Finding space for progress between India and Pakistan

July 4, 2009

With the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan likely to meet on the sidelines of a summit in Egypt this month, to be followed up by talks between the two countries’ leaders, newspapers on both sides of the border are exploring the space for progress in a peace process broken off by New Delhi after last November’s attacks on Mumbai.

The Hindu says that officials in both New Delhi and Islamabad are working to prepare the ground for the meetings – expected to take place on the sidelines of a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Sharm el-Sheikh – so that at least some progress can be made. 

“Having scaled back its initial demands for the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure as a precondition for the resumption of dialogue, India now wants evidence of Pakistan’s professed commitment to stop terrorists from staging cross-border strikes,” writes Siddharth Varadarajan in the Hindu.

He says India aims to “get Islamabad to recognise that New Delhi is serious about benchmarking the progress made against anti-India terror groups and linking that to the pace and scope of future dialogue. Thus, India would like to receive from Pakistan a detailed account of all the steps its investigative agencies have taken so far to identify and prosecute those involved in the Mumbai conspiracy case. Indian officials say they have heard about some of these steps ‘verbally’ or have seen reports in the press but would like to see things put down on paper.”

Writing in Dawn newspaper, Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar says a tentative agreement on Kashmir drawn up under former president Pervez Musharraf could be retrieved and pursued.

“New Delhi realises more than Islamabad that normalcy is not even thinkable without having Kashmir out of the way,” he writes. ”But that requires a proper atmosphere in India and it cannot be created without bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice.”

And he says a solution would be possible only if the Pakistan Army led by General Ashfaq Kayani were willing to support detente with India.  The meetings in Egypt ”can be successful only to the extent that Gen Kayani is willing to go. Can he look at Pakistan’s relations with India without bringing in the past? Normalcy between the two countries depends on that.”

In Pakistan’s Daily Times, Delhi university professor Alok Rai aimsfor an even wider view. He condemns the two-nation theory which gave birth to India and Pakistan as being at the root of a “mutually destructive cycle” between the two countries. Usually ascribed to Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah,  Rai acknowledges that the two-nation theory was first propounded by Hindu nationalist Savarkar. 

But he adds, that “this rejection of the two-nation theory is entirely consistent in my mind with accepting the present reality of two independent, sovereign states, India and Pakistan, which should have mature relations.”

Basing his column on an e-mail exchange with an unnamed Pakistani friend, he says that the two countries must put their dispute over Kashmir behind them, a dispute that he sees as pretext for a much bigger struggle for legitimacy by Pakistan, even if this means that Islamabad must relinquish its commitment to “free” Kashmir from Indian rule.

“But my Pakistani interlocutor assures me that it is the hour before dawn that is the darkest, that the present generation, even in Punjab, is ready to move out of this mutually destructive cycle and start a new chapter in the sad history of our sub-continent. I am writing this in the hope that he is right and I am wrong. Happy to be wrong.”

Do read the articles in full because they are full of ideas that cannot easily be summarised. What does appear to be clear is that after the bitterness created by Mumbai, the journalists quoted above are looking for a way forward, whether in seeking a practical, short-term approach to talks between India and Pakistan, or seeking an accommodation with history.

Finally, a must read is this op-ed in Dawn newspaper, in which Irfan Husain writes about the victims of the Mumbai attacks and calls for an unambiguous rejection of such acts of violence.

“While Muslims argue that Islam does not condone this kind of terrorism against unarmed, innocent civilians, most do not condemn it in clear, unequivocal terms. After agreeing that such acts are un-Islamic, there is all too often a lingering ‘Yes, but…’ hanging in the air,” he writes.

“It is this ambiguity that has given terror groups in Pakistan and elsewhere the space and legitimacy they need to operate. Now that Pakistanis have seen the true face of terrorism in Swat, and have begun to support the government in its drive to rid us of this cancer, the lesson needs to be reinforced … We need to hear ordinary people who survived or lost close relatives, and see their pain. We need to see the horrors inflicted in the name of Islam.

“Above all, we need to share the agony of our neighbours.”

(Reuters photos: The Taj Mahal; the attack on Mumbai; the Marriott in Islamabad)

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