What is keeping India and Pakistan apart? Nothing, if seen through one perspective, and a great deal when looked at from another point of view - the latter, unfortunately, continuing to dominate the minds of those at the helm of affairs on both sides of the border.
That is what frustrates former Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who does not wish to wait for 70 years to see peace between the two neighbouring states.
“It’s not as if there haven’t been efforts for peace over the years,” she noted while speaking as a panelist in a session on India-Pakistan relations on Sunday at the Karachi Literature Festival 2016.
“Yet we have failed every time. We have never come to a point where disputes are resolved. In fact, they have continued to pile up.”
Khar observed that Mumbai, Pathankot and Samjhota attacks had pushed back both the countries each time into becoming rivals again.
“It’s about time that we stop comforting ourselves that eventually there’ll be peace, and focus on the hindrances in achieving it,” she added.
Khar said there was a deep-seated narrative that we needed to stop teaching our children.
However, another panelistKhurshidMahmudKasuri, also a former Pakistani foreign minister, reminded the much younger Khar, who had also remained his son’s classmate, that peace was impossible without having a large degree of optimism.
“I won’t give up. I have greater confidence than Hina that peace will become possible sooner than later,” he added. Kasuri, the author of “Neither a Hawk nor aDove: An insider’s account of Pakistan's foreign policy”, said it was necessary to maintain a level of strategic balance and being cognisant of ground realitiesto bring about peace. Besides, he added, it was also important to understand the other person when you talking to them.
“I read a lot about Indians before holding talks with them so that I could empathise with them and expect a similar response.”
Kasuri observed that statesmanship was the key to ending the tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations.
He added that Indian Prime MinisterNarendraModi, by visiting Lahore, had demonstrated that bold steps were possible if there was genuine will. “The Indian prime minister went on with the move even though the hardliners in his country are unhappy over it.”
Kasuri recalled that in2005 when he was the foreign minister, Pakistan and India had signed a joint statement on the irreversibility of the peace process that concretised it.
“When the Samjhota attacked occurred, I was advised that I should discontinue talks with India, but I chose to keep talking,” he added.
Veteran Pakistani diplomat Jamsheed Marker, also a panellist, wisely put it that breaking ties with another country took only five minutes,but maintaining them was a different matter altogether.
“We [the people of Pakistan and India] eat the same food, speak the same language and no matter what, sensibility asserts itself time and again,” he noted.
Another panellist,SalmanKhurshid, a formerIndianforeignminister, observed that there was no substitute for personal chemistry. “The people of both countrieswant peace and if anyone believes that they can be incited to choose war, then that's a mistake,” he added.
“However, objective conditions too have to be seen.”
Khurshid said after speaking with the people he had met with in the last two days after his arrival in Pakistan for the literary festival, he saw no reason as to why two countries could not be friends. “When peace between India andPakistan is achieved, then the Nobel Prize for peace should go to the ‘aam aadmi’ , the catchphrase being used today for the common people, of both sides for making that possible,” he said in response to a question asked by the session’s moderator.
AuthorFakir Syed Aijazuddin, the moderator, keeping the discussion alive by tossing out quips throughout the session, mentioning PrincessDiana’s interviewwherein she had famously revealed there werethreepeople in hermarriage, wondered if the case of Pakistan and India ties was similar, with the military of the former playing the role of a third partner.
Khar responded that the incapacitating of one institution and the building of another was responsible for this situation.
She observed that the military was not trained to handle foreign policy but unfortunately that was the case in Pakistan.
However, she added that Pakistani military too wanted what was best for the country.
Kasuri noted that it was not unusual to see the military acquiring more power in countries with troubled borders and Pakistan was not an exception.
“But even the military relies on the foreign office for the information it requires,” he added.
When the moderator quipped that the Pakistan-India peace process wheel had been invented but the only problem was that it was square in shape, Khar said peace could even be possible in weeks if established rules of engagement were changed.
All the panelists stressed the need for the two countries relaxing visa rules for each other and coming up with exchange programmes for students could learn more about the people living on the other side of the border.