Good India-Pak ties still a mirage: When will we start direct talks with Pak Army?

Some in the top brass of the Pakistani Army still harbour dreams of avenging the humiliation of 1971 and Kargil.

At a recent congregation at the India International Centre, New Delhi, a majority of attendees responded in the negative when asked if India and Pakistan will ever have good neighbourly relations. That wasn’t surprising. The only redeeming factor was the optimism shown by a handful of individuals in the hall. No matter how faint this optimism might seem at the moment and how thick and blinding might be the fog of scepticism, it does give us a ray of hope.

A former diplomat suggested that technology could be a facilitator in forming good neighbourly relations between the two countries. The GenNext on the two sides of the border, hooked on social networking sites as they are, propelled by their aspirations to partake the fruits of the 21st century, free from the rancour, bitterness and infectious hatred flowing from memories of the past, could possibly form an “Internet community” to interface, interact and share things of common interest to help overcome mistrust and generate a degree of understanding and appreciation of each other in today’s context and, in the process, sow the seeds of friendship which can better relations between the two neighbours. May be not like the United States and Canada but, at least, as neighbours who have learnt to live with each other peacefully.

Some in the top brass of the Pakistani Army still harbour dreams of avenging the humiliation of 1971 and Kargil. Many of them have built industrial empires by projecting false threats from India and fuelling anti-India sentiments. However, it is believed that the sons of generals in Pakistan aren’t too keen to follow in the footsteps of their fathers; they would rather explore success in other fields; this reflects a generational change in their attitude. Pakistan’s aspirational generation can’t remain blind to India’s progress and the high esteem it commands internationally; the youngsters question why it wasn’t the case with Pakistan.

Can these young men an women be the agents of de-radicalisation?

Naysayers dismiss such woolly-eyed romanticism of peaceniks; it is bound to fail, they say. They repeat the already established narrative about India-Pakistan relations: the creation of Pakistan and the horrors of Partition; Pakistan’s sinister designs since 1947: intrusion by the Rangers/Army, the conflicts of 1965, 1971, Kargil and terrorist attacks at the Red Fort, our Parliament and 26/11 in Mumbai. They will flag the known reality that the Army and the ISI call the shots in Pakistan while the elected civilian government has no say in matters related to foreign affairs and defence. They also talk about how dismally the government capitulated before the hardline protesters leading to the resignation of its law minister; the existence of hundreds of terrorist camps and Pakistan’s use of terrorism as a part of state policy. They point out, and rightly so, that Pakistan hasn’t yet taken any action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and is unlikely to do so. They remind how Pakistan had funded the Khalistani movement in the late 1980s and is forever trying to revive it. Besides, it has also been funding militant activity in Jammu and Kashmir for years.

They are right: Pakistan wants no role for India in Afghanistan. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and China’s increasing role in Pakistan, especially in the running of Gwadar port, is a cause of concern for India. Thanks to Chinese support, Pakistan probably has more nuclear weapons than India. But will doing nothing help?

According to a former high commissioner, not having a dialogue doesn’t give India any leverage against Pakistan; it isn’t a kind of punishment that will prompt Pakistan to be more amenable.

Isn’t it true that in the past 70 years no matter how fiercely the two countries have fought, how many lives have been lost and whatever they might have said against each other, sooner or later, India and Pakistan have returned to the discussion table? While right now no one can predict when the bilateral dialogue will be resumed, it will happen some day for sure.

All Prime Ministers of India, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi, have tried to have closer relations with Pakistan. Why? Because there is no denying the fact that, in the long run, having cordial relations with Pakistan is in India’s national interest. According to the chambers of commerce, in spite of turbulent bilateral relationship, India-Pakistan annual trade is estimated at $2 billion; the unofficial figures claim this figure to be $4.5 billion. On the social front, there are thousands of families whose relatives are living across the border, and they always look forward to easing of tensions between the two countries as it would make connecting with their family on the other side of the border hassle-free. What’s more, millions of Pakistanis are smitten by Bollywood divas while Pakistani singers have scores of fans in India.

Now is the time to foster our relations with Pakistan. The United States is exasperated with Pakistan for its half-hearted fight against terrorism; terrorist attacks against Chinese nationals in Pakistan are on the rise and though China has repeatedly blocked Masood Azhar’s inclusion in the UN list of terrorists, deepening Chinese apprehension about the dangers posed by Pakistan-based terrorists in its Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province should be exacerbated to our advantage. Further, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman seems determined to project his country’s image as a modern nation. He could also be nudged to pressure Pakistan to shun terrorism as a state policy. Similarly, India can exploit its growing warmth with Iran and request it (Iran) to reason with Pakistan not to waste its meagre resources in fighting India through a proxy war.

There also is a need to engage the Pakistan Army in direct talks, but we haven’t yet figured out how that can be done.

The writer is a retired Indian diplomat

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