With Rhyme and Reason!

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Let us first accept the facts. Let us stop fooling ourselves into believing that the two can ever be friends- that the animosity between India and Pakistan, which both countries have so assiduously nurtured ever since 1947 can be easily demolished just by making cosmetic efforts like leaders shaking hands, talking peace, cultural exchanges and civil society initiatives. Let us accept that a misplaced sense of nationalism has gotten the better of their rational selves and both seem have just no inclination or intention of making any amends. Whether we like it or not, let us accept the reality that despite all the artificial gestures of amity and bonhomie, influential groups and entities in both countries continue to harbour a deep sense of mutual animosity.

They remain suspicious of each other and revel in playing the ‘blame-game’ as they just love to hate each other. Their leaders too make sure that the cordial exchange of pleasantries and pledges of ‘firm commitments to peace’ are regularly punctuated with veiled accusations of inimical behaviour. When the Indian Prime Minister says that Pakistan remains the ‘epicenter’ of terrorism, he is in fact reiterating New Delhi’s firm belief that Islamabad is actively engaged in a ‘proxy war’ in Kashmir as well as in supporting other anti-India terrorist groups like the Indian Mujahideen and Sikh separatists in Punjab. On his part, when the Pakistan Prime Minister talks about “external forces at work to destabilize Pakistan,” he is making it clear that Islamabad is more than convinced that India is “sponsoring terrorism” in Karachi as well as instigating and providing assistance to the secessionist forces in Balochistan and some factions of the Pakistani Taliban.

We thus have a comic situation on our hands- both India and Pakistan lose no opportunity to passionately claim that being ‘victims of terror’, they despise terrorism and have no truck with any terrorist groups. Sounds logical, but then the question arises- how come, terrorists are flourishing in both countries? Terrorists certainly do not ‘drop’ from the skies or ‘sprout’ from the ground, nor do they ‘pluck’ their guns and bombs from trees. They don’t live on fresh air alone and certainly won’t risk their lives purely as an act of charity. So, if neither India nor Pakistan is supporting terrorist groups, then from where have they acquired the capability to engage powerful and well-organised armies? One does not have to be a ‘rocket-scientist’ to be able to find the answer!

And this is where the problem starts- for it seems that both countries have willy-nilly accepted that while terrorism is loathsome, all terrorists are not bad. Thus, while acts of violence by such groups committed on its own soil is no doubt ‘terrorism’ and therefore reprehensible, those indulging in violence across the border are not terrorists, but ‘freedom- fighters’ pursuing a ‘legitimate’ cause. It is due to this warped logic sans rhyme or reason that innocent people in both countries are paying a heavy price. However, their leaders just don’t seem to care, as for them, it is ‘national interests’ that come first! And just what is this ‘national interest’? It simply means that every act of terrorist violence at home should be ‘countered’ by a similar act across the border! Thus, the requirement of keeping ‘snakes in the backyard’ becomes an ‘inescapable’ necessity for safeguarding what these leaders perceive as ‘national interests’!

India and Pakistan have been playing the ‘cloak and dagger’ game with each other ever since partition. However, in the past, waging ‘secret wars’ was a difficult task and conducted in a controlled manner. Terrorists (or ‘freedom-fighters’) were hard to come by and their ability to indulge in acts of violence was limited. Consequently, while there were sporadic cases of an odd bomb blast here and there in both countries, the situation never went out of control. However, there is no gainsaying that ever since the Americans introduced the concept of the ‘good militant’ during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, both India and Pakistan seemed to have realised that terrorism could prove to be a menacingly destructive machine and thus an efficient ‘strategic asset’ for serving their respective national interests, with ‘no strings attached’!

From the way things are going, it seems unlikely that the scourge of terrorism which is afflicting both India and Pakistan will end in the foreseeable future as radical and ‘ultra-nationalist’  groups in both countries have managed to muster such a large following that their parochial stance and chauvinistic stance cannot be disregarded by any government. Thus, even if the leadership of both countries may genuinely want to get rid of this menace, internal dissent will impede any progress and acts of violence intended to vitiate the atmosphere that coincide with every scheduled meeting between leaders of the two countries is ample proof of this. Why am I, for no rhyme or reason lamenting this ongoing ‘blow hot-blow cold’ relationship between India and Pakistan, you may ask. The answer is simple-there is a rhyme as well as a reason, because Kashmir has unfortunately become an unwilling hostage to frailty of Indo-Pak relations!

We all know that a serious problem exists in Indo-Pak relations and terrorism is pushing both countries into the morasses of strife and poverty. The situation will further exacerbate after the US troop pullout from Afghanistan as the ‘unemployed’ anti- US Taliban could easily be ‘redirected’ by Islamabad into Kashmir. In the absence of US troops in Afghanistan, New Delhi too will find it all the more ‘convenient’ to support the anti-Pakistan Taliban. Therefore, before these ‘secret wars’ assume disastrous proportions and result in ‘mutually assured destruction’, it would be in the interests of both countries not to ‘keep snakes in their backyards’ anymore. It should be remembered that while it is very easy to let loose the terrorists, it is well nigh impossible to either rein them in or prevent them from turning against their own benefactors.

However, given the hardened positions adopted on both sides of the Radcliffe Line and the preference for political expediency over mature diplomacy, no solution is in sight and so it appears that the Kashmir issue will thus continue to remain in a state of limbo. There is ofcourse still a ray of hope, as the people of Pakistan share a strong emotional attachment with their Kashmiri brethren and wish to see the Kashmir imbroglio resolved as per the wishes of its people. Therefore, it would certainly not be a problem for Nawaz Sharif to mobilise public opinion to support his endeavours of resolving the Kashmir problem, even it means making some bold and unilateral ‘concessions’. Surely, the people of Pakistan will understand that all this is being done just for the sake of the people of Kashmir and with the sole aim of getting an otherwise reticent India onto the negotiating table.

Nawaz Sharif knows very well that the Kashmir problem cannot be solved merely by making passionate speeches at the UN or through an armed insurrection and this issue has to be resolved through dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad. Incase Sharif is determined, then he can certainly help the Kashmiris. He is a popular leader with a mass following and as he enjoys an extremely cordial relationship with the Pakistan army, many consider him the ‘most powerful’ Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history. Therefore, if Nawaz Sharif decides to take up the Kashmir cause earnestly, he could make the difference.

Pakistan has always claimed that it is the unresolved Kashmir issue, which is the cause for the acrimonious Indo-Pak relationship. Therefore, Nawaz Sharif should accord top priority to seek dialogue with New Delhi for resolution of the Kashmir problem, as he has the support of his people as well as his army. If this happens, then it would be ‘happy ending’ for all- if it doesn’t, then one has no choice but to accept what the skeptics have been saying all along- that Kashmir is only an excuse and not the reason for the deep animosity afflicting Indo-Pak relations!

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