Septuagenarians:This August, can our countries finally come together in peace?

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WHAT sort of spectacle will India and Pakistan present to the world on their 70th birthday, just three months away? They fight in every international forum whenever they can; edge each other out of newly set up international groups; and carry on a persistent exchange of recriminations amidst the sound and fury of armed exchanges across the Line of Control in Kashmir. Clearly, age has not mellowed them. India and Pakistan lack the maturity of 70-year-olds.

Must we be resigned to this? Just drift along as ever before? Or is there a more promising alternative? There surely is, if only the two countries would get out of the rut using some imagination, some diplomatic creativity. One suspects that old habits are comforting, while the prospect of new ones makes them insecure. The people of these two countries surely deserve better from their leaders; particularly the youth, who are desperate for a break from the past.

In contrast to the depressing picture in inter-state relations, within both countries there are oases of hope. Pakistan and India have every reason to be proud of their achievements in many fields of endeavour. The black patches have their roots in a sorry past. Only improvement in Pakistan-India relations can help in eradicating them – especially the forces of intolerance, hate and violence.

How do we begin? Not by attempting something grand. Astute leaders do not neglect public opinion nor become hostages to it. Begin with small steps which they can ‘sell’ to their peoples. Two doctrines must be shed. One is ‘lack of trust’. States do not parley with the other side because it inspires trust but despite the distrust between them, because it is in their national interest to talk and to seek a convergence of seemingly conflicting interests, knowing that stand-offs are inherently dangerous. This is especially true of these two nuclear-weapon states whose peoples have so much in common with each other. This explains the extreme sensitivity and the low threshold of tolerance.

Yan Xuetong is dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, Beijing. His counsel is wise. “Mutual trust is a result rather than a premise of longer-term cooperation … drop the wishful thinking and spend more effort on building a realistic relationship based on their interests.”

In this pursuit, both sides are sure to come across roadblocks whose existence is known but little accepted. There are elements in both countries that obstruct any improvement in their relations. Consider the record over the last decade, especially since 2006. Every understanding is undermined by a violent attack that revives old fears and wipes out the understanding.

In this pursuit, both sides are sure to come across roadblocks whose existence is known but little accepted. There are elements in both countries that obstruct any improvement in their relations. Consider the record over the last decade, especially since 2006. Every understanding is undermined by a violent attack that revives old fears and wipes out the understanding.

This is precisely where the leaders must make a new break — with a firm resolve that those enemies of peace must be defeated by persisting in conciliation, in the knowledge that it is in their own interests to do so. Talks and accords are not favours to the ‘other’ side but steps in the national interest.

The Irish problem would not have been solved in 1998 if the UK’s leaders had broken off talks whenever there was a terrorist outrage. In October 1981, a bomb meant for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher exploded at the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Conservative Party conference. A chilling IRA statement warned, “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”

The attack did not weaken her resolve to negotiate with determination. It was this resolve that ins­pired the Pakistan-India joint statement at Sharm el Sheikh on July 15, 2009, for which Dr Manmohan Singh was pilloried at home. It read, “Both prime ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. Act­ion on terrorism shall not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”

Prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif must reaffirm this, if even tacitly, when they meet at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit this June. A new mechanism for tackling the likes of Pathankot must be devised by their national security advisers. On the prime minister’s directive, officials must be tasked with preparing a set of ‘understandings’ on (a) reaffirmation of the 2013 ceasefire, (b) resumption of talks as agreed upon in Bangkok in December 2015.

Once the homework is done, the leaders can meet before or when they observe their independence days with a clear resolve to put the past behind them. India and Pakistan were born in August 1947 under an accord but in strife, which still persists. It cannot be ended in a day, but a beginning — starting with some ameliorative measures in Kashmir — must be made in August 2017.

The Article First Appeared In Dawn

 

 

 

 

 

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