I grew up with the notion that the only good Indian is a dead Indian and I mean the South Asian variety. However, as I grew older, a number of events in my life changed the way I thought about this and now I do not believe that a dead Indian is the best way to promote the well-being of Pakistan and the Pakistanis.
A study I did in 2000 for a national institution made it abundantly clear that the fundamental threat to our national security is from within the country. The study did not conclude that we needed to dismantle our military but it did conclude that we needed to get our house in order before we can face any serious external or even internal threat to our national security.
The study proposed a change in our national security priorities and also challenged the contours of our national threat perception – remember this study was undertaken in 2000.
Based on India’s current military architecture, I would agree with anyone who says that India remains a threat to Pakistan’s national security but the point I am trying to make is that we need to make a fundamental shift from being a paranoid security state and focus on developing Pakistan into a vibrant, progressive and economically strong state.
Concurrently both India and Pakistan need to focus on transition from animosity to peace and friendship. After numerous trips to India since 1999, I am convinced that there is a strong constituency for peace in that country, in spite of a potent danda brigade. We in Pakistan are also not lacking in the peace constituency or the danda bardar. However, if you scratch the surface, the average citizen in both countries desires peace so that the people and their governments find time to concentrate on economic development and improving the lot of the people. After working in the Track II business for over 12 years I feel peace with India is not only doable but the only way forward for greater prosperity and stability in Pakistan. I do not believe in perpetual enmity, this is not how states operate.
On December 1, 2012, as part of the Aman ki Asha initiative we crossed over into India via Wagah and held a very useful meeting in Delhi on December 2 and 3 with our counterparts from India, to discuss the issues of Siachen and Sir Creek. We also deliberated on how we should tackle Kashmir, the mother of all issues that divide our two countries.
On December 4, while our main delegation returned to Pakistan I had a roundtable discussion with a group of Indian scholars at a prominent think tank. While there was a lot of debate on what the two countries needed to do to develop trust, there was near unanimity that peace between our two nations was in the long-term interest of both nations.
When I returned to Pakistan, one of my friends – another retired soldier – questioned with contempt, the purpose and usefulness of this Track II effort. Without waiting for my response he held forth that the Pakistani peace pushers were following the US and Indian agenda of making Pakistan a subservient state to the US-India combine.
Of course my friend is convinced that his types are the patriots and the peace pushers are almost traitors or, if viewed more generously, dimwits who do not understand what is good for them. I am assured by my Indian friends that they also have their share of such people.
I would like to take this opportunity to submit three points to the critics of the Track II effort. One, the peace pushers of the Track II effort are as patriotic as chest-thumping patriots, if not more. Second, they are working for the well-being of their motherland and not for the good of the Indians or anyone else. In most cases, the Track II operators work in conjunction with the establishment of their respective countries and are generally not on a tangent. And most importantly, the Track II operators are convinced that peace between India and Pakistan is in the best interest of our people and in the broader interest of the region.
Yes, there is a deep historic mistrust between large segments of the populations of the two countries. The way Partition took place did not help. However after having spoken with scores of Indians, including many hawks, I am convinced that this gap is bridgeable. We often forget that there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. We also seem to ignore that the quality of life of the Indian Muslims is directly linked with the quality of the relationship between our two countries. Almost all Track II efforts are focussed on helping to reduce the mistrust and expand understanding.
I believe there are over two dozen Track II efforts working between India and Pakistan, ranging in size from groups as small as five to six people from each side to larger groups with memberships running in the hundreds.
Aman ki Asha, the peace campaign launched by the Jang Group and the Times of India, of which I am also a member, is today the largest Track II effort. The Aman ki Asha organisers are convinced that since the launch of their movement they have managed to expand the constituency for peace in both countries. This is not to underrate the efforts of the smaller Track II efforts; which have also helped expand the constituency for peace and offer different solutions and confidence building measures for the two governments to consider.
It is well known that the members of various Track II efforts are neither opium smokers nor defeatists. They are former decorated soldiers, hard core diplomats, successful political leaders, acknowledged intellectuals from the academia and respected members of our civil society. Freed from the constraints and discipline of various government departments, they now lend their knowledge and experience to the Track II effort for the greater good of their country.
Finally, I would like to clarify that members of Track II, and the civil society in general, do not take decisions on interstate relations as this task is the prerogative of the government of the day. However, they help form public opinion, offer fresh ideas for resolving tricky problems and become a potent stakeholder for peace. The peace effort in South Asia received a major boost when the Jang Group in Pakistan and The Times of India joined this effort; thanks to them, the efforts of the past are today a potent movement. Maybe the time is ripe to launch such a movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Any takers?
The writer is former national security advisor and former ambassador to Washington.