By Salman Khurshid
July 08, 2019
Look at J&K with a new outlook. Ask yourself why Pakistan must really continue to show special interest in Kashmir. Is it for the Muslim population of the state? Does it not matter that India's vast Muslim population does not accept that view and that any adverse consequence in terms of J&K would inevitably have a negative impact on the entire minority of India? Indian Muslims have fought and laid down their lives for the land and the idea of India. Brigadier Mohammad Usman and Havildar Abdul Hamid are names that stand out among a legion of martyrs. Fifty years on, are we doing justice to the Muslims of India by creating a situation in which their allegiance to the land in they were born in is constantly tested? It is a strange irony that Indian leaders who are immensely popular in Pakistan from time to time have all been Hindus, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Muslim leaders in India neither get similar adulation, nor do they even seek such attention.
Many years after the idea of Pakistan and the idea of India clashed and pushed us both to the brink and to the Partition; neither idea has reached absolute fulfilment. Two decades ago we mustered up the courage to objectively examine the state of Muslims in India when the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Misra Commission handed down their far-reaching recommendations. Despite sincere efforts to implement the recommendations, the then government, UPA-II, of which I was a member as Cabinet minister (including the charge of Minority Affairs), was merely able to take the first steps of the far-sighted justice project. The moderate success gave little satisfaction to a community whose expectations suddenly exploded but invited undeserved hostility from the majority, egged on by the then main Opposition - the BJP. The ideological resistance of the BJP in power has put the entire justice project in cold storage, to await the return of secular politics. Crucial as this is to the idea of India, it is not the only dimension that has a lesson for steering our relationship with Pakistan. The continuous reworking of the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), with periodic demands for bifurcation or trifurcation of existing states - this time not on language or cultural differences but due to regional disparities - has some insights for a review of the political approach that led to Partition I (India and Pakistan) and Partition II (Pakistan and Bangladesh) and continues to feed the urge for another virtual partition (J&K). In a similar manner, first Punjab and Haryana, and then Bihar and Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, UP and Uttarakhand, and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, not to mention the several states born out of erstwhile Assam, have all emerged into separate existence. The argument that the vast expanse of the erstwhile states made democratic administration difficult, if not impossible, is no longer valid because of modern technology and communication. Yet the demands overwhelmed all arguments and efforts to the contrary.
We have not had the opportunity to conduct an exercise to assess the gains made by the bifurcation of states, though there is enough evidence of more rapid growth of the newly created states. But, of course, there are many other aspects of the aspiration and its ultimate fulfilment that scholars and political observers will amplify in due course. Inevitably, the interdependence of the new states will be greater than that in the previous arrangement. Whether that interdependence will grow into common approaches leading to some form of local federal arrangements, informal to begin with and later more structured and formal, is anyone's guess. But there is no reason that a similar thing will not happen in assessing what India and Pakistan have gained or lost in parting. Either way, it may not be a rewarding exercise to look at hypotheticals of what might have been our state without the Partition and whether the Partition was inevitable. Given that history is etched deep in our psyche, the analysis can at best give us some direction on what we continue to lose because of our inability to repair our estranged relationship. If, as the scholars suggest, the concept of 'imagined communities' has remained incomplete, must we continue to pay lip service to it? Instead, working towards a grand reconciliation may give us the elusive breakthrough we have been looking for. The imagination that caused the rupture between India and Pakistan is the very imagination that can create a new reality that assures prosperity and comfort to both sides. The possibilities of cooperative growth between our two countries can be judged by the potential of gas pipelines from Iran and Central Asia across Pakistan to Indian destinations. This would only state the obvious that there is an unlocked interdependence between India and Pakistan, not to speak of the multiplier effect of our cooperation. Imagination and identity are the primary motivations in the postmodern world, where imagination and discovery were to be our constant companions. If this equation goes wrong, the noblest of dreams can turn into nightmares.
It is curious that most seeming breakthroughs between India and Pakistan take place when the Pakistani army is in direct control of the government machinery in Islamabad. To think that the very institution whose stated raison d'etre is to protect Pakistan from real or imagined threats from India, among other objectives, should also be the instrument of better understanding and relations is ironic in the extreme. The political schizophrenia is explained by the dire need for an identified enemy to rally the nation for a common cause when not in government and display virtuosity in pulling off diplomatic successes when in government.
India has a stake in the success of Pakistan far greater than any sustained usefulness of a counter-argument against its initial conception. History has long bypassed the latter while realpolitik points to the former as an imperative. A successful Pakistan would have less reason to search for a unifying external object of hostility, and it is equally true that a successful India must break free of its convenient obsession with a toxic Pakistan to overcome the Indo-Pak hyphen of international approach to the subcontinent.
My Indian audience would, I imagine, be concerned and disappointed that a former Indian external affairs minister has spoken so long without lodging a legitimate complaint about the pain and distress we continue to suffer at the hands of what is described by the Pakistan establishment as non-state actors and about whom we tirelessly provide reliable evidence of official complicity. Let me right away publicly record my considered opinion that Pakistan's former prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, breaking from the past, is genuinely committed to peace with India and has more than once put himself in considerable discomfort to find an opening beyond pious incantations. He made this clear during his election campaign. He shared the information with me when, at the Commonwealth Conference in Sri Lanka, he took me aside for a coffee. 'My advisers said saying that would be fatal,' Nawaz Sharif told me, 'but I said I do not want to win by misleading my people. The young of Pakistan want the life of their Indian counterparts. The past is past.'
Excerpted with permission of Rupa Publications India from 'Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen' by Salman Khurshid. Order your copy here.