Feb 24, 2010

Another perspective

The need of the hour: India-Pakistan détente, an atmosphere

conducive for progress on major contentious issues

By Alauddin Masood

Individuals and states want peace because it embodies opportunities enabling one to grow and prosper. It is the realisation of peace that provides an atmosphere conducive to inter-state trade, yielding considerable profits to businessmen and revenues to states in taxes/duties on goods. Peace also provides opportunities to citizens to get goods of their choice conveniently, comfortably and at reasonable rates.

South Asian countries, especially India and Pakistan, which have remained mired in disputes and rivalries, have a negligible inter-regional trade and failed in attracting foreign investments. This is despite the fact that they cater to the needs of almost one-fourth of the mankind. Consequently, the South Asia region remains under-developed, unable to provide even the basic necessities of life, like good education, health and civic facilities to most of its citizens.

Investors prefer to set up factories in countries where the law and order situation is under control. They flee from regions hit by violence and militancy. The entrepreneurs are like touch-me-not flowers, which wither away even with a single touch. In the same manner, investors promptly pack up from war-prone or conflict zones. As lack of investment hinders creation of additional job opportunities, this results in perpetuating misery and poverty in the violence-ridden regions.

In view of peace dividends, all states strive to achieve peace by securing their natural borders (like rivers and mountains) and keeping great distances through buffer zones, deserts, oceans, etc. between oneself and the potential enemies, or fostering social distance by prejudice and discrimination. However, it is another thing that national borders and distances become ludicrous in the age of rockets and missiles; while nationalist prejudices tend to break down in the age of extended interaction.

At macro level, the advantages of peace can be explained by making a comparative study of foreign investment in the Far East Asia and the South Asia and Afghanistan. Since the Far Eastern countries are, by and large, free from inter-state feuds, they have substantial regional trade and have also attracted sufficient foreign investments and, in the process, made considerable progress, earning the title of ‘Tiger Economies’.

Since the Soviet-inspired Saur Revolution (April 28, 1978), some parts of Afghanistan have remained engulfed in violence, militancy, death and destruction. The situation adversely impacted on the country’s economy. While it has weakened the formal sector, the informal sector (parallel or black economy) has become robust and a challenge for the land-locked state. Meanwhile, the condition of Afghan citizens has gone from bad to worse. Look what has happened to oil-rich Nigeria? Violence and turmoil has reduced it to a God-forsaken place on earth.

Cognizant of the importance of peace in the life of nations, one would commend the initiative taken by the South Asia subcontinent’s two media giants — Jang group in Pakistan and The Times of India across Pakistan’s eastern borders, aimed at establishing enduring peace in the region. Styled as ‘Aman ki Asha’, the quest of both media groups to bring peace enjoys popular support of the civil society in both the countries, where an overwhelming majority of people desire to see the growth of peaceful, friendly relations between their two nations.

According to a survey, some 72 of Pakistanis and 66 percent of Indians favour genuine and lasting peace between the two countries. No doubt, on both sides of the border, there exists some extremist elements that are very vocal and continue to churn out venomous propaganda but the peace process must not become hostage to their hawkish agenda. If before the arrival of the British, the Muslims and Hindus have lived together for centuries without any major conflict on the basis of religion, why can’t they live peacefully now?

At present, due to six decades of conflict and rivalry, South Asia is one of the poorest regions of the world. Some 20 percent of the global population lives here, but it produces only five percent of the global gross domestic product. It is time that the South Asian countries embark on the road to progress and prosperity by shunning war and concentrating on the socio-economic development of their people.

If the pursuit of peace gets primacy in both Pakistan and India, becoming the demand of an overwhelming majority of their citizens, this would automatically repel the hawks/extremists and compel the leaders and the establishment in both the countries to adopt an agenda that is in conformity with the popular aspirations of their people. Instead of competing to acquire latest weaponry, the leaders would then feel the need to foster and promote cooperation through a meaningful composite dialogue rather than observing the ritual of useless talks, aimed at gaining time while, in reality, refusing to accept the ground realities.

This brings to the fore the need for a strong political will for fostering an atmosphere conducive for the growth of peace. If the political will is there and the leaders lay down the objectives and the road-miles for their accomplishment, the minions of State can proceed towards achieving those objectives, making a beginning by identifying the root causes of bitterness, removing the road-blocks or irritants, making serious and earnest efforts to bridge the trust gap and, finally, embarking upon a programme of peaceful cooperation.

A beginning in that direction can be made by taking some more Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), like increasing the volume of bilateral trade and travel, relaxation in the visa regime, promoting people-to-people contacts (in particular exchange visits by traders, scholars, writers, journalists, artists, university students), resolving disputes like Siachen, Sir Creek, use of river water, starting work on Iranian gas pipeline, etc. Progress on these issues can set in motion a process of genuine India-Pakistan détente and promote an atmosphere conducive for progress on major contentious issues, like Kashmir.

The increase in interaction between various tiers of society would create a great constituency comprising of pro-peace elements while it would also give a great boost to the economic activities and bilateral trade, thus contributing to increasing prosperity and income levels of the people.

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