Whatever the motivation, internal or external, behind the current moves for peace on the sub-continent, they must be welcomed as long overdue
BY ASHOK MITRA
EVEN if the gift horse is through the courtesy of Colin Powell,
it must not be looked at in the
Driven by their own interests, the Americans might, for the present, consider the containment of China as their overwhelmingly greater priority, and the two sub-continental regimes must somehow be persuaded to shelve their differences and unite on the American side. However, this view of things could well change tomorrow or the day after. The armament merchants might begin to chafe at the fall in their sales to India and Pakistan, the US President could have a new set of foreign policy advisers, US industrialists, with a gleam in their eye due to the growing prospects of exports to China, could apply pressure on the White House. We cannot therefore afford to take for granted that the climate of sweet reasonableness in India-Pakistan relations will be allowed to be an abiding phenomenon if left to external agencies. We ourselves have to continue to work for the denouement.
Amity with an infinite time horizon has to be the goal. Now that air travel between the two countries is re-established and the Samjhauta Express has restarted to roll in and roll out, there should be a deluge of goodwill delegations visiting India from Pakistan and Pakistan from India. School and college students, teachers, university professors, lawyers, doctors, women’s movement participants, artists, singers, thespians, film personalities, cricketers, tennis players, other sportsmen and athletes, railwaymen, engineers, technologists, bird watchers, irrigation experts: representatives of the peasantry, trade union activists: people from every walk of life who have either had past links with the other country or are itching to establish links should visit one another with increasing frequency. Serendipity; they will discover problems to share and solve together. From then on, ordinary people will take over the initiative and send the message to the two governments: other issues can wait, peace cannot.
The old Shakespearean adage has suddenly acquired acute relevance: there comes a tide in the affairs of men etc. Until now, visits in both directions were rationed and therefore spasmodic. And yet, it has been a magnificent experience at either end: householders, throngs and throngs of them, in Delhi and Hyderabad and Mumbai and Calcutta and Faisalabad and Peshawar and Lahore and Karachi have spread the welcome carpet: they have had enough of the silly season of induced hatred and mistrust; they now want a new regimen of peace and understanding.
Those who have been toiling ceaselessly for an India-Pakistan entente cannot obviously afford to rest on their oars. But they perhaps also need to link up the issue of peace with that of rapid and equitable economic and social development in both countries. In Pakistan as much as in India, despite the hoopla engineered by interested parties, the crucial reality is still the persistence of stark poverty and underdevelopment. Lagging education, health and employment opportunities has been and remains the outstanding issue. None of these can however be tackled with any degree of success unless budgetary allocations can be swung in their favour in a significant manner.
This is possible only if defence and security outlays are substantially reduced. Even for attaining minimum targets in social and economic spheres, the pre-requisite is Indo-Pakistan amity. As long as the two nations are prisoners of the obsessive dream to crush the enemy across the border, military and security lobbies will ride high and development issues will be relegated to the bottom of the drawer.
What is necessary to reverse the situation is the spread of liberal education of a most specific kind, of the kind which is able to explain to the humble folk of both countries that in today’s world even defence expenditure of an astronomical magnitude will fail to assure absolute military superiority over the perceived enemy; such expenditure will only help to perpetuate illiteracy, malnutrition and economic misery for the masses. How one wishes that the young people who crowded the recent fraternal delegations from India to Pakistan and vice versa took charge here! They must constitute the vanguard of a dedicated corps whose task will be to enlighten the populace in either country about the inverse relationship between sub-continental animosity and sub-continental growth.
Kashmir admittedly will remain a stumbling block. Some hopeful signs nonetheless deserve recognition. It could indeed be that the outbreak of peace festivity, including the invitation to the Hurriyat leadership, has plenty to do with the BJP’s anxiety to ensnare a part of the Muslim vote in the impending elections. But here, too, the BJP needs to be taken at face value: at the least, it must not be allowed to backtrack.
Simultaneously, those who oppose the overall BJP line might agree on a number of initial measures to create the necessary climate for more substantive discussions around Kashmir; for example, the release of political prisoners (dubbed as militants or otherwise), greater freedom of expression for every person and entity, and a phased withdrawal of troops on either side of the border.
The litmus test is elsewhere. The Indian establishment will have to descend from its high horse; Kashmir, they will have to accept, is not an inalienable part of India. In any event, they are not the final decision-makers in the matter. At the same time, the rulers in Pakistan must also be persuaded to concede the point that they have no veto in the matter; it is the people of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control who must determine the future of Kashmir.
Meanwhile, there is some wonderful news on the domestic front. The Bombay films on the theme of the Kargil war, extolling the jingo spirit and indulging in insensate Pakistan-baiting, have bombed at the box office. People, ordinary people are choosing to vote for peace, and not war.
(Dr. Ashok Mitra is chairperson of the Pak-India Forum for Peace and Democracy – PIPFPD).
Open letter to PM
December 31, 2003
I take this opportunity to thank you for keeping the Wagha-Attari border open for the 250 Indian delegates to the 6th joint convention of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy. It was a very considerate decision on the part of the government of India and the government of Pakistan as without this opportunity, many of our delegates could not have made this journey to Karachi, where the convention was held.
The 6th joint convention has been hailed as the largest in terms of the participation of delegates. Altogether about 500 delegates from India and Pakistan, from different walks of life, were present. The most significant aspect of the convention was the active involvement of a large contingent of youth from both countries. Their enthusiasm, openness and friendship touched us all. It encouraged us to believe that all these years of demonisation of each other have failed to poison the minds of our youth.
I am aware that the government of India has decided to allow persons over 65 years to cross the Wagha-Attari border on foot. While this is a timely decision that will enable many elderly persons to visit the members of their divided families and also meet with old friends, I want to request you to extend this facility to the youth, particularly to those below the age of 25 years.
On both sides young people have had very little opportunity to know the neighbours. On both sides there have been attempts to distort the image of the neighbour in order to keep us separated. The 6th joint convention has shown us that the youth have the capacity to bridge these gaps and reach across to each other in friendship.
Recently, you have announced several meaningful steps for confidence building between India and Pakistan. You will be going to Islamabad to attend the SAARC summit. I request that you also announce the decision to allow the young people of India and Pakistan to cross the Wagha-Attari border on foot. This will go a long way in building a meaningful relationship between the younger generation of the subcontinent.
With regards and best wishes for the New Year
Ashok Mitra, Chairperson,
Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.