Passage to Delhi

Whatever took place in the two hour-plus one-on-one meeting on Sunday April 17, 2005 in New Delhi between the Pakistani President and the Indian PM must have been extremely satisfying to both the sides, the body language spoke volumes! And the Joint Statement said it all, “the peace process was irreversible”. The visit certainly had far more ramifications than the innocent façade of just watching a cricket match. In May 2001 the Indian leadership had split apart and resiled at Agra on the agreed draft on flimsy grounds, citing the mention (even) of the Kashmir problem by the Pakistani President at a breakfast meeting with Editors of the Indian print and electronic media. The atmospherics has changed enough nearly four years to the day for the Indians to now take in their stride the underscoring of Kashmir as a lingering problem to be solved for lasting peace in South Asia. When I had then made an innocent comment among a group of media persons that given sincerity on both sides a Kashmir solution was possible, a cynical MJ Akbar of Asian Age cut me dead, “he has the magic formula”, was his withering announcement to those around. Since he is a media mogul, they all snickered appropriately. This time around a born-again Akbar waxed eloquent on all cylinders on every conceivable channels, print and/or electronic, to whoever would or would not listen, a “Kashmir solution is possible given the sincerity”, Eureka!

Chasing a mammoth 300 plus Pakistani total, the defining moment in the sixth ODI in the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground was the fall of the sixth Indian wicket for less than 100 runs, a section of the crowd vented their anger at their own players by raining bottles, etc on the ground. This show of frustration lasted for a few minutes and it would have been a disappointment if it hadn’t happened. In the same position we would have been hard put not to. That the game went on without any hiccup thereafter is symbolic of developing maturity in the relationship between the two countries, a myriad number of peripheral issues will crop up, India and Pakistan should not let these get in the way of lasting peace.

Pakistan has an India-fixation and it is also true vice versa. When a fixation is negative it can be destructive but in a positive mode it can harness competitive spirit for mutual gain, why should not be India touting Pakistan rather than Pakistan-bashing and Pakistan eulogizing India’s plus points? That should not only be the correct fixation, it should be the only fixation. Coalescing the competitive spirit in a positive manner that we saw, in not only the sixth and final ODI but in all the matches, this world is in for a real surprise. This is still the beginning of the century, instead of being a Chinese one as intelligent thinking now surmises this may still end up being a South Asian century. Pessimists may feel that we may be letting our optimism combine to let our imagination run too far, has one really evaluated the potential of coordinated inter-country cooperation in South Asia? Have we really gauged the skills, capacity for innovation and hard work, determination and competitive nature of the raw South Asian spirit? We simply have to come to terms with ourselves. In the middle centuries, the Indian sub-continent was the accepted destination of profit, Christopher Columbus discovered America only when he lost his way trying to find a route to India.

One would really have to be an incurable optimist to believe in the post-euphoria of the Delhi talks that emancipation in the sub-continent is around the corner and things will be hunky dory ever after. However one would have to be blind not to see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, kept alight by the courage of leaders who have the larger interests of their peoples and nations, and did not succumb to the easy temptation of inflammatory rhetoric of those using cheap nationalism to further their own individual agendas. While the present leadership of Pakistan and India did not flinch despite decades of being bombarded by years of a one-agenda psyche of attacking each other with anything handy without hesitation, discretion or discrimination, one must not forget the efforts of earlier leaders of both sides! In Pakistan both Ms Benazir or Mian Nawaz Sharif in their respective turns at the Prime Ministerial-crease tried to further the process, and they had the handicap of having the Army looking over their shoulders as an unforgiving umpire. Not to say that soldier Musharraf does not have to cater to those looking over his shoulder in case he may be giving up much too much in return for not much! And what about the Indian leadership? And among Indian leaders can one forget Moraji Desai’s efforts, or that of IK Gujral, or Rajiv Gandhi?

While the Indian Army has not shown any Bonapartist inclination of shedding civilian control and opt for adventurism, mainly because they have not been given the opportunity, they have an equal or maybe even more ideologues and hot-heads wanting to scuttle the whole process for reasons misplaced. And why not include a whole lot of civilian nationalists ready to yell “sell out” every time any Indian leader attempts to reconcile with Pakistan? Normally jingoism would be taken as a BJP (alongwith their allied right wing) prerogative but since the latest round of talks actually started with Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad in Jan 2003, the BJP can hardly oppose the ongoing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), some of which it had itself been suggesting. In any case leaders on either side still risk being labeled as being too “soft” on the other country by extremists, they can be vicious in cutting down those who dare show any signs of compromise.

The great advantage the present leaders of India and Pakistan have is the groundswell of positive public opinion on both sides of the border. Not only are the intelligentsia and masses fed up of confrontation, their aspirations are primarily based on emotions, particularly that of divided families. Social pluses aside, many other benefits would accrue, economic and political. This process has been greatly helped along by leaders of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (not excluding Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan) actively welcoming the developments. In fact one of the dangers would be that in the euphoria of a India-Pakistan détente, the other countries of South Asia, particularly Bangladeshi and Sri Lanka, are seemingly ignored. This would be not only very counter-productive but disastrous. Bangladeshi fears, in particular, need to be assuaged. The arithmetics of economics can easily enumerate the advantages of South Asian cooperation, holding the European Union (EU) and ASEAN as models. While the EU is looking at a total political integration to follow their economic unity, the Association of South East Asian Nations have their relationship purely economic without attempting anything political. Each of the South Asian countries would like to maintain their distinct political identity, as such we would be far better off on the ASEAN economic model. Political conformity will eventually follow economic cohesiveness but with independence and sovereignties intact, who is the loser, except those who do not dare?

The problem does not lie with the broad mass of the people of the South Asian countries but can be narrowed down to the hard-core establishment of the various member nations, whose absolute fiefdoms will be threatened by the expanding cooperation. Having a motivated interest in keeping any confrontation going, that is the raison d’etre for their existence, some of our public sector entities thrive on obscurantism, and it is not confined to any one country. And that is our greatest threat, how to overcome the inherent in-built suspicions and motivations (and nuisance values) of those who have prospered for decades in confrontation? Woe betide those who would threaten “this their daily bread”. That is the ultimate challenge, to get the Establishment of each of the South Asian member countries, particularly India and Pakistan, to shed their obstructionist skins and get on board the “Passage to Delhi”!