Geography of hope
I write these words in Lahore, in the midst of a brief but hugely interesting visit to Pakistan. As one who has always advocated hard-headed realism in dealing with our neighbour, while greatly respecting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s vision that the highest strategic interest of both countries lies in development and the eradication of poverty rather than in military one-upmanship, I have begun to think of how much we could both gain if we replaced our current narrative of hostility with one of hope.
What is the way forward for India? It is clear that we want peace more than Pakistan does, because we have more at stake when peace is violated: we cannot grow and prosper without peace, and that is the one thing Pakistan can give us that we cannot do without.
By denying us the peace we crave, Pakistan can undermine our vital national interests, above all that of our own development. Investors shun war zones; traders are wary of markets that might explode at any time; tourists do not travel to hotels that might be commandeered by fanatical terrorists. These are all serious hazards for a country seeking to grow and flourish in a globalising world economy.
Even if Pakistan cannot do us much good, it can do us immense harm, and we must recognise this in formulating our policy approaches to it. Foreign policy cannot be built on a sense of betrayal any more than it can be on illusions of love. Pragmatism dictates that we work for peace with Pakistan precisely so that we can serve our own people’s needs better.
So we must engage Pakistan because we cannot afford not to. And yet — the problem of terrorism incubated in Pakistan will not be solved overnight. Extremism is not a tap that can be turned off once it is open; the evil genie cannot be forced back into the bottle. The proliferation of militant organisations, training camps and extremist ideologies has acquired a momentum of its own. A population as young, as uneducated, as unemployed and as radicalised as Pakistan’s will remain a menace to their own society as well as to ours.
This is not a counsel of despair. It is, instead, an argument to offer a helping hand. A neighbour full of desperate young men without hope or prospects, led by a malicious and self-aggrandising military, would be a permanent threat to 21st century India. If India can help Pakistan transcend these circumstances and help it develop a stake in mutually beneficial progress, it will be helping itself as well. In such an approach lies the slender hope of persuading Pakistan that India’s success can benefit it too; that rather than trying to undercut India and thwart its growth, Pakistan should look to the advantages that might accrue to it as a neighbour and partner of an upwardly mobile and increasingly prosperous India.
Such an India can build on the generosity it has often shown by extending itself to its neighbour, offering a market for Pakistani traders and industrialists, a creative umbrella to its artists and singers, and a home away from home for those seeking a refuge from the realities of Pakistani life. Sadly India has reacted to 26/11 and other Pakistani provocations by tightening its visa restrictions and restraining other possibilities of cultural and social contact. This may be an area in which risks are worth taking, since the advantages of openly issuing visas and enhancing opportunities for Pakistanis in India outweigh the dangers; after all, the terrorists of 26/11 did not apply for Indian visas before coming onshore with their deadly baggage. It will be argued that Pakistan will not reciprocate such one-sided generosity, but India should not care. Insisting on parity with Pakistan is to bring ourselves down to their level.
Let us show a magnanimity and generosity of spirit that in itself stands an outside chance of persuading Pakistanis to rethink their attitude to us.
The big questions — the Kashmir dispute and Pakistan’s use of terrorism as an instrument of policy — will require a great deal more groundwork and constructive, step-by-step action for progress to be made. But by showing accommodativeness, sensitivity and pragmatic generosity, India might be able to turn the bilateral narrative away from the logic of intractable hostility in which both countries have been mired for too long.
The joker in the pack remains the Pakistani Army. Until the military men are convinced that peace with India is in their self-interest, they will remain the biggest obstacles to it. One hope may lie in the extensive reach of the Pakistani military apparatus and its multiple business and commercial interests.
Perhaps India could encourage its firms to trade with enterprises owned by the Pakistani Army, in the hope of giving the military establishment a direct stake in peace.
The world economic crisis should give us an opportunity to promote economic integration with our neighbours in the subcontinent who look to the growing Indian market to sell their goods and maintain their own growth. But as long as South Asia remains divided by futile rivalries and some continue to believe that terrorism can be a useful instrument of their strategic doctrines, that is bound to remain a distant prospect. If India and Pakistan can embrace an interrelated future on our subcontinent, geography can become an instrument of opportunity in a mutual growth story and history can bind rather than divide. It is a future worth striving for, in the interests of both our peoples.
The writer is a member of Parliament from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram constituency
The noteworthy points on the "aman ki asha" track.
1. That Pakistan hold a veto on peace and our progress.
2. We must engage Pakistan without expecting any movement of the terror track
3. we must offer a helping hand and be generous.
4. Integration (cultural & Economic) will yield the desired results
5. The joker in the pack remains the Pakistani Army. So give them a stake in peace.
I disagree with the veto theory and that we can convince joker to smoke the peace pipe by our generosity. History is against such a miracle.
It is not the pakis we have to fear the most, it is our own politicians. I have great faith in the tactical brilliance of the paki. They will keep on slapping our politicians whenever this "aman ka tamasha" get too far off the tracks IMHO.