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June 10, 2015

Crazy neighbours

Opinion

June 10, 2015

The statement of the Indian defence minister - of using terrorism in Pakistan as a means of countering terrorism from Pakistan – should come as no surprise given the fact that leaders on both sides of the divide always try to reap political dividends by externalising the internal problems facing their countries.
India is a big country with big aspirations as well as big problems but it has yet to rise up to the challenge. It has failed to adhere to the principles espoused by its founding leaders – of non-violence, secularism, and democracy.
Pakistan, on the other hand, continues to suffer from an identity crisis and mostly defines itself in terms of the ‘other’. It always views itself and others generally through security-coloured glasses and is the biggest victim of its self-fulfilling prophesy.
The crucial questions then are: why is it that both India and Pakistan, despite shared history and geographical proximity, prefer to live away from each other? Why is it that they cannot resolve their differences peacefully and move ahead with a shared vision for socio-economic development in the region? Has the more-than-a-half-century long antagonism benefitted any one country? If not, why does the monster of fear and suspicion persist and define every aspect of their interaction?
The relationship between India and Pakistan reminds me of a Chinese parable, ‘the onion thief’. A thief is caught red-handed while stealing onions. He is given a choice of one of three punishments; paying money, receiving a hundred lashes, or eating a hundred onions. He chooses the last but after eating six or seven onions he asks, with streaming eyes, for the lashes but finds that too painful and finally pays the fine.
For the British, the independence of the Subcontinent was a kind of theft which they wanted to punish by leaving the two countries with many unresolved issues. Due to the haphazard departure of the British, leadership in both countries had to

contain internal turmoil on the one hand and sort out bilateral disputes on the other. The ‘onion thief’ parable started unfolding soon after Partition. The independence, as predicted by Mahatma Ghandi, aggravated rather than mitigated communal tensions (in the guise of nation states).
As a first option, both countries went to full-scale war three times with far reaching implications for regional stability in addition to causing immense destruction on both sides. The nuclear capability of both countries has so far prevented direct confrontation but the threat of a nuclear attack from either side is still out there. Since full-scale war has become too dangerous and costly, both countries have now opted to fight proxy wars.
India uses Afghanistan to weaken Pakistan economically, politically, and strategically. Pakistan, too, has historically targeted Indian vulnerabilities through clandestine operations. This option, too, has proved painful and costly but is in vogue even today in various forms and manifestations. The third option, which should have been the first one – similar to that of the thief paying the fine – is to make some unpopular decisions by receding from historical positions on various issues on reciprocal basis.
Both sides must be prepared to accept the fact that war (direct and proxy) will yield nothing but mutually assured destruction. Purposeful and sincere dialogue appears to be the only viable and durable path to peace. Engagement, rather than confrontation, leads to a solution however complex a problem may be. As a first step, both countries should develop a mechanism for talks which is not prone to episodic accidents. According to Mani Shankar Aiyar, the dialogue process should be uninterrupted and uninterruptible to yield the desired results.
There is a deep yearning in both India and Pakistan for peace and progress. Since 1947, we have inherited mutual suspicion, fear, and animosity. We have invested and continue to invest scarce resources in building huge military infrastructure at the cost of education, healthcare, and development.
Two-thirds of the population in both countries lives below the poverty line. Will it not be more productive to jointly fight ignorance, poverty, and injustice? Is it not time to break the vicious cycle of hate-distrust-animosity once and for all and give our future generations something better than what we have inherited?
The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]

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