India and Pakistan: looking beyond the rhetoric

September 5, 2009

With so much noise around these days in the relationship between India and Pakistan it is hard to make out a clear trend.  Politicians and national media in both countries have reverted to trading accusations, whether it be about their nuclear arsenals, Pakistani action against Islamist militants blamed for last year’s Mumbai attacks or alleged violations of a ceasefire on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Scan the headlines on a Google news search on India and Pakistan and you get the impression of a relationship fraught beyond repair.

Does that mean that attempts to find a way back into peace talks broken off after the Mumbai attacks are going nowhere? Not necessarily. In the past the background noise of angry rhetoric has usually obscured real progress behind the scenes, and this time around may be no exception.

MORE TALKS

The Hindu newspaper reported on Sept 1 that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may meet either the president or prime minister of Pakistan on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad in November. It said the Indian government was already working out what strategy to adopt to make any meeting meaningful, while also pushing Pakistan to take more action against Pakistan-based militant groups in order to prevent another Mumbai-style attack.

There is no confirmation of that Trinidad meeting, and nor is there likely to be for some time, but The Hindu in recent months has proved to be well informed about the prime minister’s approach to Pakistan. Singh himself laid out his plans in a speech in parliament in July in which he promised a “step by step” approach to dialogue – effectively meaning that India would talk to Pakistan while refusing for now to reopen a formal peace process broken off after the Mumbai attacks.

The two countries’ foreign ministers are also expected to talk on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this month, although it is unclear whether this would be preceded by a meeting of foreign secretaries in line with an agreement reached in July that the top diplomats of India and Pakistan should meet ”as often as necessary”.  The Hindu said the foreign secretaries would meet in New York; more recent newspaper reports have called this into question.

DISMANTLING JAMMU AND KASHMIR?

In the meantime, both countries are edging forward in their approach to the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir which they control. (After their first war in 1947/48 the former princely state was divided into the regions of Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu which are held by India, and the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan along with an area known as Azad Kashmir which are held by Pakistan.)

According to Praveen Swami, a Kashmir expert at The Hindu, the Indian government has been holding secret talks over the summer with the main political separatist alliance in Kashmir, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, to try to agree an approach to bring peace to the region. ”Perhaps most important,” he said, “Pakistan is being asked to endorse the talks.”

Over on its side of the border, the Pakistan government has decided to grant limited autonomy to Gilgit and Baltistan. It had previously run the region  directly from Islamabad, much to the irritation of local people who felt they had been deprived of their political rights to the kind of self-rule given to Pakistani provinces. 

To digress briefly into history, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was created in the 19th century by Hindu Dogra rulers expanding outwards from their base in Jammu and comprising people of different linguistic, ethnic and religious groups.  Were it not for the tremendous importance given to Jammu and Kashmir by both India and Pakistan – both of which claim the state in full – it might have broken up naturally years ago.

The people of Gilgit and Baltistan never felt much loyalty to the former maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir and have long complained that they have been held hostage to the Kashmir dispute (you hear the same complaints from Ladakhis on the Indian side.)

So do the parallel moves on both India and Pakistan suggest both countries are taking small steps towards an eventual dismantling of the former princely state which would allow a settlement of the long-running Kashmir dispute? Not quite – Pakistan has been careful to say it is not giving full provincial status to Gilgit and Baltistan. There are also historical grounds for treating the region differently from other parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which date back to partition and before.

Yet given that anything to do with Jammu and Kashmir is potentially explosive, reactions to the Pakistan government’s move on Gilgit and Baltistan have so far been relatively muted. Dawn newspaper said that the decision stuck a balance between meeting the aspirations of its people for political rights and maintaining the region’s status as disputed territory. The Daily Times said that the people of Gilgit and Baltistan had been held hostage to the Kashmir dispute for long enough and should eventually be incorporated as a full province of Pakistan. On the Indian side, I’ve seen criticism from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party but nothing from the government.

A roadmap for peace sketched out by Singh and former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007 effectively acknowledged the division of the state by accepting there would be no exchange of territory between the two countries – although both pledged to try to make borders irrelevant. That agreement was shelved when Musharraf’s own political fortunes nosedived.  But are the governments of India and Pakistan nonetheless following some of the signposts in that roadmap despite all the angry rhetoric currently dominating their relationship? And if so, how far are they exchanging information about their plans?

WILD CARDS

Just in case the above looks too rosy a view on the prospects of progress in relations between India and Pakistan, it is probably worth remembering it can all go wrong, particularly if there is another major militant attack in India.

