India Pakistan relations: People’s interests first

India Pakistan relations: People’s interests first

By Babar Ayaz

What has changed of late the sabre-rattling Prime Minister Narendra Modi to become a dove when it comes to relations with Pakistan? Many pundits in the Pakistani media are groping for the right answer.

Obviously there can’t be just one reason for Modi’s U-turn. In statecraft policies are dictated in any country to serve the interests of the ruling classes. However it should be borne in mind that no country has monolithic class interests and these interests are not cast in stone. But they keep changing with time and the circumstances. In Pakistan the tussle, on this issue, is between geo-economic and the traditionally powerful geo-strategic lobbies. The latter’s policies have led us to the present mess. The much more powerful geo-economic lobby in India is also pushing Modi to ease the tension.

One view is that Modi has learnt from his party’s defeat in Bihar that anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim bashing was counter-productive. This may be one of the many reasons. Perhaps, BJP is conscious of the fact that in the upcoming UP elections a formidable Dalit-Muslim alliance would make its win difficult.

Another reason given is that Modi was pushed by both the US and Russia to normalise relations with Pakistan as they want our establishment to deliver its protégées — Afghan Taliban — on the peace table. Pakistan’s perennial fear has been that India wants to surround her by strengthening geo-strategic relations with the Afghanistan government. To counter the Indian influence it has been supporting Afghan Taliban for over two decades now. Though India doesn’t take foreign influences as it considers itself a big power of the region, it has a strong urge to seek a position at the United Nation’s Security Council. For that it needs the support of the US and Russia. So easing the tension with Pakistan is not a big price.

Understanding the downside of the policy to consider insurgent groups as assets many sensible writers have been criticising it. The existentialist threat to Pakistan by the terrorist is directly related to this perfidious policy. Having said that we have to accept that after bleeding for long from terrorist attacks our establishment has launched an operation against the terrorists who challenge the writ of the state. They have now changed the path and believe time has come to cash their investment on the Afghan Taliban.

If this gamble of the establishment succeeds, the flip side is that they would be encouraged to continue using the non-state actors for furthering their policies in other countries also. Though everybody knew that Pakistan has been providing a safe haven to the Taliban, in the past officially Islamabad has been denying it. That is not the position anymore. We have now come out the closet and accepted our not so-secret relations with the Taliban. Pakistan has successfully involved the US and China in the proposed talks between Afghanistan and Taliban to counter any negative by India.

In this backdrop when Modi is being criticised for making an oblique reference to Pakistan supporting the terrorists, while addressing the Afghanistan assembly. We should bear in mind that this was to further pressurise Pakistan. Even before he was elected his emphasis was that Pakistan should stop cross-border terrorism. The tough posture on this issue and increase in the support to disgruntled Pakistani terrorist groups, helped India to make terrorism the number one issue on the agenda for negotiations.

On the other hand Pakistan also realised that India’s support to terrorist groups in the country is not going to let it win the war against terrorism at home. This Indian policy has pushed the Kashmir issue to a secondary position. By moving the talk between the national security advisers of the two countries to Bangkok it seems both have come to terms that terrorism issue will get priority in future parleys.

It is with this success in the first round that Modi has started moving towards normalising relations with Pakistan. The personal touch in this regard is Modi’s style. Even in Delhi he is blamed by many for not consulting his Cabinet ministers and running the government with the help of a few chosen bureaucrats. That’s why he praised Shahbaz Sharif’s style of management.

There are unconfirmed reports that his visit was preplanned and not impromptu. This perception helps the critics of Nawaz Sharif who don’t miss a chance to please the obese war economy lobby in Pakistan. Once again they are out raising the ‘Kashmir-first flag’ knowing fully well that this policy has not worked in the last 67 years in spite of our overt and covert adventures.

A simple question is when Modi had shown his desire to visit Pakistan what was our Prime Minister supposed to do? Tell Modi “excuse me I am a dummy Prime Minister and I have to seek the permission or say advice from the establishment before deciding to receive you.” The discussions on television at times and in newspapers are splenetic to borrow a term from the learned Khaled Ahmed on this issue.

Of course Pakistan has to safeguard its interests. But here one has to draw the line that are we talking about the interests of the war economy or of the people of Pakistan. Don’t tell me they are the same.The people of Pakistan and their self-interest is primary. They know that what we have we couldn’t manage well in the last 67 years. So to them Kashmir can wait while we continue to raise voice against the human rights violations in the wretched valley. The water issue should be dealt with separately, as it was done when the Indus Water Treaty was signed. Mixing it with the sovereignty over Kashmir is in conflict with our interests.

Both countries’ people will harvest a large peace dividend if their governments would move to resolve other issues where much progress was made in the back-door diplomacy during General Musharraf’s rule, as painstakingly narrated by Khurshid Kasuri in his book ‘Neither a hawk nor a dove.’

As this progress was made not by a civilian prime minister, but by an army chief the question embedded journalists should ask is: does the present establishment support the gains made during the military regime including Kashmir out-of-box solution? This clarification is badly needed to move forward with the peace process. That the twitter-happy fingers of the establishment are quiet on this peace initiative with India is only helping the spoilers who pontificate on talk shows. I am reminded of Omar Khayyam here who said:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy (Civies) Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

 

The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com He is author of “What’s wrong with Pakistan?”

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