6th PANOS-HIMAL SOUTHASIAN ROUNDTABLE
29-30 OCTOBER 2007, SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
A G Noorani, columnist
Shamshad Ahmad, former foreign secretary of Pakistan
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, editor of the Kashmir Times
Beena Sarwar, freelance journalist in Karachi
Harivansh Narayan Singh, editor of Prabhat Khabar
N Ravi, editor of The Hindu
Shravan Garg, editor of Dainik Bhaskar
Talat Aslam, editor of The News, Pakistan
Zahid Hussain, senior editor of Newsline
A S Panneerselvan, executive director of Panos South Asia
Mitu Varma, India country representative for Panos South Asia
Sahar Ali, Pakistan country representative for Panos South Asia
Kanak Mani Dixit, editor of Himal Southasian
A decade of the peace process
In May 2002, as Indian and Pakistani troops engaged in head-to-head confrontation along the border and Southasia became one of the premier flashpoints in the world, Panos South Asia and Himal Southasian brought key interlocutors from the media in both countries to Nagarkot, Nepal. The focus of the workshop was to take a hard look at the role the media had played in both exacerbating and reducing tensions in the region.
Since then, the Panos-Himal media retreats on critical issues between these two countries – and their capitals, which have held subcontinental peace for ransom – have become an annual feature. In 2003, bringing the nuclear issue to the civil-society agenda was the sub ject of discussion in Bellagio, Italy. In 2004, the intricacies of the Composite Dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi were discussed in Bentota, Sri Lanka. Istanbul in 2005 saw the participants address the all-critical question of Kashmir, while Cairo in 2006 was host to discussions on whether New Delhi and Islamabad were really in control of the factors determining relations between the two states. In each retreat, we have brought together knowledgeable experts to interact, in-depth, with the gatekeepers of television channels and the print media, the latter including the English and language/provincial papers. Full reports on each of the roundtables can be found at himalmag.com.
During the roundtable held on 29-30 September this year, the agenda was to look back and review a decade of the peace process, and to deliberate on the way ahead. The venue was the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia, a country that is itself just now emerging from a long history of complex conflict.
In 1997, when Inder Kumar Gujral was prime minister of India, he spelt out the details of a Composite Dialogue, along with his Gujral Doctrine, recognising the importance of cordial relations with his country’s neighbours. That set the peace process rolling. Since then, it has been a precarious and rocky détente, one that detoured through nuclear tests at Pokhran and the Chagai Hills, the fierce combat in Kargil, and a 10-month mobilisation of troops along the frontier following the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.
A decade after the peace process began, observers see India and Pakistan as seemingly lulled into something resembling a stupor. They seem entered to have a comfort zone of inaction, rather than using this period of relative peace to build facts on the ground through economic linkages, people-to-people contacts, and seeking to break though on the major irritants. While the popular mood is for reconciliation and resolution of all pending issues, the complacency resulting from the current status quo is a major cause for worry. At the Siem Reap discussions in September, the participants sought to address this crucial issue, and to see what could be done to give the peace process a much-needed fillip to move forward at a brisk pace.
At the end of the first phase of retreats, we believe that the success over the six conclaves has been in the consolidation of rationality in the place of ultra-nationalist jingoism. The content of the edited transcripts of the six conclaves together points to the possibilities of long-term subcontinental peace through discourse, mutual empathy and a lowering of the ultra-nationalist guard on both sides. The organisers now seek to move ahead to a new phase, even while we hope that the media in both India and Pakistan will play a more assertive role in setting the peace agendas for the two societies.
Looking back at the peace process: Turbulence and implications
A G NOORANI: A review is always with a purpose: Where do we go from here? But an overview will hark back to origins. Generally my attitude towards history is the Islamic attitude towards liquor: permissible for therapy, but not for mere indulgence, because history is an intoxicant. When you remain too much in history, you forget where you are headed. History is to show exactly why.
Except for the two Koreas, in no other part of the world has there been such a state of non-dialogue as in the Indo-Pak relations. Let me begin with the peace process. A ‘process’ implies three things: continuity, structure and a basic agreement on the objective. The Indo-Pak peace process actually began on 16 October 1947, and ended around 31 December of that year. It was revived in Islamabad with the joint statement of 23 June 1997, but soon collapsed again, to be revived only in 2004. The present peace process is an offshoot of those developments in 2004.
