US Imperialism


WSF In India







Gujarat Pogrom






Join Mailing List

Contact Us


The India-Pakistan Odyssey

By Imtiaz Ahmad

The Hindu
03 July, 2003

Fresh initiatives from time to time to reduce tensions and reiterate the resolve to settle bilateral issues between India and Pakistan, including the contentious Kashmir question, have by now become routine. The recent initiative taken by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and enthusiastically responded to by Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, generates both apprehension and hope. Hope emanates from the anticipation that the two Governments might have, at long last, realised the futility of prolonged confrontation and might therefore give peace a chance. Apprehension arises from the fear that this might just be a lull before they revert to the politics of confrontation.

Politics, including international politics, is not always predictable. There is, therefore, no way one can tell, until the process gets underway, whether the current initiative will pave the way for peace. The two neighbours consider each other arch enemies. This antagonism is not only on a state-to-state level. The people of the two countries also share the feeling.

Often we tend, in discussions on bilateral ties, to lay stress on the factors that should make for normalisation of relations and establishment of peace rather than examine the complexities and impediments that make peace so illusive. One should be cautious in concluding which way this latest initiative will go and see how it can be sustained. We should critically evaluate the difficulties involved in reaching a solution rather than merely reiterate the reasons that can make for a positive outcome.

One good starting point is for the two Governments to begin with the recognition that establishment of peace is a problematic proposition. They are themselves to blame for the present impasse out of which they wish to get out. The main reason for this is the international pressure to make peace and the domestic imperative to keep up a situation of confrontation.

Peace is not a one-way street. It has to be achieved through joint efforts for which a change of heart and of mind are inevitable. Compulsive competitiveness quite often exists between countries when they share an international border and has to be balanced by a clear determination of the limits of xenophobic response towards a neighbour. No durable peace can be established between two neighbours if one day their Governments talk of normalising relations and the next day dismiss envoys and terminate normal diplomatic communications.

Sometimes, they even talk of waging war. Both Governments should lay down the nature of the balance between their international obligations for peaceful coexistence and the domestic demand to whip up xenophobia in order to stay in power. For 50 years, Governments on both sides of the border have promoted a mindset that views yielding any concessions to the other side as tantamount to betraying the national interest. Military pride is evident on both sides of the border. The people in both countries are becoming victims of compassion fatigue: they have become so used to negative social statistics that they are willing to live with the unacceptable. This is not the way to make peace.

The important thing is to develop an atmosphere where the countries and their peoples stop considering each other as the enemy and start trusting one another. This is possible only if they accept the political realities.

If the examples of the countries that have established durable peace after prolonged confrontation are any guide, a willingness to concede ground is critical to establishing peace. People have to be psychologically prepared that durable peace is not achievable without substantial concessions.They have to be made aware that the concessions made would be in the long-term interest of the two countries. Until this is done, a sound basis for conflict-resolution cannot be created. The rhetoric of hollow nationalism without a willingness to honourably concede substantial ground is not adequate for peace-making.

There are powerful hardliners in the two countries with substantial constituencies of their own, ideologically committed to the policy of hostility. These constituencies advocate retrogressive and religion-based policies at home and hostile relations across the borders. They have over time cultivated a mindset that prompts their supporters to talk of teaching each other a lesson. Both Governments should have taken steps to curb and contain these constituencies. Neither Government has so far demonstrated any desire to do so. Both Governments should recognise that the resolution of outstanding issues rests squarely on them. People-to-people contacts can create a favourable climate, but they cannot by themselves pave the way for peace.

The ebb and flow in the levels of second and third track diplomacy follow the curve of governmental postures. In this scenario, the burden of lessening tensions and paving the way for peace falls on the Governments' shoulders.

It is a moot question whether the two Governments have addressed these questions and done the homework necessary to bring about peace. Unless this is done, there is a risk that the current initiative for a lasting peace between India and Pakistan may go much the same way as similar steps in the past.