& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hunkered down by the past

After some tenuous moves to bring about normalcy between India and Pakistan, relations have gone back to where they usually are – in a quagmire of suspicion and mistrust.

The hawks in the establishment, and political parties in both countries, usually ensure that no real gain is ever made in improving ties. And that for every step forward, there are several steps backwards.

The most recent setback is India’s decision to cancel the foreign secretaries meeting in retaliation to Pakistan High Commission’s invitation to the Kashmiri separatists for a meeting.

India-Pakistan relations follow a familiar, cyclical trajectory: a slow build up towards normalcy, encouraged by a genuine interest amongst some sections of the society in both countries to expedite the process, and then the inevitable swift decline following some innocuous incident.

There are many organizations that are working for normalcy in relations, such as Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, but there is little evidence of mass support in both countries for improving relations.

One of the reasons for this is that the subcontinent continues to live in the past. There is little effort to move into the 21st century. It’s important to analyse the past, but it becomes an exercise in futility when it turns into an obsession, as is seemingly the case in the subcontinent.

The intelligentsia in both the countries and in the West continues to engage in analyzing the Partition and the post-partition period, and comfortably predict that normalization is virtually impossible.

Last year, Stephen P. Cohen of the Brookings Institution, predicted in his book Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum that the relations between the neighbours will not see any substantial change even a century after the Partition.

While in Bombay (mid-July to mid-August), I attended a scintillating discussion on the book organized by the American Centre Library and the University of Bombay, and moderated by Sudheendra Kulkarni, the chair of Observer Research Foundation, and aide to the former Prime Minister of India, AB Vajpayee. 

One of the participants in the discussion pithily observed that Muslims in India have changed their perceptions about Pakistan periodically. 

1947: dream
1965: disappointment
1971: disillusionment
2008: derision.

Kulkarni also organized another panel discussion on SAARC (the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) – India and Pakistan Why they should – and how they can – make the SAARC vision come true.

The panelists included RD Pradhan, former home secretary, and the author of the My Years with Rajiv and Sonia; Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States and now Senior Fellow and Director, South & Central Asia at the Hudson Institute; Manjeet Kriplani, Executive Director of the Indian-American think tank The Gateway House; Chaitanya Pande, founder and president of Polymath Financial Advisor; and Kulkarni himself.

These discussions explored the many possibilities and the options that are (and may become) available to both the countries for speedier resolutions of their differences. The latter discussion touch upon trade and the possible role of Indians and Pakistanis settled outside the subcontinent in improving relations.

A great example of good neighbourly relations is offered by the United States and Canada. The two countries trade over $1.8b worth of merchandise every day (approximately $1.2m every minute). 

Trade can be the pivot for improving and enhancing India-Pakistan relations.

The implementation of the policy of non-discriminatory market access (as opposed to the Most Favoured Nation) by Pakistan to India will pave the way for enhanced trade, bulk of which today is routed through Dubai.

A heartening aspect of the panel discussion was the participants of young people, and Haqqani emphasized that they don't need to carry the burden of the past into the future. 

Watch a brief video of Haqqani's intervention during the panel discussion:

In this context, I want to quote a passage from Alex Von Tunzelmann's Indian Summer The Secret History of The End of An Empire (and I apologize for forgetting my own complaint that we focus too much on the past) that describes Jinnah's last moment, and his regret.

The circumstances changed quickly for, on 11 September 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah finally succumbed to his illness. He had been on his way to Karachi, Fatima (his sister) remembered him speaking in delirium: 'Kashmir...Give them...the right...to decide...Constitution...I will complete it...soon...Refugees...give them...all assistance...Pakistan. According to his doctor, Jinnah saw Liquat and told him that Pakistan was 'the biggest blunder of my life'. Further yet, he declared: 'If now I get an opportunity I will go to Delhi and tell Jawaharlal to forget about the follies of the past and become friends again.' It is impossible to prove whether Jinnah actually said these words or not; either way he was to have no further opportunity for a rapprochement. He was taken from the airport to the Governor General's house in an ambulance, which broke down after four miles on a main road in the middle of a refugee settlement with traffic honking by. The heat sizzled, flies buzzing around the Quaid-e-Azam's ashen face as Fatima attempted to fan them away. It was an hour before another ambulance could be found. Jinnah was taken back to Government House, where Fatima watched him sleep for about two hours. 'Oh, Jin,' she remembered thinking, 'if they could pump out all my blood, and put it in you, so that you may live.' He woke one final time and whispered to her 'Fati, khuda hafiz...la ilaha il Allah...Mohammad...rasul...Allah.' His head slumped to the right. He had died with the confession of faith just past his lips.

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