The other wild card comes from the transformation of the political landscape in India with the implosion of the opposition right-wing BJP initially triggered by the furore over a book on Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah by former senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh. So far the jury remains out on how the political drama will play out. Analysts variously predict a collapse of the right, or its opposite – a revival of the right as the BJP returns to its hardline anti-Pakistan Hindu nationalist roots in an attempt to reinvent itself after losing two consecutive general elections. Until the political landscape becomes clearer, India’s Congress-led government is likely to tread cautiously.

(Reuters file photos: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Siachen; Singh with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Russia; Dal lake in Srinagar; Drass on the Line of Control; former Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh)

Comments

Amrit, you said:

“Rajeev I am an Indian Panjabi and am quite moderate in my religious views (please do not suggest that I am pakistani impersonating a Sikh).

Yes India has contained and made steps to normalise the situation in Punjab. But many of us feel we have made compromises and feel let down. The problem is that we have no real representation in Indian politics within extreme parties like BJP, while this status quo is maintained we still feel marginalized. However BJP tries to imply that it is representing all, this is not the case, there is still the uneasiness that it has too much support of factionist hindus and I for that matter do not feel it represents us.

Yes congress has taken steps, but it will take more than the post of a Sikh as Prime Minister to allocate real power to the Sikhs and this is what needs to be worked on for us to feel a real part of India and not just contained in Punjab.

(Also releasing of films like Singh is King is carricaturing and does not help matters.)”

–>Amrit, India can’t go on setting precedences and carving up its territories for all different minorities everywhere. You have to keep a mental check on who you hang out with, do you hang out with secular people, or people hell bent on creating its own Punjabi state? let me tell you, most Sikh diaspora in Canada, UK, USA, EUROPE are so disenchanted with wasting their time and efforts fighting India with a separate state that since the last 17 years, they have spent their effort on improving their lives and actually building a stronger, more educated, progressive, moderate Sikh community, that is worth of respect and part of the larger Indian family. If you feel Sikhs are underrepresented, why don’t you personally get involved in the political process? Don’t let fellow punjabi’s push their blame stories on your mind, use your own ability to rationalize and understand, that a 2% minority cannot have 15% of the land, which feeds all of India, it simply will not happen, therefore you must realize that it is in the favour of disenfranchised Sikhs to work with the Indian union, and be partners in success. You will realize that a positive, friendly, unfrontational approach will leap Sikh representation lightyears into the future, in Indian politics. Don’t give into the blame games and supremicist and racist views of your fathers have been feeding you, most of it is political crap and to set the history straight on a Sikh nation, Sikhs only had a nation in the now Pakistan area, for only 50 years and then it fell apart. A true Punjabistan, should actually be formed out of Pakistan, it Pakistani land, where the bulk of Punjabi actually is, please educate your self on history, the Sikh forefathers sided with a Hindu India and don’t forget the Sikh heros like Ranjit Singh, and those brave Sikhs that defended India against Islamic oppression. You Sikhs are the lions of India, let’s always work together and love and respect each other, together, we can do anything and Sikhs already have come a huge way. I have lived with Sikhs my whole life, and let me tell, you, most Jatt kids form their views from what their fathers tell them. This life is your time, to step back and forge your own new identity and realize that Sikh society is so much more than just some minority, who is not getting a seat, it is is a Global Nation, that one of its own as a prime minister. Forget about the BJP, they have their own troubles and do not represent fully, a secular and democratic India. But let me be clear, no minorities should ever militarily challenge or even advocate threaten the union or the state, with force, otherwise, they might find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. Sikhs are smart people and so much more than that and will always find a way to progress, other than violent means or Pakistani fueled terrorism. Please choose your own path and be bigger than what you have been told that you can be.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive
 

@Rajeev I am an Indian Panjabi and am quite moderate in my religious views (please do not suggest that I am pakistani impersonating a Sikh).

