Views from Pakistan

There is Just One Issue: Kashmir

Mehr Tarar is a well-known Pakistani columnist and author
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Pakistan would not be able to have internal and external peace unless its relationship with India is stabilised

THE SURREALNESS OF it all. In a few months, the making and breaking of a relationship that was flawed to begin with assumed the form of a black comedy in all its grotesque colours before it unravelled like the reverie of a child almost unconscious with 105º fever. Pakistan and India. Pakistan-India. Pakistan or India. Two countries that need one or the other to define them in the context of each other: ‘and’, hyphen, ‘or’. Two countries of almost one-and-a-half billion people but with only a single word to refer to the other: ‘enemy’.

The first thing that unfolds in all its seriousness and frivolity is this: Pakistan and India do not wish to give up their mutual aggression. A series of events in the last few years has reinforced my almost-bleak belief that for reasons unknown to pragmatism, Pakistan and India wish to perpetuate the status quo. Call it what you will: animosity, enmity, hostility, uneasy co-existence with an uncontrollable neighbour (read: Pakistan), or resistance to the hegemonic designs of the bigger neighbour (read: India). There is a dash of truth in all of these, and there are multiple factors in play that act as obstacles to peace. The principal reason is one: Pakistan and India are unwilling to redefine their relationship by putting in efforts that would connote a serious commitment to changing the status quo.

Too much has been said in the past few weeks, and while no one, officially, from either side has issued a statement that could be taken as a categorical representation of the state’s position on the situation, there has been such an overwhelming cacophony of jingoism and war-mongering that it is increasingly difficult to sift truth from propaganda, facts from hearsay, reporting from blame-games, analysis from judgement, and impartial opinion from personal views. A war has been announced, primarily from the Indian media’s side and gleefully taken up by the Pakistani side, because—let’s face it—who is interested in a boring little thing called peace?

Peace does not get noisy, shrill, hyper-nationalists in your TV studios whose words if translated into action would blow Pakistan to smithereens in seconds. Peace does not make you patriotic and increase your TRPs. Peace does not send testosterone into a frenzy, turning normal people into wild-eyed, chest-thumping, screaming primitive warriors. Peace does not win you Twitter tournaments of jingoistic trends and bigoted hash-tags.

In October 2016, peace has become a five-letter word that is used as a derogatory epithet, a cuss word and a filthy adjective to define your lack of love for your country.

OUR HISTORY IS full of blood, memories of that blood, and the aftermath of that blood. Since 1947, from the brutal carving of one country out of another to the redrawing of borders in 1948, to the unnecessary war of 1965, to the loss of one part of the carved country in a backdrop of civilian management and military shortsightedness in 1971, to another military misadventure in Kargil in 1999, blood has been covered with more blood. It’s a blood-congealed circle. Too much has happened. And there seemed no real effort to go beyond the bloodied history of Pakistan and India. Something’s gotta give. Someone had to say it, and not another drop of blood too soon.

Pakistan’s civilian governments in the last two decades have declared, time and again, their sincere wish to make peace with India, and to have a better relationship with the country. India seems to have reciprocated in positive terms. Yet, there has been a series of attacks, statements, cancellation of summits, threats of war, and a steadfast refusal to act like two sovereign states, states that are clear about one thing: peace.

In my opinion, as a proponent of peace and a patriotic Pakistani who is a well-wisher of India, there is only one solution to the Euripidean tragedy that is the Pakistan-India relationship today: an ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible composite dialogue’. This famous advice of Mani Shankar Aiyar for leaders of India and Pakistan is magnificent in its simplicity. The only way forward for the two countries is the only thing that is stopped as soon as something happens: talks.

In February 2007, 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, were killed in the Samjhauta Express attack as the train moved past Panipat towards Amritsar on its way to Pakistan’s border. After a four-year probe, on 20 June 2011, Indian NIA charged Hindu extremists Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi, Lokesh Sharma, Dange and Kalasangra ‘for hatching a criminal conspiracy’. Pakistanis, to date, raise the question of what was done in that case, in which they believe the families of Pakistani victims got no justice.