There is no escaping the fact that the core issue all along has been Kashmir. By 2006, towards the end, the issue had boiled to just this: How do you have a joint mechanism, its compositions, its remit and its functions? That’s all. This is the state of the peace process. And the latest is in July, when Manmohan Singh went to Srinagar and said, referring to the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus, “Let [through] the transit of goods; with goods comes literature.” And let me tell you, for the timid ones on both sides, when the Kashmiris on both sides reunite, you’ll have a different situation altogether.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: Noorani Sahib has given us his view of history. But in Pakistan, obviously, there is a totally different perspective. The peace process that we started in the 1990s was not the first time that we had involved ourselves in a peace process. The first serious attempt at resolving the problems was in the 1950s, after the meeting called by Nehru in Delhi. Of course, the focus of that meeting was basically the minority question – how to treat the refugees and minorities in each other’s country – but it also addressed issues like Kashmir – of course, inconclusively.
The current peace process is qualitatively different than the process we started in 1997. In 1997, after years of bilateral hiatus, we had a statesman-like initiative that emanated from the leaderships of the two countries. When I was leaving for New Delhi in March 1997, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told me, “Shamshad Sahib, your task is to resume dialogue; reduce tensions; and normalise relations between the two countries, through peaceful negotiations and resolution of the outstanding issues.” We did not disappoint the leadership in both countries: the Islamabad agreement of 23 June 1997 became the basis of what we now call the India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue. At the Lahore Summit in February 1999, the elected leaders of both countries decided to intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu & Kashmir. They had also become conscious of their new responsibilities as nuclear countries, and evolved an elaborate framework of mutual restraint.
After an interruption, in 2004 we resumed the dialogue under pressure. This pressure was due to the regional dynamics – the brinksmanship, the bellicosity, the eyeball-to-eyeball situation, the risk of conflict – as well as pressure due to the United States and the G8 countries. The Islamabad statement of 6 January had nothing ‘joint’ about it. It had two divergent positions – that of Vajpayee Sahib and that of Musharraf. The script had an American imprint, and I thought it must have been drafted in the State Department. That was proven right a couple of years later when Colin Powell admitted that he had given this document. That’s why there is this element of fragility to the current peace process.
Hiccups in the peace process: Nuclearisation, Kargil, 9/11 and domestic flux
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: When Gujral’s government fell and the BJP came to power, this was a difficult phase, one which blocked our dialogue for some time. The BJP sought to resurrect its militaristic and communal agenda. Its public announcement of its intentions to exercise the nuclear option, occupy Azad Kashmir, and demolish mosques to build Hindu temples was a serious setback. When India conducted five nuclear tests in early May 1997, and we responded in kind with our own nuclear test later that month, dialogue stalled.
The US then engaged both India and Pakistan in a strategic dialogue. After eight rounds of talks, ending in February 1999, a clear parity was established: both were promised equality of treatment in terms of any future concessions, including access to technology. In short, nuclearisation in Southasia altered the fundamentals of India-Pakistan relations, and deepened the global stakes for an early restoration of durable peace between the two states. The biggest casualty of the Kargil war, then, was the end to the trust and confidence in India-Pakistan relations, as well as the prospect of an early Kashmir settlement. Pakistan then entered its own domestic political flux, culminating in October 1999 with the ouster of Nawaz Sharif in a military coup led by Musharraf.
The attacks of 9/11 should have served as a catalyst to bring Southasian nations together in the fight against terrorism. Instead, it simply aggravated bilateral tensions until, in November 2003, intense diplomatic pressure from the G8 and the US averted what could have been a catastrophic clash, through mutual confidence-building measures and a ceasefire. Thereafter, dialogue resumed.
A G NOORANI: There’s a vacuum in leadership. The Jawaharlal Nehru technique was to raise the rhetoric, inflame public opinion, and then say, “I’m bound by public opinion.” He did that with Kashmir. President Musharraf has done something in articulating these formulations. But by otherwise being alienated from his own political forces, he cannot build up that public opinion. In 2000 he propounded his four-point formula, and while he has perhaps spoken much too often, in a way he has alerted Pakistani public opinion. Manmohan Singh has also been speaking, but he has a problem with the BJP.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: It is the government which feeds public perception. And the mood of the people in Pakistan is so manipulated. If the government sows animosity, the people will start considering each other as enemies. But we have to look at the future; then we have to reconcile the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the two countries. And for that, naturally the primary responsibility will rest with the leadership. Unfortunately, so far we have not seen that kind of statesmanship on either side.
