J&K and India reciprocates by providing Shahrukh Khan ‘Z’ category security? Though the recent exchanges between New Delhi and Islamabad may bring a whiff of humour into our lives, the dismal future of the bilateral relations, which the present ‘line of engagement’ portends, is disquieting and sends shivers down the spine. It is high time that leaders of both countries stop behaving like schoolchildren and remedy the serious ‘foot-in-the- mouth’ disease, which seems to have afflicted them. Till this happens, ‘Aman ki Asha’ will remain a distant dream and bilateral relations will become another ‘comedy circus’!

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