The visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to India and his meeting with his counterpart Narendra Modi, notwithstanding the fears and criticism of the skeptics, surely has resulted in a positive movement towards resumption of the stalled composite dialogue—- which amongst other issues also focuses on the core issue of Kashmir—- and enhancing trade contacts between the two countries. Narendra Modi also accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan. One could not expect more than that from a ceremonious meeting between the two leaders.
Another very propitious development coinciding with these talks was the reported move by Modi to initiate the process for abrogation of the article 370 of the Indian constitution that legally bound Kashmir to India; a big occurrence that seemed to have gone unnoticed and which clearly indicated that the new Indian government was ready to give up the Mantra of Kashmir being the integral part of India. These were good enough developments to inspire confidence and hope with regards to building bonhomie between the two countries and writing a new history of the sub-continent.
However, a word of caution here. The relations between the two countries represented a situation of wheels within wheels and required a very shrewd and pragmatic handling by leaders on both sides to untangle them, provided they show honesty of purpose and the determination to remove barriers in the way. There was no disputing the fact that both of them could not afford to continue their enmity indefinitely. They need to resolve the disputes between them and live as peaceful neighbours so that the resources consumed by the arms’ race between them could be diverted. Nawaz Sharif’s vision of ‘Peace for Development’ is beyond any reproach and seems the right way to approach the conundrum of relations between the two countries. Building economic linkages with India could ultimately lead to the resolution of all disputes between the two countries. This might necessitate an altogether different approach to achieve the objective. Prime Minister’s advisor on Foreign Affairs and National Security in his press briefing on the outcome of the visit, did hint towards this by saying “The structure of dialogue might undergo a change”.
My view, based on the inferences drawn from the study of international politics and world history is that the movement towards the improvement of relations between the two countries will not be possible unless the political and military leaders on both sides abandon their traditional hostility towards each other and promote new thinking and new solutions to their disputes, including Kashmir. They will need to have the courage to tell unpalatable truths to their public, more so the Pakistani leaders. Those unpalatable and irrefutable truths are that the world community was no more prepared to support Pakistan on the implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir; the UN which was under obligation according to its own charter to ensure the implementation of its resolutions was also oblivious to the idea of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir and would rather support a bilaterally negotiated solution; The US, the sole world power, was unprepared to play a mediating role and wanted the two countries to find a solution on their own; India abhors the resolution of the Kashmir dispute strictly according to the UN resolutions; militarily it was not possible to annex Kashmir without risking a nuclear war; the US and its allies were supportive of regional super power status for India and backing its bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council.
Further, the traditional view of India being a threat to the territorial integrity of Pakistan needs to be revisited, in view of the fact that after Pakistan became a nuclear power, the threats and dangers to its territorial integrity and security had almost been eliminated. India, or for that matter any other country, could not risk a nuclear war with Pakistan. All the foregoing factors, dictate the adoption of an out-of-the-box approach which would have to be formulated in light of all foregoing, debilitating and positive factors. It would be pertinent to mention here that the former military dictator and the architect of the Kargil fiasco, who excelled in bellicose blustering, ultimately had to subscribe to this view and made frantic efforts to resolve disputes with India.
The onus for changing public perceptions on the Kashmir dispute and eliciting the support of the Kashmiris lies with the political leadership of both countries. Unfortunately, they have refrained from fulfilling this responsibility for fear of political backlash and pressure from their military establishments. Nawaz Sharif’s vision of improving relations with neighbours, especially India, is in line with the new emerging geo-political realities and regional security considerations. He will have to exhibit the courage to take steps to rally the public around his vision and seek their support for contemplated measures, without troubling himself with the political consequences. Public opinion on issues like Kashmir nurtured by hate syndrome, is mostly visceral and it is the duty of the leaders to pull the public out of the sentimental binge through rational and realistic depiction of the nature of the disputes and their possible solutions in changed circumstances. The same approach holds good for the new Indian leadership.
India needs peace as much as Pakistan does. Modi’s belligerent, anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan credentials of the past should not be cause for much worry for Pakistan. As an Indian leader operating at the international level, trying to pursue a push for superpower status and strengthening the democratic credentials of the country, he has to attempt to carve a new image out for himself.