Yes India has contained and made steps to normalise the situation
-posted by Amrit

Amrit:
I did not exchange any posts with you. I checked. First off, there is no AMRIT on the blog before you saidn this (correct me; yes do that). But in any case assuming you are a genuine Indian Punjabi Sikh, I will say that I agree with the responses you got from several other commenters. I have lived in the middle of Sikhs in Amritsar for 10yrs and around the country and interacted with them. A majority of friends in Punjab are Sikhs. Sikh community is brave and generous with big heart and Sikhs are so dear to me and I defend them at any cost.
If you want to hold onto your whatever pro-Khalistan views, by following that dentist Tunda from Tanda, I say I’ll you have no basis. If you still want to do that, consider yourself a TRACE minority. India and the majority Sikhs are most happy to ignore you.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

“Rajeev I am an Indian Panjabi and am quite moderate in my religious views (please do not suggest that I am pakistani impersonating a Sikh). But many of us feel we have made compromises and feel let down. The problem is that we have no real representation in Indian politics within extreme parties like BJP” – Posted by Amrit
I agree that your identity is indeed quite questionable. Regardless of whether you are a sikh or a Pakistani impostor, you certainly don’t represent the sikh community in any way, shape or form so just speak for yourself. If you are an Indian Sikh, you should know that the BJP is closely aligned with Shiromani Akali Dal (the only Sikh political entity in India) & enjoys the support of many sikh organizations. As a sikh myself, I have quite a few sikh relatives & acquaintances all over India & I can tell you that many of them support BJP over Congress. I don’t know which India or which part of India, you are living in, to feel marginalized because most sikhs that I know of, are doing fantastically well in India. In fact Sikhs are one of the most prosperous communities in India & Punjab is one of the most prosperous states. Sikhs in india have all the power & freedom they need so please check your facts.

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive
 

Why do we always see Jehadis staring back at photographer? Don’t they laugh?

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive
 

Fine Think what you like I actually work and is the first time I had read these articles.I thought coming from a democracy I could state an opinion without a paranoid response.Yes BJP seems to have made progress even by having Rajnath Singh as leading member but it instills too many hindu doctrines rather than secular party politics.
Yes Sikhs are lions but please dont be patronising us and also making fun,dont appreciate us being protrayed in comedy roles all the time why not any others.
Yes Punjab is a rich region which is why Isaid some of feel that we have made compromises these are the problems of central administrations which is why others favor smaller states.Yes there have been improvements but we are not there at alland Sikhs have to have more representation yes they will have to work harder, no we dont have all the freedom and power YET.

Posted by Amrit | Report as abusive
 

Amrit:

What is secularism? Everyone has a different definition. Your definition will be influenced by your way of thinking. Christian country’s definition are influenced other way around and Islamic nations have extremely well defined secularism. The essence is that one should find an environment to be able to exploit his full potential aimed at development of society and be able to practice his / her set of beliefs with peace. On a lighter note, sometimes I feel, the new religion of this world will be secularism. This new religion would be unable to apply common sense because it will always be busy in cent percent perfection and bring more destruction to society than Islam/ Christianity combined.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive
 

Mortal Said:

“I don’t know which India or which part of India, you are living in, to feel marginalized because most sikhs that I know of, are doing fantastically well in India. In fact Sikhs are one of the most prosperous communities in India & Punjab is one of the most prosperous states. Sikhs in india have all the power & freedom they need so please check your facts.
- Posted by Mortal ”

–>All Pakistani friends, please take note, Sikhs are happy and living their lives well in India. I can’t say the same for Sikh’s in Pakistan, who are being forced to pay Jizya by the Muslim Terrorists, created by Pak State.

I am punjabi too, but Hindu, nevertheless, extremely proud and happy for the Sikh community, their friendship, progress and hard work. Sikhism is a progressive, friendly, and peaceful religion. Many people would progress much further, if they emulated the Sikh community. Sikhs are the guardians and lions of India and part of the Indian family, they are capable of progressing as far as they want. We don’t need our Pak friends belittling the Indian Sikh’s capabilities to succeed in all fields.

Way to go desi!

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive
 

@Yes BJP seems to have made progress even by having Rajnath Singh as leading member but it instills too many hindu doctrines rather than secular party politics.
-by Amrit

Amrit: Rest aside, tell Reuters.
1. a single doctrine of BJP that a Sikh can feel insecure of?
2. what is the thing you love about India?
3. Do you feel angry that Pakistan armed Sikh militants that resulted in thousands of deaths?
Please be specific.

@Yes Sikhs are lions but please dont be patronising us and also making fun,dont appreciate us being protrayed in comedy roles all the time why not any others.
-by Amrit
Amrit: Who is “us” here? Talk about you. This is so not typical of Sikhs what you said. Sikhs are known to play jokes upon themselves and make others laugh.

ALSO, is it not allowed in democracy to say that your views belong to a TRACE minority especially when the commenters of your own community strongly disagree with you?

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

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