By Saad Hafiz:
The recent veiled warnings and tough talk between India and Pakistan has largely abated. And not too soon, as hope was evaporating that the two nations might have, at long last, realised the futility of prolonged confrontation and might therefore give peace a chance. There is no getting around the fact that the two neighbours consider each other arch enemies. This antagonism is not only on a state-to-state level. The people of the two countries also share the feeling.
Politicians on both sides, preoccupied with their own elections and re-elections and under pressure by internal lobby groups, added to the inflamed atmosphere, and their own rhetorical strategies circumvented meaningful communication between the two nations. Their initial reaction fed into the domestic demand to whip up xenophobia in order to stay in power. The recent tensions confirm how easily the atmosphere between the two countries and peoples can be manipulated from peace to war. Diplomacy that maintains an uneasy co-existence is quickly replaced by one that approaches the emotionally and vengefully nationalistic. Matters that should have been sorted out between the two militaries under existing processes and procedures were placed in the public domain, probably by elements inimical to the peace process.
The problem of the organisational relationship between a larger and smaller power plays a role in the confrontation. India is frustrated that in its relationship with Pakistan, its overwhelming military and economic superiority is not counting for much. Pakistan on the other hand, continues its obsessive pursuit of ‘parity’ with India and a pathological refusal to accept any status of inferiority. In the words of the South-Asia scholar Stephen Cohen: “One of the most important puzzles of India-Pakistan relations is not why the smaller Pakistan feels encircled and threatened, but why the larger India does. It would seem that India, seven times more populous than Pakistan and five times its size, and which defeated Pakistan in 1971, would feel more secure. This has not been the case and Pakistan remains deeply embedded in Indian thinking. There are historical, strategic, ideological, and domestic reasons why Pakistan remains the central obsession of much of the Indian strategic community, just as India remains Pakistan’s.”
There are powerful hardliners in the two countries with sizeable constituencies of their own, dogmatically committed to the policy of enmity. These constituencies advocate retrogressive and religion-based policies at home and hostile relations across the borders. They have over time refined a mindset that prompts their supporters to talk of teaching each other a lesson. Both governments should have taken steps to curb and contain these constituencies. Neither government has so far demonstrated any desire to do so. Both governments should recognise that the resolution of outstanding issues rests squarely on them. People-to-people contacts can create a favourable climate, but they cannot by themselves pave the way for peace.
India believes that Pakistan is unwilling to genuinely end its politics of confrontation with India, an integral part of which is the over-assertion of its Islamic identity. This is reflected in the propagation of its jihadi mentality, the nurturing of extremist religious groups involved in terrorism, and the political domination of the military in the governance of the country. The ‘war-crowd’ in India sees a permanent reason and a great opportunity to invade Pakistan and finish it forever. They feel India needs no excuse to invade Pakistan, since it has an excuse every day, and Pakistan keeps giving India more reasons without interruption. Pakistan’s failure to take any substantive step in the last four years to try those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack and the unwillingness of its leadership to accept that terrorism remains a crucial outstanding issue in India-Pakistan relations indicates that the nexus between the jihadi groups and political and military power centres in Pakistan will not be easily broken.
India should look to hopeful signs that the powerful ‘India-centric’ Pakistani military has concluded that persistent hostility towards India and an obsession with Kashmir has done great damage to Pakistan. This may allow Indian leaders to decide that some normalisation with Pakistan is necessary for India to play a wider role in the world. This is the basis for a truce between the two countries, but not the basis for a peace. For that to occur, there will have to be more profound changes in their deeper relationship, for they will remain two states allergic to each other without the development of strong economic, cultural and political ties.
If the examples of the countries that have established durable peace after prolonged confrontation are any guide, a willingness to concede ground is critical to establishing peace. The rhetoric of hollow nationalism without a willingness to honourably concede substantial ground is not adequate for peace-making. People have to be psychologically prepared that durable peace is not achievable without substantial concessions. They have to be made aware that the concessions made would be in the long-term interest of the two countries. Until this is done, a sound basis for trust and conflict-resolution cannot be created.