Talks in March 1997 began under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif and Devegowda, but there was suddenly a crisis of coalition – the government was falling apart. We returned to Islamabad without achieving any progress. But that was followed by the first opportunity at the political level: the two prime ministers, Nawaz Sharif and I K Gujral, met in Male and the ground was cleared through the intervention of the political leadership. We resumed our dialogue in June, and worked out our framework and mechanism of the Composite Dialogue. This 2+6 agenda was the first time in our history that we had agreed to discuss Kashmir in a structured and integrated manner.
N RAVI: The leadership, or interlocutors, on each side is important. The BJP, for instance, proclaims that it is the only party that can reach an agreement with Pakistan without the Hindus getting offended. And if, in India, everybody says that the army has a stake in this conflict, then unless the agreement has the army’s full support it won’t work. And from there it’s just one small step to saying that our preferred interlocutor is Musharraf. In fact, both the prime minister and the national security advisor have gone public with a statement saying that Musharraf is our best bet. What does it say about political processes if, on the one side, the army or the army-backed leader, and on the other an illiberal party are the best bets for peace? It speaks somewhat poorly of our absence of statesmanship, as well as the absence of some kind of moral force in foreign policy as a whole.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: Yes, in Pakistan perhaps only a military leader can enforce peace between India and Pakistan. But it will still be without any legitimacy. Without a political dimension, the peace process will not be durable. Musharraf may be the best bet for India, but the perception in Pakistan is that Musharraf has formulated his approach first to seek legitimacy and second to strengthen his position globally – by impressing his global interlocutors, the Americans and the Europeans, that he is ready to enter into a peace arrangement with India. But India-Pakistan will be better off if a peace process is negotiated, and finalised, between two governments that have the mandate of the people.
ZAHID HUSSAIN: I don’t think that Musharraf is the ‘best bet’. When a military leader is involved in this kind of peace process, there’s always the problem that the decision is taken by just one person and that the public is not mobilised, not taken into confidence. In India, political parties are divided on how to deal with Pakistan. But in Pakistan over the last ten years there’s been a general consensus that has developed in favour of a peace process. If we have a strong political government, we need backing as well: in 1999 the initiative was derailed because the army was not on board. Similarly in India, I would say that it’s not a matter of where the BJP can solve or where one leader can take the initiative. I think there’s a need for more wide-ranging discussion and debate.
TALAT ASLAM: Both the BJP in India and the army in Pakistan seem to be more trouble than when they are out of power. In other words, when they are in power they seem to behave rather like everyone else. If the same initiatives that Musharraf seems to be taking were being taken by a civilian government in Pakistan today, there would have been a coup long ago!
A S PANNEERSELVAN: The BJP will support the process as long as it falls within conflict management, but the moment it is headed for resolution, they will never take a decision. Look at all the key instances: wherever India had made a landmark, key judgement, and when they jumped, it was done by a non-BJP leadership.
SHRAVAN GARG: The BJP’s restraint stems not from any political ideology or conviction, but from its stance against Muslims in India. Interestingly, during the BJP regime, relations with Pakistan were very good. Any solution to the Kashmir problem or India’s relationship with Pakistan will largely depend on how the government in power is able to seek endorsement from the BJP.
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL: One should not forget that it’s not a very good thing to expect too much from just one person. Whatever our views about Vajpayee, apart from encouraging communal violence, even during power, a kind of jingoism came about. You know, they went a step forward, but then it was always two steps back. We shouldn’t forget that Operation Parakram, Kargil and nuclearisation all happened during BJP rule.
Media and the peace process: Sensationalism, control, censorship, language and readership
A G NOORANI: The media is powerful. We say that Kashmir is an integral part of India, but just as India’s democracy stops at the Pir Panjal range, so does the concern of the media. How many editors have gone to Kashmir and seen things for themselves? Kashmir Times is a Kashmiri paper, but the electronic media is disgraceful. In the search for ratings, they’ve gone against one another in fomenting disinformation and sensationalism. During the Agra Summit, there was a competition between Aaj Tak and Zee TV. With this kind of opinion-building, what happens?
