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Issue No.: 573 | March 2015

People to People Contact – Cant’ Resolve the Indo-Pakistan Conflict

Suresh C. Sharma
At the 18th SAARC meet, more than any tangible action, what resonated more was the call by Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan to upgrade China from its present observer status to the status of a member.

Nations are characterized by the key elements of their national character. As an illustration, it is the "elementary force and persistence of the Russian, the individual initiative and inventiveness of the American, the common sense of the British and the discipline and the thoroughness of the German. The Hindu is a more complex personality and displays a combination of key traits based on varying power equations…In the case of a most powerful adversary it is patience, passivity, deceit and a persistent attempt to corrupt the powerful to his own outlook. …most appropriate [though an oversimplification] would be a "presumptuous, persistence and devious Hindu.”  - Lt.Col. [later Lt.Gen] Javed Hassan

[A text book for Pakistan Army has been distributed by military book club and reveals the mind-set of Pakistan’s military officers.] 

People to people contact can be promoted by tourism, trade, military collaboration or joint ventures. Tourism is a far cry for people of both the countries since there are more interesting destinations in Europe, the USA and the Far East. Some people who migrated from one of the countries in 1947 may like to visit their old homes. They however, soon get disillusioned by the present condition of their erstwhile homes and with the reaction of the residents. There is hardly any recognition. Nor would it be a pleasure to refresh the tortures that had been inflicted on them. Illegal trade is already a big business across the border. There is little chance of increase in trade due to India being denied the ‘Most Favourable’ status. As an example, consider Ambani’s project to produce gas in Pakistan and transport it to India by a pipeline. Foreign Minister I. K. Gujral talked about it to Prime Minister Sharif. Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan interrupted Sharif to say that such a project could be considered only after a satisfactory solution of the Kashmir problem. That has been the position taken by Pakistan on every issue. Moreover Pakistan and India would prefer to import capital goods from China or Western countries due to the advantages of quality, political favours and credit. Military collaboration or joint ventures are not possible. Perhaps, contacts can be promoted only by sponsored visits which give a wrong picture to the visitors and hosts due to lack of realism and artificial smiles.

Obstacles in the Path for Better Relations

The first major obstacle is in every Pakistani considering himself to be an heir to the Muslim Empire and a custodian of the wellbeing of Muslims in India. Visitors from Pakistan notice only the poverty amongst the Muslims and forget that there are a large number of poor amongst the Hindus too. A Pakistani Lt. Colonel told a journalist that "to be frank, we are brought up from the cradle to be ready to fight India. On joining the army, the feeling gets multiplied.” The madrasas have added to this feeling but even if all the madrasas are closed down, the hostility would not vanish. A large number of terrorists have studied in government schools. They have joined militant organizations due to Islamism amongst the masses, particularly in the lower middle classes. They have widespread support for attacking India. Let us look at what the Pakistani elites say about India. Shah Waliullah advised that Islam could survive in India only if Muslims maintained physical, ideological and emotional distance from Hindus. His sons continued his mission.

Vajpayee went out of his way to visit Lahore in February 1999 to meet Sharif. The road from Amritsar to the border was decorated with flowers and the people expected some positive results. There was no similar public attendance in Pakistan. Instead, there were demonstrations against the visit which had to be put down by the police. A group of religious leaders washed the platform on which Vajpayee stood to purify it since it had been polluted by an "infidel prime minister.” The Pakistan media or the intellectuals did not criticize it. Kuldip Nayar led a crowd of about 500 people with candle light vigil but no one came from the Pakistan side.

India, a Punching Bag for Pakistan

In 2008, the Political Officer at the US Consulate was ambushed by the Taliban and saved by a bulletproof car. Professor Azmat Hyat Khan, Head of the Area Studies Centre at the Peshawar University commented, "Of course, the Americans carried out the attack themselves so as to get an excuse to invade Pakistan.” His colleagues approved his murmurs and he added "4000 American mercenaries are fighting in the FATA area. They are the ones carrying out killings and not the Taliban.” Recently, there has been considerable feeling against the USA due to attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan. This feeling has not diminished the hostility towards India. Surprisingly, in the various seminars and discussions, generally the civil servants take a more moderate line than the elite liberals.

The Pakistani newspaper Nation reported that the bombing of Marriott Hotel on 20 September 2008 was carried out by RAW. It further said that the Pakistan Intelligence Agency has proof that the truck came from the Indian Embassy. Professor Syed Zahir Shah of Islamia College, Islamabad, said with approving nods from his colleagues that "Pakistan Taliban was created by the big powers – the USA, Israel, Russia and India – to destroy Pakistan. It is not the Pakistanis who are carrying out terror attacks. No Pakistani or Muslim killed Benazir Bhutto. She was killed because she was a strong political leader. India, Israel and foreign forces do not want Pakistan to be stable”. When the British journalist pointed out that Taliban had taken the responsibility for the terrorist attack on the Pakistan munitions factory in which more than one hundred citizens had died, he commented "Yes, but they had their reasons. Their women and children had been killed by bombs thrown at the orders of the USA.”

Hafiz Saeed and Musharraf lost no time in blaming India for the terrorist attack on the Army School at Peshawar in which 132 children died and a teacher was burnt alive. Musharraf came out with a weird proposition that 16 December was chosen for the attack because it was the anniversary of Indian victory in 1971. He takes the cake for stating openly in an interview to an American journalist on 24 June 2000 that jihad is not a terrorist and violent phenomenon. It is a "tolerant concept” embodying religious, political and social commitment for safeguarding the dignity and safety of Muslims.

Pakistanis have been fed such propaganda against India and they believe that India wants to break up Pakistan, encourage insurgency in Balochistan and establish friendship with Afghanistan to encircle Pakistan. The Durand Line controversy may be revived. The school text books in the NWFP province promote religious intolerance, hatred and jihad. This theory of fear and suspicion prevails amongst the masses. It would be wrong to believe that only the army and politicians subscribe to such views. To promote trade or business, there has to be assurance of safety of life. My nephew, working for a company in Singapore, was posted to Islamabad. He was allotted a security guard on arrival and warned not to stir out of the hotel without the guard. He was wise enough not to take the family with him. One day, he was shopping in a mall where the Indo-Pakistan cricket match was being shown on a big screen. A Pakistan wicket fell and one of the spectators brought out a gun and fired into the screen. My nephew realized that it was time to quit. We may recall the recent example of the behaviour of Pakistan’s hockey team in India. They got away due to the good sense of Indian spectators. The outcome in Pakistan would have been a tragedy.

Pakistan suffered heavy damage due to floods in 2010. The disaster occurred after heavy rains in Baluchistan. The reaction was that the reason for such floods in the River Indus system was deliberate action by India and demand for control of Kashmir intensified. Friendship and understanding between nations has to be built on common interests and shared threats. Take the example of the UK and France. For more than a century they fought at every occasion and place. They became allies to face the common enemy, Germany. The USA fought a terrible war against Germany and Japan. They are new allies to face Russia or China. Can there be a similar situation for India and Pakistan? Pakistan has only 150 cubic metre water storage capacity per individual – far less than India. Both the countries are likely to face water shortage and could be competing for exploiting natural resources. By cooperation which is unlikely, problems could be made easier. We need to identify common threats and common goals and mere contacts will not help. They enjoy Indian movies and we enjoy Urdu poetry and Ghazals, and more recently Pakistani serials on Zindagi channel. The common liking for entertainment should not be mistaken to be cultural exchange and a step towards political reconciliation.

Brig. SURESH C. SHARMA (Retd.) is advisor to the telecom industry, a freelance writer and a 
member of the Freedom First advisory board. 






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