The recent bold initiative of two leading media groups to launch a comprehensive drive at bringing peace between the two nuclear armed antagonists of South Asia should be welcomed as a positive development. It will be a Herculean undertaking considering the complex nature of India- Pakistan relations, but is undoubtedly worth the cause.
It is fundamentally question of changing mindsets and making the cold-war weary people of both countries realise that confrontation has gone on far too long and done enormous damage to the people. In bringing about this transformation the vigorous media of India and Pakistan with the help of civil society can play a major role. In fact, some elements of media in both countries have been whipping up frenzy and ultranationalism that has prejudiced the minds of people. This tendency had reached new heights after the tragic Mumbai episode and it appeared as though patriotism was a direct function of how much one poured venom against the other.
Hardly had the announcement of this endeavour been made when the self-proclaimed defenders of Pakistan decried it as a ruse to bypass Kashmir and surrender of our cultural and national identity. It was also alleged that this was a cover to expand the commercial interests of media giants. As though quest for peace would erode Pakistan’s identity and making money and promoting valid commercial interests was a crime! In fact, one of the major incentives of improved relations is enjoying the benefits of a larger market, not just for the media but all segments of society. Moreover, national identity is strengthened when people have a stake in the state that provides economic prosperity, political stability and personal security and not by promoting a xenophobic culture of animosity.
Meanwhile, another development that served the interests of the hard-liners was the Indian army chief’s provocative presentation in a seminar, of simultaneously fighting a two-front war with Pakistan and China. He also claimed to be preparing for a limited war under a nuclear umbrella and equipping the military with highly mobile integrated units, capable of launching an offensive and completing the assigned mission within a span of 96 hours, as a part of “cold start” doctrine, something that has been known for sometime. General Kapoor might have been projecting a worst-case scenario for which India had to be prepared. Irrespective of whether this was deliberately or inadvertently leaked, it has further emotionally charged the Indo-Pakistan atmosphere.
The leak may also mean that the Indian military is serious in its preparation against a potential threat from China and needs all the support from the US and the western world. This policy converges with US long-term goals that it would like China to be challenged at the regional level so as to dissipate its capacity to be a serious challenger at the global scene. The very basis of India’s strategic partnership with the US is meant to balance China’s growing economic and military clout.
Additionally, India professes to remain a staunch partner of the west in the fight against radical Islam and “cold start” is meant as a fast punishing response to a militant attack by non-state actors who in connivance with Pakistan’s state institutions or autonomously commit any act of terrorism in India.
General Kapoor’s statement invited firm but measured response from Chairman JSCS and COAS and triggered a debate in the media that was over-reactive and unnecessary. There was talk in the strategic community that Pakistan’s nuclear posture that is recessed, opaque and weaponised should go operational, implying that war heads should be mated to delivery systems. The logic being after all Pakistan will have to adjust to India’s aggressive doctrine, its developing strategic alignments and threat perceptions and be in a higher state of readiness. This would indeed cut across the concept of strategic restraint and stability of which Pakistan has been an ardent proponent.
Thus, there are two clear options for India and Pakistan. Continue on the confrontational path that has generally characterised their relations for the last 62 years or take the route of finding peaceful ways of coexistence that could genuinely benefit the two people.
The advantages of cooperation are unlimited. If Pakistan is to take advantage of its strategic location, it must open its road and rail network for India’s trade with Central Asia, Iran and points beyond. Most importantly, South Asia’s energy needs can only economically met if this route is open. Presently, Pakistan’s eastern route is practically closed and on the western side it can hardly exploit the benefits due to instability in Afghanistan and the tribal agencies. Moreover, Afghanistan is where both countries are fighting their proxy wars instead of jointly working for its stability.
Besides, there are other distinct advantages in a cooperative framework. The present situation is leading to high defence expenditures, is aggravating poverty and inequalities and strengthening militant forces. Pakistan’s defence expenditure is nearly 1.9 times more than its combined public expenditure on health and education. This adverse relationship is costing the two countries socio-economic damage, loss of investment, diplomatic costs, weakening of institutions. Siachen is another classic example of how both countries are frittering away their scarce resources by the millions.
In addition, ecological damage that is taking place could cost the region a heavy price. Notwithstanding India’s impressive economic growth, there are still over 400 million people below the poverty line. Class disparities are leading to insurgencies that are spreading in several districts of north-east and moving downwards. For Pakistan, succeeding against the challenge of insurgency, overcoming its economic crisis and sustaining democracy are vital for preserving its integrity, and recovering its full sovereignty. All this would require peaceful borders.
We tend to forget that India and Pakistan not only “share boundaries but a shared civilisation”. The urgent need of today is that they work together in facing the challenge of eliminating poverty and combating terrorism and place themselves to adjust to the forces of globalisation and modernisation. This is also the only way forward for creating an amiable environment for addressing Kashmir and other complex issues that have bedeviled their relationship.