It is probably naïve to expect that peace between India and Pakistan will dawn anytime soon. Events over the last few weeks have confirmed that the unending cycle of hope and despair will continue. Renewed optimism was reduced to point scoring, over a few days, in the fragile relationship between the two neighbours.
Trading abuse at the United Nations and other international forums won’t resolve outstanding issues. Such displays of immaturity don’t reflect well on either country. Theatrics meant to impress domestic audiences, have no place in international diplomacy. The familiar blame game after the latest breakdown in progress won’t do anyone any good at this stage.
Why does peace continue to elude India and Pakistan? Is the relationship destined to be adversarial in spite of the common history of the two countries? Can the intractable conflict over Kashmir ever be resolved? Could the millions of people living in poverty and misery in the sub-continent still dream of a better and secure future? These vexing questions need answers.
The main bone of contention is Pakistan inspired terrorism in India and Indian human rights violations in Kashmir. Clearly, the huge trust deficit between the two countries is a major obstacle to peace. The absence of statesmanship hasn’t helped in recent times. In reality, bellicose rhetoric and brinkmanship have taken centre-stage. But this wasn’t always the case.
The terms of the Simla Agreement, signed on July 2, 1972, bound the two countries “to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations”. The Agreement called for both countries to maintain the status quo, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and refrain from the threat or use of force.
The Simla Agreement could have served as South Asia’s Begin-Sadat Camp David moment. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto, a signatory to the agreement, said at the time “the Agreement, we signed last night represents a breakthrough in our relations. I return home with a firm conviction that we embark on a new era of peace.”
We must remember that at that point a defeated and truncated Pakistan was on its knees. India was holding 93,000prisoners of war. It was in a strong position to dictate a humiliating Versailles like treaty on Pakistan.Instead, India chose the high road of peace and reconciliation. Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi deserves the credit for taking on the politicalrisk to achieve the landmark Simla Agreement. Later on, Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. This was in retaliation for ordering the bloody attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
In the context of the Simla Agreement, India can feel aggrieved by the Kargil adventure. It can also take umbrage on the terrorist incidents in India conducted by non-state groups based in Pakistan. Pakistan can point to the slow progress on the final resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
It must be noted that barring the contested Siachen glacier, Indian forces haven’t crossed the borders agreed under the Simla Agreement. Simla could have served as the blueprint for a final peace agreement between India and Pakistan, but future events didn’t allow that to happen.
Pakistan’s generals toppled Bhutto in 1977, and hanged him in 1979, after a sham trial. In the same year, the Soviets sent troops into Afghanistan. The US needed a re-armed Pakistan to help stop the Communist hordes. In return, President Reagan looked the other way as Pakistan under General Zia-ul-Haq acquired its nuclear weapons capability. This restored the balance of power with India that Pakistan had lost in 1971.
Once the generals were back in the driver’s seat, they determined the terms and timings of peace with India. This has been true to this day. Unlike in India, politicians in Pakistan are not free agents able to pursue peace with India on their own.
It is amusing to hear from the Pakistan side that India doesn’t want peace. Now that the shoe is on the other foot and the Modi government has decided to stop treating Pakistan with kid gloves. It has ordered tit-for-tat responses to perceived Pakistani provocations. Modi’s heavy-handed actions have added to his popularity in India. For him, winning the next election in 2019, is far more important than catering to Pakistan’s desire for peace.
India can afford to play hardball with Pakistan. Its economy is booming while Pakistan’s is sinking rapidly. Internationally, India is considered a victim of terrorism. In contrast, Pakistan has managed to upset its well-wishers byits alleged support for cross-border terrorism. Simply put, Pakistan’s doesn’t have the leverage to bring India to the negotiating table.
It is paradoxical though that confrontation between India and Pakistan persists despite the obvious benefits of cooperation. These include an end to the costly arms race and avoidance of a potential nuclear Armageddon. India and Pakistan would also be better served by adopting a common front against terrorism. Terrorism is responsible for bloodshed and tears in both countries.
A collaborative approach between the two countries can address the sequence of provocation and reaction. We can only hope that reason will prevail in the end, bringing lasting peace to a troubled region.