The India fix

IT HAS never looked more normal between the two nuclear neighbours in a long time. Another round of Pakistan-India talks, another possibility of a summit meeting, another terrorist attack in Bangalore that was quickly linked to Lashkar, another Indian statement on Balochistan with Pakistan saying "don’t spoil the atmosphere," another accusation of foreign hand in Balochistan by Pakistan, the never-ending finalisation plans of the multi-billion Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, another Indian accusation that the nabbed ISI operatives were going to plant bombs in Mumbai, acknowledgement by Delhi that some new suggestion on self-government presented through back channels are being discussed, another re-opening of the Khokhrapar-Monabao is less than a month away, and a ferry service between Mumbai and Karachi is being discussed.

By Vantage Point By Nasim Zehra

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Published: Sun 8 Jan 2006, 9:15 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:41 PM

In addition, there is the on-and-off news of indirect joint ventures between Pakistani and Indian entrepreneurs while the artistes are already jointly producing videos, music, movies etc. Dozens of intellectuals, social activists, presspersons and businesspersons regularly cross the border to participate in a range of activities. A popular dynamic is now at work; of cricket and culture. Official contact remains in high gear. Meetings between Pakistani and Indian officials, since the active normalisation process began early 2004, have crossed the hundred mark.

So then what does all this mean? Are India and Pakistan on an irreversible path of friendship? Or is this still fragile to be easily reversed by another major disagreement or military exchange? Is this engagement merely tactical as both ‘buy time’ for other objectives —India to seek ‘big power’ status and Pakistan to ‘strengthen itself’ internally? Is this the beginning of the end of decades old mutual hostility or is it merely hostility in abeyance to be revived another day by either of them? The only answer to all these valid questions is that Pakistan and India have moved beyond the pre-1979 period. In this collage of contrary moves there are more positive moves than existed between 1965 and 1971.

Pakistan-India relations have entered a stable no-war era. Admittedly disputes have not been resolved. The less complicated ones like Siachen, Sir Creek and the Wullar barrage may not be deadlocked but movement is feeble. However, for dispute settlement the two are now more likely than before to opt for dialogue rather than conflict as a toll for dispute resolution. The ‘fringe thinking’ notwithstanding, the central wisdom appears to be that nothing else works. Both need sustained engagement because they know bilaterally nothing else has worked for dispute resolution.

There is now an elaborate dialogue architecture at work. It is official and unofficial, horizontal and vertical —top down and bottom upwards and vice versa. In addition to the indigenous logic dictating normalisation the international community sees reason in only normalisation. There is a very conscious effort by both not to be seen as spoilers of this normalisation process.

On the question of Kashmir there has been progress. There is substantive talk in Islamabad, Srinagar, Delhi and Muzzaffarabad of self-government and of demilitarisation as first steps to a lasting solution to Kashmir. It’s farthest than the two countries have gone publicly since the fifties. In the sixties and seventies, there was hardly any discussions on Kashmir. Subsequently Zia ul Haq and Nawaz Sharif also discussed similar options with the Indians. The dialogue on Kashmir is clearly just work-in-progress. For any final settlement and ‘iron-clad’ guarantees ensuring Kashmiri rights and powers will have to be worked out. Meanwhile LoC as an international border or a plebiscite in the entire state have clearly been ruled out. The progress on Kashmir will be slow but a good start has been made. It is one that the Kashmiris too are generally supporting.

Meanwhile in Pakistan a sense of security vis-a-vis India also contributed to this normalisation process. Pakistan’s nuclear-centred military defences provide Pakistan the security. The spin-off of the ascendancy of dialogue over policies like covert destabilisation and limited wars has been the palpable reduction in expending emotional and intellectual energy by State, politicians and the society in confronting India.

Often that has primarily meant expending much energy to no avail. Worse this negative engagement has kept us from engaging in more positive and productive pursuits of societal progress and of nation building. All this has found its mirror image across the border too. And given the history of our region, there was an inevitability to this draining and debilitating phase.

Entering the current normalisation era, Pakistanis should view India as just one of the countries in Pakistan’s neighbourhood; one that Pakistan must have improved relations with, while also seeking to resolve key outstanding issues. Pakistan needs to free itself from an India-centricity that makes us give India our neighbour, a space larger than is its due, in our consciousness. Pakistan is no counter to India, nor its anti-thesis. As a major Asian state, Pakistan is a country with its own identity, its own merits and its own pursuits.

While mainstream Pakistan, politicians and society, seem to accept the logic of constructive engagement with India, Delhi and its opinion-making community will have to demonstrate that a normalisation process with Pakistan will not become secondary to either its big power ambitions or to its desire to play the rather dated Monroe doctrine role in South Asia; because notorious ‘big brother’ practices will inevitably contradict with the principles of good neighbourly relations.

Beyond the issues of government and of policy lies another critical issue that Robert Fisk so succinctly captured in the concluding paragraphs of his latest book on the Middle East, The Great War For Civilization. Fisk laments, "I think in the end we have to accept that our tragedy lies always in our past that we have to live with our ancestors’ folly and suffer for it, just as they in their turn suffered and as we through our vanity and arrogance ensure that pain and suffering of our own children. How to correct history, that’s the thing."

For us in Pakistan and India the abiding question would also be that can we go beyond the entrapment of a complex and often confrontational historical legacy? Of course we can. And perhaps a good starting point is to resolve the current disputes to clear the deck for a less combative relationship in the next decade, which would gradually replace the darker shadows of our past with our better present.

Nasim Zehra is a fellow of Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass. She can be reached at

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