I remember the day in November 2008 when I heard the news of attacks in Mumbai. As I watched with horror the TV reports, I uttered a prayer for the people of Mumbai. A friend who was going to the city for a business meeting received a call from the Marriott there, advising him not to travel. A sensible bit of advice, but for how long would that serve us in dealing with situations that arise before one can even enunciate the word ‘peace’? India’s reaction to the Mumbai attacks of 26 November 2008 was what it was. It was a moment that changed India irrevocably, and as India mourned the deaths of 160-plus people, the world mourned with India. Including Pakistan.

Pakistan, as soon as it accepted that the perpetrators of the attacks—the face of which was Ajmal Kasab—were from this country, should have started a proper process of investigation, ensuring full dispensation of justice to the victims. A legal process did start. Years later, in 2014, the alleged mastermind of those attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, was released on bail. The case remains unfinished, a constant impediment to better relations between the two neighbours.

Instead of initiating a proper mechanism to deal with cases of terrorism—signing treaties for the extradition of suspects and the exchange of information and intelligence inputs—Pakistan and India simply did what they always do: hurl blame and stop talking.

Pakistan’s stance should be categorical: no militant intervention in Kashmir. The pain of Kashmiris is felt by Pakistanis, but the way for Pakistan to help Kashmiris is to support peaceful ways to get their voices heard

There are constant violations of the Line of Control for which both side blames the other. Pakistani media highlights the casualties and damage done to Pakistanis, and the Indian media describes—louder and angrier—how Pakistani soldiers shoot innocent Indians. Pakistani news channels are not shown in India, which follows the same policy: let’s keep the people ignorant of what the other side is saying. Now, courtesy of online live streaming of TV content, many people watch what is being shown as news reports on the other side. But while people are quick to believe, and even quicker to judge, there is this conditioned laziness that obstructs the desire to obtain full information on a subject and arrive at what really happened and not what should have happened.

The complex dynamics of the Pakistan- India relationship gets narrowed into binaries of black and white. For the Indian audience, Pakistan is an army-run, rogue, terrorist state that is on the verge of internal collapse and faces international isolation. For Pakistani viewers, India is an arrogant, emerging power that likes to bully all its smaller neighbours, Pakistan included, is governed by a megalomaniac who hates Muslims, and pursues a systematic persecution of Kashmiris.

For Indians, Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism in India and its ‘integral part’ Kashmir. For Pakistan, India is a state sponsor of terrorism in Balochistan and other parts of the country. For India, Pakistanis hate Indians, and thus their endorsement of India-centric terror. For Pakistan, all that happens in Kashmir is indigenous, of which Pakistan is an open supporter. For India, all terrorist attacks, with or without an investigation, originate in Pakistan. For Pakistan, all such attacks are false flag operations aimed at destroying Pakistan’s already tarnished image in the comity of nations. For India, anything that happens in Kashmir is Pakistan-sponsored, endorsed and financed. And for Pakistan, Kashmir is an unresolved issue, and India’s allegations against Pakistan are simply a cover for its refusal to address that issue.

The January Pathankot incident and September Uri attack in which 18 Indian soldiers lost their lives are both awful manifestations of how a warped mindset orchestrates the narrative between Pakistan and India, setting the template for that predictable knee- jerk reaction: ‘We will not talk to you now.’ Back to square one. The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore on 25 December had thawed the icy relationship in a manner years of diplomatic overtures would not have. The Pathankot attack, despite its audacious aim, opened a new chapter in the debacle of a relationship. Pakistan’s government, in an unprecedented move, offered its assistance in the case.

The Indian media, in the meantime, kept up its pandemonious cries of ‘state-sponsored Pakistan terrorism’, and Pakistani media in retaliatory mode tried to give it back in the same self-defeating ‘It’s-India-that’s-bad’ rhetoric. The debacle of the SAARC meeting of interior ministers in Islamabad, in which unfortunately once again the Pakistan-India ‘enmity’ dominated all other regional issues, invoking a sense of frustration among other member states, resulted in further deterioration of the situation. After the United Nations General Assembly speeches, it worsened. And the Uri tragedy sealed it. For the time being.