ZAHID HUSSAIN: When we talk about public perception, sometimes the ruling clique takes refuge in public perception, which it generally creates by itself. I have seen changing perceptions in Pakistan over the last five or six years. The hostility and jingoism, I just don’t see much of this anymore in either the Urdu or English press. Despite the fact that the Pakistani press has remained under chains for most of its history, on the foreign-policy issue it is very open, very critical. In the 1980s there was criticism of Zia’s Afghan policy. As for Indian press, they are very open when it comes to domestic-policy issues, but not when it comes to foreign policy.
SHRAVAN GARG: The press deals with the masses. It is the press which educates people, and the people vote for the politicians who make agreements with countries. But realities in politics have really changed in the last few years, particularly after 9/11 and particularly for India. No longer is it true that there is only one party in power which can take a decision. A large number of political parties have started taking a big role in deciding the fate of the country. If that is the case, is it really possible to reach any decision about the Kashmir issue? Vested-interest groups would never allow the Kashmir issue to be solved. The army is only interested in keeping this issue alive – look at the defence budgets of both countries. When you say that tension has reduced, why do you need so much money?
In India, particularly, elections are being fought on caste, religious and sentimental issues. Can you reach any agreement with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue without taking into consideration what kind of relationship Hindus and Muslims have in India? Is there any question, any attempt on the part of the politicians or the media to address such issues?
I don’t agree that there has been much change in the press. Not only with regard to the question of Pakistan or communal riots or Kashmir – there is clear evidence that our journalists tend to take sides. The way the casualties were being highlighted and the army’s role was being projected, it was as if not the army but the media was fighting the war in Kargil. When it comes to dealing with sensitive issues, politicians and bureaucrats always like to speak to the big English papers. How many English editors would claim that they can change the views of the country? In our own editorial pages we try to address the issues, but when you look at other pages – full of communalism, hatred, anti-Pakistan rhetoric!
And no attempt is made, not even by the Editors Guild or the Press Council, to change – they don’t believe that it is the press which educates people. In a country of 100 crore, you can’t change the policies overnight, you can’t just say that we’re ready to negotiate with Pakistan and Kashmir tomorrow. I don’t subscribe to the view that the Kashmir problem can never be solved. The issue is how we can educate our readers and the masses in both countries, and bring them to a point wherein there is a greater exchange of thoughts both physically and emotionally. This way these issues can be dealt with at the people’s level, not at the level of politicians, who will continue to exploit the countries for their political benefit.
KANAK MANI DIXIT: If you look at the press – the English press in India, English press in Pakistan, Urdu press in Pakistan and Hindi press in India – it is the Hindi press that has the most power to change politics. And you are editor of one of the foremost Hindi papers in India, so isn’t it also in your hand to mould…
SHRAVAN GARG: We are trying sincerely to change perception, not only on Kashmir. But it is not very easy – you can’t just condemn, but you can certainly educate. Things are changing, and this is giving us lots of dividends, changing our circulation, in terms of credibility, money, expansion. And people welcome the change. They say, “You take a very right stand on this thing. You don’t succumb to communal pressures, political pressures. And nobody can dictate to you otherwise.” When we take a stance, even the politicians do.
HARIVANSH NARAYAN SINGH: As far as the Hindi media goes, there is a trend of localisation that drives news content. With greater emphasis on local news, there is less space for coverage of Pakistan-related news. The other aspect is that even we when want to focus on the positive aspects of Pakistani society, we do not have access to such material. We need to create a mechanism whereby news from Pakistan is easily available to local papers, because there is great interest among readers for little-known stories about Pakistan. How do we increase the exchange of literature, writings across the border, in order to change public perceptions? The Hindi reader has a decisive impact on political institutions, and it is therefore important to influence public perception.
TALAT ASLAM: For a very long time in Pakistan there were certain sacred cows, especially in the Urdu-language media, and Kashmir was one of them, the army another. But of late the kinds of things that our leaders have said, which are quite radically different from the traditional line on Kashmir, have not elicited quite the reaction that one would expect. They have been taken rather calmly, even by the more hysterical elements of the press. They’re critical, but the response is not as aggressive. The Urdu media pretty much performs the same kind of role as the Hindi media does in India. But there is a third element that we haven’t discussed yet, and that is that, in Pakistan, the India-Pakistan issue seems to have, over the last few years, taken a backseat to the western front. It is now Afghanistan and Waziristan which is the obsession in our media and in the government circles.
