By Imtiaz Ahmad
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
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.