New Age Islam
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Current Affairs ( 18 Nov 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Indo-Pak Relations: A Long-Awaited Breakthrough

By Kuldip Nayar

16 November 2011

We are back full circle to a proposal long familiar to the people in India and Pakistan: keep business separate from Kashmir. There was a time when Pakistan would refuse to have any trade with India until Kashmir was resolved. New Delhi would say that it was not opposed to a solution for Kashmir, but the starting point should be business.

The meeting between Prime Ministers Mr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Yousuf Raza Gilani broke the deadlock and Pakistan did not underline Kashmir as the core problem. And, Pakistan’s foreign minister Ms Hina Rabbani Khar said after returning from Maldives that Pakistan would “bend over backwards” to be friendly with India.  This is a welcome development, not only for the two countries but also for South Asia. Nothing in the region would move because the estrangement between India and Pakistan cast its shadow on any joint step forward. Islamabad should be complimented because it chose not to tread the old, beaten path.

Whatever Pakistan’s compulsions ~ its army, mainly ~ it is a bold step which can lead to normalisation of relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. Mr. Manmohan Singh’s decision not to link trade with an appropriate sentence for terrorists being tried in Pakistan for the attack on Mumbai three years ago is courageous at a time when his own stock is not high. The Indian media is mostly critical and the hawks are even abusive. But they represent a minority that examines everything about Pakistan from a negative point of view. They do not want Pakistan to fall apart but they continue talking about punishing Islamabad. Their outlook tallies with India’s main Opposition party, the BJP.

The Pakistani media may be a shade better. But it too does not seem to be keen on abandoning the parochial angle it has followed for decades. Nor are of any help the books still preaching that Hindus are enemies or incidents such as the killing of Hindu doctors in Sindh. Civil society in Pakistan appears to have given up all kinds of resistance. The murder of former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer at the hands of fanatics has silenced even the boldest liberals who don’t realise that they are targets as well.

The bureaucracy and Intelligence agencies on both sides of the border do not see the development at Maldives as an opportunity to shed the baggage of history of the past six decades and start with a clean slate. I concede that all will not change at one sweep. Relations between India and Pakistan have to be evolved and tended carefully. The path the two governments have taken will have to scale the mountains before they can hit a sunny valley. It requires patience and perseverance.

India’s grievance about Pakistan not yet punishing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks is genuine. No explanation by Islamabad is convincing enough. Yet, it has a point when it says that the evidence which India has provided is too weak to get a favourable verdict in court. Now that Pakistan’s judicial committee is coming to India, it should be collecting as much evidence as it wants. The case must move forward. Once that happens, doubts on this end could be assuaged to a large extent. And, Mr. Manmohan Singh is quite right when he says that another 26/11 may have unforeseen consequences. New Delhi will expect Islamabad not to allow cross-border terrorism from its soil.

Yet, I do not think that the case is the only hitch. Both countries do not have trust in each other and refuse to rely on facts even when placed on the table. They are prey to a mindset that undermines the people’s desire to live as good neighbours. So long as terrorism is there, no argument against mistrust will work. Joint mechanism to eliminate terrorism was supposed to be set up a few months ago but the proposal remains on paper. Such a mechanism, once put in place, should allow law enforcers to visit the sites where terrorists are reportedly trained and armed.

When it comes to trade, New Delhi will have to ensure that there is a level-playing field for Pakistan. The balance of trade will be one indication. If compared to Indian exports, Pakistan’s exports are too small, doubts may surface about New Delhi’s bona fides. True, a list of items would be prepared but India can ask Pakistan which goods it can conveniently export to India so that there is no room for grievance or discrimination. Perhaps some of the tariff concessions that New Delhi has offered to Dhaka can be extended to Islamabad.

India’s aim should now be to help develop Pakistan economically so that it is not dependent on America or Saudi Arabia for assistance. This will ultimately stop foreign interference in affairs concerning the region. Pakistan, on its part, should open the country to India’s investors. If they can buy large concerns in the UK or the USA, they should be able to do that in Pakistan as well. There may be joint ventures between India and Pakistan. Economic ties, in due course, will become the sinews for friendship and then the gun will become superfluous.

It is understandable that the Pakistan government is under great pressure to use Kashmir as a rider. But, there is no doubt that trade between the two countries will generate so much goodwill that finding a solution for Kashmir will become easy. After all, the governments on both sides did arrive at some understanding on Kashmir. Once, when Mr. Nawaz Sharif was Pakistan’s Prime Minister, the coup by General Pervez Musharraf scuppered the solution. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, had commented at that time: “We were almost there.” The second time when General Musharraf brokered a solution and was on the verge of inviting Mr. Manmohan Singh for signing an agreement on Kashmir, agitation by Pakistani lawyers changed the scenario.

I realise that it is difficult for both sides to erase history. But there is no alternative to peace. The two countries cannot change geography and have to accept each other as they are, not as they want them to be. If Germany and France could become friends after years of war why can’t India and Pakistan?

My advice to civil society in Pakistan is that it should speak out in public. At present, its criticism is confined to drawing rooms and it remains pathetically quiet even when its sees truth being attacked. I have not seen a single voice of concern for the much-persecuted judge who sentenced the killer of Salman Taseer to death. The judge had to disappear after doing his duty because he knew that neither civil society nor the government would come to his rescue.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator.

Source: The Statesman, New Delhi