BEENA SARWAR: The opening up of independent television in Pakistan and the new channels that have come up in different languages – Urdu, Sindhi, Pashto, Punjabi – means that now we are seeing a mix of ideologies as we have in the newspaper Jang. This is a rightwing newspaper that carries a lot of very liberal thoughts because that is the media group’s policy, to do a balancing act. That is the same case with the TV channel Geo, which gives space to the India-Pakistan issue. What happens, then, is that the public, the Urdu-reading public and the public that hears different languages, they see things for themselves. It builds up more public awareness and public pressure.
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL: Initially India wasn’t paying that much attention to issues in Pakistan. But since this crisis of the chief justice, there has been a lot of coverage by Indian channels. SHRAVAN GARG: There are several things the press of the two countries can do. They can force members of parliament, members of state assemblies, councillors, to create an atmosphere. I have been watching India-Pakistan cricket matches and the aftermath of the matches, and what kind of communal atmosphere prevails in particular cities. And if you study the media, print media particularly, not a single paper has highlighted the violence, whereas earlier they would go out and out to exploit the situation.
ZAHID HUSSAIN: The best thing to do is to allow the publication of each other’s media. You can’t get Indian newspapers in Pakistan. I think vice-versa in India. We do get some Indian journals in Pakistan, but they come via Dubai, and are so expensive that it’s completely out of reach of the common people.
A G NOORANI: From 1947 to 65, I used to buy Dawn on the streets of Bombay. Pakistani papers have improved enormously – it is a pleasure to read your dailies. So why can’t we have that? Let us have a joint statement between Indians and Pakistanis limited to three points: first, visas. Second, literature. Third, TV channels. Until June 2002, even at the height of Operation Parakram, I could watch PTV in Bombay. From June 2002 it has been stopped – why?
BEENA SARWAR: Until the 1965 war, Indian films were freely available in Pakistani cinemas. After that the Pakistani film industry lobbied the government on nationalist grounds, that we must not allow Indian films in Pakistani cinemas. That has never been officially overturned, but slowly that ban is being lifted. Because of the Internet, things have opened up so much that all of these bans are almost irrelevant. We in Pakistan get Indian movies on DVD as soon as they are released. Pakistani soap operas are available in India through cable, through satellite. Cell-phone services and Internet provision in Pakistan is very, very common now, and so is cable television. Even in small, remote villages, cable television is now available. So in a way the governments are way behind the times.
SHRAVAN GARG: Even the film industry has changed. No longer do we make anti-Pakistan films. The Indian population would not appreciate them, and they would not be a hit at the box office. A lot of things have changed. Now I can very well get an article from Pakistan done for my newspaper by the very next day. The same evening, the TV channels get clippings of what is happening in Pakistan, and the same thing with regard to what is happening in India.
A S PANNEERSELVAN: At the same time, the people who run our local-language publications do not spend enough money on news-gathering. Reporters-cum-advertising agents-cum-circulation agents are one person. Because English seems to have power, are we going to deny the wilful contribution of these media outlets and their conscious decision to have international correspondents? To have a diplomatic beat, to have people to look at these issues, get the expertise, have a series of articles?
SHRAVAN GARG: If you take into account the number of Parliament seats from areas like UP, Bihar, MP, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and the kind of newspapers sold in these area, it will show that our foreign policy is highly dominated by people who subscribe to the media which is not being read by more than 15 percent of the population. What we are discussing here is what can benefit Indo-Pak relations. I am ready to accept that on the Palestine issue the English press is more well-informed. But I know my readers: they don’t want to read about the presidential race in America. They want to read what is happening in Lahore! And I need to be able to satisfy their hunger.
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL: Unfortunately, the media hasn’t been playing a very positive role in Jammu & Kashmir, whether it’s the local-language press or the English papers. Because there is a lot of interference by state and non-state players. Especially in the language press, they often become very rightist in their opinions. There has been an attempt to play on prejudices, rather than bridge the divide. When the state believes that there is a need for friendly relations with Pakistan, the media automatically toes the line.
Kashmir: The key to durable peace
A G NOORANI: Every Kashmir settlement must meet three tests. The prime minister of India must be able to sell the settlement from the ramparts of the Red Fort and it has to be ratified by the Indian Parliament. The Pakistan National Assembly must accept it, and the prime minister or president should be able to proclaim it from Mochi Gate in Lahore. Finally, the Kashmir chief minister should be able to declare it from Lal Chowk in Srinagar. No Indian government can accept a plebiscite or independence and survive for a day. But likewise, the Indians don’t understand that no Pakistani government can accept the LOC and survive.
