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By Pratap Bhanu Mehta
AFTER MONTHS of acrimonious sniping between India and Pakistan, New Delhi's new proposals opening up bus, train and ferry links, designed to enhance contact between ordinary citizens, are a welcome small step. While it would be premature to describe them as a real breakthrough, capable of surmounting the immense obstacles that still lie in the path of an enduring and just peace, they at least indicate some movement towards reducing the unacceptable level of tension that currently exists between the two countries. But the road to peace will be long and hard and the rulers of both countries have to pointedly face tough questions if they are to avoid the oscillation between sentimental but ultimately meaningless calls for peace, on the one hand, and near war, on the other, that marks relations between the two countries.
Both India and Pakistan ought to acknowledge that their conflict has extracted a huge price. Militarism, support for jihadi politics, and a national identity constituted largely by layers of resentment have taken a heavy toll in Pakistan. They have brought its economy to near ruin, its state structures to a dangerous level of precariousness and prevented a healthy development of civil society. For its part, India has had to incur significant military costs, bear the ramifications of exacerbated conflict in Kashmir, and anxieties over terrorism have scarred Indian politics, making it more combustible and vulnerable. Its great power ambitions will always be held back by its inability to deal with its own backyard. Both countries live under a nuclear shadow, are still critically dependent on outside intervention to sort out their mutual affairs, and are losing out on the benefits of regional integration. There can be no military solution to this quagmire that will not risk incurring horrendous costs. There are more than enough reasons to break the current stalemate.
The difficulty is this. No side will accept a settlement that is seen as a victory for the other. To be a little graceless about it: under the present constraints what will India and Pakistan offer each other beyond token gestures? They ought to encourage trade and sort out all economic ties constructively. India could even reconsider its opposition to routing an energy pipeline through Pakistan. While India is rightly worried that this would give Pakistan leverage, it might also have two other desirable effects. First, it would give international business, not an inconsiderable force in world politics, some leverage over Pakistan to continue cooperation with India. Second, it would be just the kind of interdependence that makes routine cooperation between the two countries.
While desirable, talks on economic relations have two limitations. First, economic ties are, frankly speaking, of not much political importance domestically in both countries and are unlikely quickly to create a domestic political constituency for peace.
Secondly, although trade usually opens up wider cultural links, it can be argued that in the case of India and Pakistan, the causal link will be the other way round. Is it reasonable to suppose that India will permit the freer movement of Pakistani nationals that greater economic ties would entail, when it does not even facilitate minimal non-governmental exchange?
Even permanent military de-escalation and talks on nuclear issues depend on a prior sense of trust. The process of dialogue and the restoring of normality between the two countries will take the edge off their military conflict. But this diminution in tension will be only as enduring as the wider peace it is encased in.
The most important issue remains Kashmir and terrorism. There is an oddity in India's position that Kashmir is not the most important issue but terrorism is, when clearly both are linked. It is difficult to imagine how a dialogue on terrorism can proceed without some discussion on Kashmir. For Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism and actively clamp down on fundamentalist activities, it will clearly have to decide that Kashmir cannot be wrested by force and therefore there is no point trying to bleed India. Can Pakistan, or more specifically, the Pakistani regime be committed to this proposition?
There is no way of knowing for sure. Pakistan's rulers have constantly legitimised themselves by exaggerating the Indian threat. Pakistan's domestic political economy and the self-understanding of its rulers will have to be transformed considerably before its desire for peace becomes credible. Intervention in Kashmir has only hurt Pakistan's interests. It de-legitimised the grievances of the Kashmiris themselves and has generated considerable anti-Pakistan sentiment in the Valley. The recent elections in Kashmir have only strengthened India's moral claims and if it continues to adopt the course of genuine power sharing and reconciliation, it could once again establish authority in Kashmir. So even from Pakistan's point of view, there is a good incentive to abandon terrorism in Kashmir. But will the logic of interest prevail over the temptation to afflict India?
On the Indian side the question is this. It is unlikely that terrorism will stop entirely, even if Pakistan makes a good faith effort. Both India and Pakistan will need a credible monitoring mechanism to ensure that the Government of Pakistan is indeed not responsible for any acts of violence that might take place even after a Pakistani crackdown. India will have to resist the temptation to blame Pakistan for virtually everything from Godhra to Kashmir. Will India's political class have the courage to resist externalising all our home grown problems onto Pakistan? And can both sides resist the political capital that accrues to governments from a politics of mutual recrimination?
Let us suppose for a moment that Pervez Musharraf is sincere about good relations with India, that he is under pressure to curtail terrorism. And let us suppose even that India can be convinced that Pakistan will take all the measures it desires. The question is what will India give in return? India could rightfully argue that the onus is on Pakistan. But even if this was true it does not solve the political dilemma of the Pakistani leadership. If Pakistan concedes Indian claims regarding Kashmir by renouncing any hopes of wresting it, if it acknowledges the current status quo and perhaps legitimises the Line of Control, what will it get in return? The net result will be seen as concession to India, without any returns for Pakistan.
Is there something that would allow the Pakistani leadership to say, "Here is one big concession we wrested from India in return." What would that be? The difficulty is that we cannot think of any terms that would be acceptable to India that would not be seen as a defeat for Pakistan. Can we give something to Pakistan that would allow it to claim at least a partial victory? It is difficult to see what would allow both sides to claim victory. And any negotiations that do not give both sides victory, if for no reasons other than placating their respective domestic constituencies, are unlikely to make much progress. I suspect that the real challenge for India is not simply that we need to overcome doubts about Pakistani regime's commitment to a credible peace. The challenge is that we have no substantial concession to give to a Pakistani leadership such that any settlement could be made politically credible inside Pakistan.
Faced with such a formidable quagmire we need radical rethinking. We need a political culture in both India and Pakistan that understands that nationalism is the enemy of the national interest, a political culture that is prepared to pay a short run price for a new architecture for the subcontinent. India should not think of its new proposals as a bargaining chip, to be withdrawn at the first venial slight, but as a step towards altering the entire discourse of international relations in South Asia. The new discourse will have to give up competitive nationalism, and replace it with an emphasis on trade, open borders, and a consensus on human rights. India will have to take the initiative in this transformation. While we ought to be vigilant about terrorism, India has nothing to lose by being as unilaterally generous as it can in as many areas as possible, to show that it is credibly committed to a new regional imagination. Only then can we alter the incentives that constrain the prospects for peace.
(The writer is Professor of Philosophy and of Law and Governance, JNU.)
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