There is a distinct pattern—one step forward, two steps back—to the manner in which relations between India and Pakistan have panned out in the 63 years since the two countries were created out of events unleashed by the Machiavellian designs of the departing British and power-hungry politicians in both countries.
The fact that the latest round of talks followed the same routine is, therefore, not surprising. It is evident that something has to happen or be ordained for this life state to change. I am aware that my proposition will run the risk of either being bracketed with that of the Wagah border candlelight brigade of romanticists or becoming the pinata for all those seeking a “fitting” response to what is clearly wayward behaviour by India’s neighbour.
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The proposition is simple: It may be easier for India, a democracy and for most purposes an upholder of global rules of governance, to take the proactive step to break this deadlock.
Not because it has more to gain, or as what Pakistan’s establishment thinks—less to lose—but for the simple reason that continuing the status quo would be disastrous for both countries in particular and the region in general. For Pakistan it could mean curtains as a nation. For India it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity missed to realize its evident economic potential and provide its over one billion citizens, particularly the 500 million impoverished, a legitimate right to well-being.
The first step for India, particularly those who drive its foreign policy establishment, is to change its mindset (there is no guarantee that the other side will respond, but then the last six decades have shown that status quo has only led to a steady deterioration of conditions on both sides). India’s response has been akin to that of a normally law-abiding individual committing a traffic-signal violation. I am sure all of us (most of whom follow the rules) have faced this situation some time in our life. For whatever reason, justifiable or not, we have jumped a red light only to be caught by the traffic police. And yet there are scores of others who not only jump lights, but pay scant heed to any traffic rules—overtaking from the left, cutting lanes, obstructing right turns and what have you—and, while you are witness, allowed to get away with it.
So it is natural for us to feel wronged. But is that correct? Absolutely not. This is because you don’t get rewards for playing by the rules, just as you are supposed to be punished for violating them.
Whether it be with opposing cross-border terrorism and rogue activity or upholding global nuclear rules, India has never been found wanting.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s footprint in promoting global terror, directly or indirectly, extends from within its own borders to New York, London, Madrid and Mumbai. Similarly, its illegal abetment of nuclear proliferation, through the efforts of the father of its nuclear bomb, A.Q. Khan, has been well established. More frustratingly, the establishment in Pakistan has feigned ignorance every time even while there have been more than sufficient indicators to the contrary. Yet, even after all this, from a near-pariah state in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 nearly nine years ago, Pakistan has emerged as the most important ally of the US—the self-appointed global sheriff against so-called Islamic terrorists.
Sitting in South Block, it would be tempting to view the world as biased against a rule-based regime like India’s and encouraging a violator like Pakistan’s. If one was looking for moral brownie points, this should indeed be the surmise. Frankly, more often than not, India has always come across in this manner, regardless of its intentions. It is not surprising, therefore, that for most of the last six decades its foreign policy has tended to preach, forcing it into a corner.
Clearly, persisting with a business-as-usual approach is not going to help, and the way things are deteriorating, it is likely to do incalculable damage. Both countries will lose—only the degrees would vary. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to grasp this and is seeking to force the agenda. Unfortunately, the clumsy initiatives of his government so far have failed to inspire his own party and have actually made most very circumspect of such tactics.
Let’s get real. Six decades of hostility and three official wars cannot be simply wished away through radical action. Something more incremental will not only be enduring, but will certainly help reduce tensions—the first step towards resolution.
Maybe the smarter thing to do in the circumstances is not to push the big-ticket items. Instead the focus should be on less contentious issues such as, say, cultural exchanges, particularly cricket (India could well have offered to host the ongoing Pakistan-Australia Test series). Such confidence-building measures would take the appeal beyond the restrictive confines of the current engagement that the military and the anti-India establishment in Pakistan have so successfully managed.
Those who believe such an initiative is a win for Pakistan, with its uncanny ability to successfully violate global rules, should remember that there is something more than just a traffic fine in a red light violation—there could even be a potential fatality.
Anil Padmanabhan is a deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
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