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL: Noorani Sahib, you mentioned that it’s just boiling down to discussion of how we go about joint mechanism. But it’s also a question of attitudes. It’s not just about bringing about flexibility in your statements by the exercise of some gestures. It’s also about how things are exercised on the ground. Virtually nothing is happening on the ground, apart from a kind of agreement on both sides that certain issues need to be dealt with. Apart from opening the Line of Control at five points, which is a very restricted procedure meant only for a few people, and the cumbersome procedures of getting permits, nothing else is moving.
At the end of the day, the power continues to flow either from Delhi or Islamabad. We’re talking about self-governance, not even the existing governments in Azad Kashmir or Jammu & Kashmir on the Indian side. And on the Pakistani side, we also have the ignored question of the Northern Territories, Gilgit-Baltistan, and the question of identity. On the Indian side, we have this whole question of human-rights violations. Last year, when the prime minister came to Srinagar, he promised zero tolerance towards human-rights violations, and people like the chief minister interpreted this to mean not that the violations would end, but that they would be probed. There is no attempt whatsoever to withdraw the security forces.
The only thing that we keep promises on is economic packages, and we all know the corruption that comes with them. There is a lack of planning: where it is spent, how it is spent, what are the attempts to bring in economic decentralisation or give some kind of economic empowerment to the people. There are no employment avenues being opened, no other economic avenues. If we look even at the basic mainstay of the economy in Jammu & Kashmir – which is rich in natural resources, in horticulture, in agriculture – now the orchards continue to be occupied by the security forces.
A G NOORANI: Now, the bus thing is a pure joke on the people. The bus is not meant for the rich. The rich Kashmiri can jolly well come to Delhi, get a passport, ask the Pakistan High Commission for a visa, and go over to Muzaffarabad. It is the poor villager who is divided. This bus thing is a complete, total failure. The point is this: the prime minister is less faced with reality. The prime minister’s aspirations for a settlement are not shared by the bulk of his party, by the bulk of his government. Or, for that matter, by the bulk of the media.
BEENA SARWAR: In most of the instances that there’s been a conflict in the Kashmir area, Pakistan has taken the initiative, like in Kargil. Pakistan’s domestic policy, which is linked with foreign policy, has been to not interfere in Kashmir. But there has been a kind of covert stoking of the fire in Kashmir, even while the crackdown continues on Taliban elements in Pakistan itself – all the while without accepting that these are actually the same thing. Now the convergence is al-Qaeda, Taliban and the jihadi element in Kashmir! It’s all one thing now, since 9/11.
ZAHID HUSSAIN: How has the armed struggle changed the dynamics in the Kashmir issue? I could never imagine that kind of concentration of troops in any part of the world. But when I first arrived in Srinagar, it was like a besieged city, although that was the time, 2004-05, when it was supposed to be a normal period, because militancy has subsided. And what I found, actually, was that the alienation of Kashmiris was huge.
The other issue is the changing world after 9/11, which has a huge impact on regional politics. And how much has it forced the two countries to at least come to the negotiating table? When we talk about the start of 2004, we have achieved normalisation of relations, which means that we do not have the kind of standoff we witnessed in 2002. To that extent, we have restored peace. As far as the Kashmir issue, I see some development. Earlier, we could never have imagined the leader of Pakistan talking about forgetting about the plebiscite issue. And he came out with a suggestion, almost a division of Kashmir. But is it workable?
Azad Kashmir is under Pakistani control; there is no doubt about that. A joint secretary of the Pakistan government in fact controls the whole system. But when it comes to public perception, I don’t think there was much support for independence earlier. There may be some kind of scepticism or bitterness about Pakistan’s policy, but I have spoken to various sections of the Kashmiri leadership, and never came across any strong following for independence for Kashmir. And when you talk about Baltistan and the northern areas, there’s probably much more tension there now because of the issue of identity.
A G NOORANI: Militancy is at the heart of the problem, and Zia-ul Huq was its author. India produced the alienation; Pakistan provided the guns. In 1989 you had the Warsaw Pact fall, and Kashmiris thought that independence was just around the corner. Such was the state of militancy that young men used to leave their villages bedecked with garlands. And Azad Kashmir radio was openly giving messages: “You’re sending us letters which are too small for the envelopes!” which meant “You’re sending us kids! Send us grown men!”
