A No-Win Standoff

No, they are not really dancing together—India and Pakistan. Yet they miss no chance to keep the world in good humour by reiterating their ‘strong desire’ to resolve all the disputes left by history, peacefully and through dialogue. On the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia’s capital last month Pakistan foreign minister Ms Hina Rabbani Kher said the two sides needed sincere efforts to ensure that they were able to achieve the ‘results that they have not been able to achieve so far’. And Ms Kher’s Indian counterpart Mr S M Krishna just complemented her at the same venue for her efforts in improving India-Pakistan bilateral ties while interacting with the media persons. But ground reality is completely otherwise. No doubt both India and Pakistan are in the second decade of the 21st century, but both sides are still reluctant to advance with the times in their thinking, policies and actions, notwithstanding their public rhetorics couched with beautiful words.

Even yesterday Pakistan was uniquely placed to have the best of the both worlds—‘interest free’ economic cooperation from China and a security umbrella from the United States. With their relations with the US strained over the Afghan imbroglio and Pakistan-based jihadi outfits targeting American soldiers in the Pak-Afghan border region, they now talk of peace with India quite often while reserving their stated positions on what they call the core issue—Kashmir. India has not been able to change its neighbour since 1947 and it is unlikely they would see eye to eye even in the distant future. Foreign ministers come, foreign ministers go. And after every bout of ‘fruitful discussions’ at the table, they are simply back to square one. But this exercise in escapism doesn’t deter them to deceive themselves by continually hoping, somewhat against hope, that they could live in harmony. They can deny the fact that today they are two nations because of the communal award by the British. Strictly speaking the recent talks between India and Pakistan have been going on not in a logical and acceptable framework and are right row continuing for the sake of continuation. The generation after generation in Pakistan is being injected with anti-India vaccine from school to higher institutions that matter in public life, how India, the number one enemy of Pakistani people has been systematically trying to destroy their country for more than six decades. If they think they could change this enemy perception simply by arranging periodic lunch and dinner parties—or for that matter some cricket extravaganza—they are really living in a fool’s paradise. In truth cooperation and exchange in cultural fields can act as the engine for further promoting the people-to-people and non-governmental exchanges. Given today’s atmosphere nobody is hopeful of such cooperation. They are actually discouraging, if not blocking, people-to-people initiatives. And yet they boast of cultural common ground and the common roots in the ancient history and civilisation.

Kashmir apart, Afghanistan too is now a bone of contention. Islamabad thinks they could assert their regional supremacy because of being a nuclear weapons power only by not allowing India to have access to Kabul’s future powerbrokers and making SAARC (South Asian Area Regional Cooperation) a non-starter even after so many decades since its birth. If today Pakistan is showing a little bit of flexibility in their India policy it is because America has changed its South Asia strategic equation showing a tilt towards India. Unless there is improvement in people-to-people relationship in social and cultural fields and substantial increase in bilateral trade all this talk of peace is just too skin deep to be taken seriously. After all two parallel lines never meet. Diplomacy is fine as it helps to buy time and keep the ball rolling to avoid the blame game. Without a radical change in the region it is next to impossible to enhance mutual trust without which good relations between the two states will never flourish. Then no ‘Arab spring’ is in the making in this region, albeit in many Arab countries the age of revolutionary romance is over as chaos is overtaking revolution. They are prisoners of the past while the future is as uncertain as it was 65 years ago.
But China is altogether a different issue. Despite disputed borders in the Himalayas and a bitter memory of 1962 conflict, India is not against maintaining a low profile while talking China in amenable voices which is not really the case with Pakistan. Of late India’s China policy emphasises all-out cooperation whatever it means in real life, as all the major mainstream parties—Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), CPM etc—are in agreement that India’s alliance with China in any form, either in business or in regional pressure grouping, is bound to make global impact. And it has potential to increase India’s bargaining power with America and the West. Indian policymakers look wise enough not to commit another himalayan blunder.

In 2011 the two most populous countries witnessed the year of India-China Exchange. Congress is hawking the idea that the economic rise of India and China is not confrontational, not adverse, it is complimentary to each other. Even the so-called ultra-nationalist BJP thinks China is seriously trying to solve the border issue. At no point of time CPM had any dispute with China in the latter’s approach to the Himalayan border dispute. Encouraged by China’s switch over to market economy and neo-liberalism, they think both India and China are moving in the right direction to articulate their joint efforts on contentious global issues. The convergence of views of India and China on many things, global and not so global, is actually, they think, paving the way for lastig peace and democracy in the sub-continent. But democracy as they understand it doesn’t exist in China. The growing realisation in India’s leading political circles that India will have to finally settle the border dispute on China’s terms, is gaining momentum. What all they can do is to delay the inking. They have been talking of peaceful resolution of the border question for the last 50 years; they could wait for another 50 years to see the light at the end of the tunnel. One reason China continues to pose softer stance towards India, despite some unpleasant irritations along the border from time to time, is America’s policy to contain China—not a communist China anymore. Genuine friendship between peoples holds the key to growing good relations between states and it is not really on the agendas of crisis managers of New Delhi, Islamabad and Beijing, no matter what they are saying—or not saying—in public.

Vol. 45, No. 3, July 29-August 4, 2012