The predictable happened. India cancelled its visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit, followed by four other members. Actors are banned, movies are banned, and Pakistanis will not attend Indian literary festivals and vice versa.

While India does not have any rational explanation of what Pakistan’s government and establishment would gain by killing Indian soldiers in Uri, there are certain questions that must be asked of Pakistan by Pakistan. The country must show that it is sincere in its commitment to eliminate terror from its soil. That there will be no compartmentalisation of terror. That there are no good or bad terrorists. That all India-centric terror will be looked into and dealt with just as all Pakistan-centric terror is. That the term ‘non-state actors’ is not used as a camouflage to turn a blind eye to banned militant organisations that freely operate in Pakistan invoking jihad against India. That any perpetrator of terror in India who is of Pakistani origin is caught and punished. That people like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar, leaders of banned organisations, are not glorified as ‘heroes’ and allowed to hold rallies.

The almost two-month long curfew, arrests of thousands of people, curbing of press freedom, incarceration of separatist leaders, and the refusal to have a UN appraisal of the situation in Kashmir are all a stark manifestation of the enormity of the unrest there. Almost 100 people killed, hundreds blinded and thousands injured is a huge deal in any country, under any circumstances, at any time. And Pakistan in its absolute support—emotional, moral, diplomatic—of Kashmir’s indigenous struggle stands with Kashmiris.

But in 2016, for the sake of Pakistan and for the short and long term good of Kashmir, Pakistan must denounce any kind of armed support any organisation in Pakistan is giving or planning to give Kashmiris. Pakistan’s stance should be categorical: no militant intervention in Kashmir. The pain of Kashmiris is felt by Pakistanis, but the way for Pakistan to help Kashmiris is to support peaceful ways to get their voices heard. And for Indian security forces to end their excesses in Kashmir. Violence begets violence, and violence quickly descends into genocide if the two sides are unevenly matched in every possible way. Notwithstanding Pakistan’s past and present tacit and open support of the Kashmiri right to self-determination, the debate is open on the indigenousness of the present unrest, supported by many pro-India Kashmiri politicians, analysts and former government and military officials.

India would not be able to attain regional leadership unless there is peace with its neighbour

For all who seek peace, it begins with a basic step: listen to the wails from the beautiful vale of Kashmir. Peace in Kashmir is the first and last casualty of power games between Pakistan and India. And nothing would change unless India is ready to talk to Pakistan on that one issue which is the raison d’etre of all problems between the countries: Kashmir.

It is not merely about tackling terrorism. It is not about the UN Resolutions, or the Simla Agreement. It is not about the four wars between Pakistan and India. It is not even about the water of rivers that flow from Kashmir. It is about old enemies moving forward. It is about putting the country beyond the self. It is about the bigger picture, setting aside old grievances and bloodied history. It is about India agreeing to a dialogue that would address the fundamental issue: Kashmir.

India cannot go on using one excuse after another to side-line the real issue. If Kashmir is an ‘integral part’ of India, then why is there a constant refusal to resolve the issue? If Kashmir will always be a part of India, what is the fear India has in addressing the pain of Kashmiris? If India does not wish to talk to Pakistan on Kashmir, why have all Indian governments reiterated, time and again, that they would resolve all issues between the two countries? There is just one issue: Kashmir.

This is the time that Pakistan and India must start talking. This is a time for statesmanship to replace political point-scoring. Both governments must shed the pretence of not-giving-a-damn about the other, and start looking at the bigger picture. Pakistan would not be able to have internal and external peace unless its relationship with India is stabilised. And India would not be able to attain regional leadership unless there is peace with its neighbour.

Improvement of relations between Pakistan and India is a national and regional imperative, the first steps of which are not rocket science. It is not about Pakistan’s international ‘insignificance’ and India’s growing strength. Two countries—notwithstanding differences in their size, capability and resources— that can benefit much from each other because of their geographical proximity, similarity of issues and cultural and historical affinity, cannot go on like two petulant school bullies who whenever there is an issue turn their backs to one another, uttering the same old cliché of an excuse: ‘You are bad, and now I will not talk to you.’

A dialogue is what Pakistan and India owe to their people and Kashmir. It must start, and it should remain uninterrupted and uninterruptible.

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