N RAVI: So many wrong turns were taken, so many opportunities missed in the course of these 60 years. Going beyond personalities and leaders, can we see whether deeper institutions are at work? Why is there this inertia in relation to Kashmir? One reason could be the security-oriented perspective that has taken over foreign-policy-making on both sides. The moral element has virtually disappeared from foreign-policy-making. Second would be the element of complacency. India has no incentive to settle, except for perhaps a fleeting glory for people at the leadership level, if they want to make history as having settled an issue.
The public are fed with hardline rhetoric on either side. And suddenly for a leader to abandon all of that and go in for what he would say is a breakthrough – in fact, the very idea of a major breakthrough seems unworkable in the India-Pakistan context. It has to be more of a step-by-step force, having prepared the public in advance. In order to retain credibility, you can’t change from hardline rhetoric to a conciliatory mood and still convince the people to make concessions.
HARIVANSH NARAYAN SINGH: We need an atmosphere in Indian politics that goes beyond the security angle, encompasses the moral dimension, and creates space for people-to-people contact. There was a time in Indian politics when politicians used to focus on the real issues, discuss them thoroughly and take a stand. For instance, Jayaprakash Narayan addressed public meetings to discuss Kashmir and the Naga problem. Politicians today are unwilling to go against ‘public sentiment’. But only if public opinion is created can any politician take a bold decision about Kashmir. And if there are no bold politicians in sight who can rise above petty politicking, then civil society must take it upon itself to create public opinion by sharing accurate information.
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL: There has been a change in the way that the public sees the India-Pakistan issue. But when they look at Kashmir, it’s still the same because much of the public opinion is being manufactured at the official level, and often through the media. There is an attempt on the part of the state to control or manufacture consent through the media. The Kashmiri is still demonised. Following any blast anywhere in India, the catchword is some Kashmiri from somewhere, because they need to pin the blame on somebody. And half the time it is not followed upon in the national media – we don’t see the results.
We’ve been talking about the gun, what it has done to Kashmir. Initially, in 1989, there was a lot of euphoria that people were going there because there was alienation, ideological support for the concept of azadi. And that sentiment of azadi still exists. Young boys went across the Line of Control to get arms training. But there is also an element of reaction to the human-rights violations. There is an NGO which recently came out with a report on the psychology of militants – many are men who took up arms in response to the atrocities that took place in families or the villages. But officials seem to be arriving at some consensus that militancy-related violence is on a downswing. Why, then, is there no attempt to scale down the military presence?
There can be no peace without justice, and justice does not come without addressing basic problems. Second, without people’s participation there is a growing scepticism towards the peace process. The only involvement we see is through the roundtable conferences, where New Delhi is only talking to people they agree with. Of course, they say that they have extended invitations to the separatist leaders and that they don’t come. But this complacency can be very dangerous.
The road forward: Conflict resolution, economic exchange, and a Southasian sensibility
N RAVI: What prevents a major leap or big push forward? Does the Composite Dialogue now mean that there’s a realisation – due to the lack of statesmanship, political difficulties or institutional factors – that a big push is not possible, that a more gradual approach is preferred? It’s no longer possible to have eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations. Maybe this is due to the changed international situation, to closer relations, or because of higher economic stakes involved, both in the global economy and bilateral trade. But maybe this is also due to nuclearisation.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: Since 2004, we have yet to see any movement from conflict management to conflict resolution. Instead, different interpretations of the Composite Dialogue theme are bogging down the peace process. For example, Pakistan wants progress on Kashmir before it will open up the track on trade and transit routes; while India wants to go slow on Kashmir, and push trade and transit instead. Pakistan wants the Iranian gas pipeline project to stand alone, but India is linking it to the MFN trade status. Pakistan is seeking multilateral intervention on the water disputes, whereas India prefers a bilateral approach. And both are building their military arsenals.
At the same time, trade has increased from around USD 181 million to around USD 1.77 billion in 2006-07. The communication links and bus and train services were major breakthroughs, although our agencies have not been able to implement them sincerely. The most positive aspect of the present situation is that negotiations have become a habit – a culture of candid consultations is beginning to replace periodic military consultations.
But given the volatile history of our relations, and the complexity of the issues involved, it would be better to be realistic rather than euphorically overoptimistic. The reality is that despite all of the illusions of forward movement, there are no signs of any progress on the major issues.
