Mar 15, 2010

Imperatives of the peace process

The governments of both countries need to recognise each other’s legitimate interests if they are really interested in peace

By Rizwan Asghar

Human beings have a universal desire for peace – an essential ingredient for a happy and prosperous life. But the undisputable fact is that artificial distinctions on the basis of caste, creed and nationality have divided human beings throughout history, creating conflicts that prevent peace. The South Asian region is no exception, with its two largest countries (nuclear-armed to boot) constantly at loggerheads, to the extent of often being on the verge of war.

The two main religious communities of the region — Hindus and Muslims — coexisted in the sub-continent for centuries until the British colonisers with their policy of divide-and-rule sowed the seeds of enmity.

Decades later, the trust deficit is so vast that the bilateral dialogue between Pakistan and India, which should resolve contentious issues and pave the way for enduring peace, is constantly undermined by a lack of sincerity on either side and the subversive activities of their non-state actors. Negotiations resumed recently after a two-year hiatus in dialogue, in the wake of laborious efforts by concerned people in both countries and elsewhere.

Given the long gap, it is hardly surprising that the foreign secretaries meeting at the first formal dialogue on February 25 were unable to make headway on a single issue. The result was only an ‘agreement’ to remain in touch with each other. This meeting clearly manifested the deep-seated mistrust between the two countries, created by their respective politicians’ and military establishments’ short-sighted decisions adopted during the last six decades. The mistrust remains a major impediment in the way of restoring cordial relations between Pakistan and India.

The governments of both countries need to recognise each other’s legitimate interests if they are really interested in peace. The water dispute which has become a major irritant between the two countries needs to be resolved as soon as possible. With nearly half of Pakistan’s labour force dependent on agricultural sector, the acute scarcity of water resources makes this question an issue of the country’s survival. The perception in Pakistan is that India is dilly-dallying and denying to Pakistan its due share of water resources.

The deadly bomb blast in Pune that left 11 people dead was a despicable incident, staged as it transpires, by rouge elements within India. But extremist organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Shiv Sena were prompt to blame Pakistan, using the gory incident as a pretext to demand that the scheduled dialogue be called off. To its credit, the Indian government did not buckle under such pressure and proceeded with the talks. However, it will have to address the root causes which are giving rise to extremism on Indian soil. At such a critical juncture, it is of utmost importance that extremists should not be allowed to hijack the progress.

It must be appreciated that India itself took the initiative and asked Pakistan to resume dialogue. Unfortunately, New Delhi is bent upon focusing on the issue of terrorism, pushing for a single-item agenda during the talks. Pakistan on the other hand, sticks to its long-held stance that Kashmir is the core issue. Islamabad insists on discussing Kashmir, saying that without progress on that front, there can be no sustainable peace, and links the issues of terrorism and water to the Kashmir question.

It is only too apparent that the establishment of peace and restoration of friendly relations will be to the advantage of both sides. This cannot happen without an enabling environment. It is useless to continue pointing accusatory fingers at each other: neither country is blame-free when it comes to instigating hostile elements on the other side. We need to forget the past and start a new chapter in our mutual relations. The extremist organisations that are spewing hate on both sides of borders must be countered at any cost. It is high time to cast off the historical baggage and focus on areas amenable to our common interests.

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