A S PANNEERSELVAN: Both India and Pakistan are now committed to conflict management, because they don’t want Indo-Pakistan to spill over into their domestic problems. But when it comes to conflict resolution, a key step forward, there seems to be reluctance. No war is not peace. In a ‘no war’ situation, you don’t need to look at the larger constitutional issues, or think about redefining things, or about upsetting the apple cart, and you need not confront the hardliners. This comfort zone is a dangerous one. The ceasefire might collapse within three or four years. The present comfort zone will lull us into believing that there is a forward movement. There is no troop mobilisation along the LOC; there are no war crimes; there’s no Advani saying we are going to go pulverise them. But does it mean that anything substantial is happening on the ground level?
KANAK MANI DIXIT: The last few years of relative peace could have been used for developing economic linkages, people-to-people contacts, so that when accidents happen we would actually already have protection against populism. But even though trade has doubled, it seems insignificant. To a large extent, these last few years have been wasted. We are basking in the relative calm, but have not developed the interlinkages that would have provided the long-term safety mechanisms that are required. Because these are two nuclear-weaponised states, and we cannot just rely on mutually assured destruction as a safety valve.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: We face a dual challenge in terms of the risks and opportunities the changed world of today presents to our region. Our world is in turmoil: there is no let-up in violence and its causes. Terrorism continues to be the main scourge, and the ‘war on terror’ has not gone beyond retribution or retaliation. Long-festering issues are not coming to an end, and inter-state conflicts and intra-state implosions continue to cause human suffering.
Our new configuration of political power in the world and the involvement of the US in Southasia has altered the fundamentals of global relations, especially in terms of the involvement of the US and regional realities, and upset the strategic balance in the region. At the same time, there is a global emphasis on moving towards dialogue and cooperation, and economic cooperation is the inexorable force that propels mutual relations. What should be clear to India and Pakistan is that in today’s world there will be no military solution. War in the first 50 years, since our Independence, did not deliver a solution, but maybe peace in the next 50 years can. This could be a win-win situation for the Kashmiris, and a no-loss situation for both India and Pakistan. Both could jointly capitalise on their location to build a regional network of gas and oil pipelines, and an infrastructure of transport and communication that could bring immeasurable economic dividends.
The perception in Pakistan is that Pakistan has conceded too much in return for nothing. What needs to be emphasised here is that one-sided peace will never be durable. The process must be kept going, with no motivated interruptions, like the one we had last year when Samjhauta took place or when the Mumbai blasts took place. Instead of interrupting the dialogue, we should overcome these tragedies through closer cooperation, as now they have ostensibly tried to do after Havana, and the joint anti-terror mechanism.
Any forward movement on Siachen, Sir Creek, economic and commercial cooperation including the Iranian gas pipeline, and the promotion of friendly exchanges and people-to-people contact will provide an environment for addressing the other remaining issues, and could set in motion an irreversible process for genuine détente. Depending on progress in Kashmir, and on mutual confidence and nuclear restraint, the two countries in due course could also explore a no-war treaty, with a mutually agreed upon mechanism for future conflict prevention, conflict resolution and easy settlement of disputes.
Southasia, unfortunately, is at the root of most of the world’s problems. Especially with the overt nuclearisation of the Subcontinent, Southasia’s problems are no longer the exclusive concern of the region itself. Their worrisome global dimension raises the world’s stakes in the issues of peace and security, as well as socio-economic development in Southasia. This brings SAARC into unprecedented focus as an instrument of regional cooperation and economic integration. But though SAARC was created more than 22 years ago, and attempts have been made to revive it, our goals and priorities have not yet been dramatically defined.
KANAK MANI DIXIT: The philosophical outlook of thinking ‘Southasian’ means that you’re looking at people-to-people contact, trade and commerce – things that would provide a basis for an India-Pakistan resolution. A Southasian mentality would create much more openness, and allow something like the gas pipeline to happen, which would then create the foundational basis for India-Pakistan peace for the long term.
People-to-people contact and civil society
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: The status quo needs to be changed, and civil society has a very important dual role: one, corrective, and the other, an active role in influencing policymaking in both countries. Over the past 60 years, the rulers of the governments have fed the people a lot of falsehoods that need to be corrected by the civil society. Civil society can also influence decision-making, especially on behalf of the people on both sides of the border who need to visit each other.
A S PANNEERSELVAN: What is the role of people-to-people contact, and how does it impact the peace process? Noorani Sahib said it does something ‘less than zero’. That primarily comes from one aspect: the civil society is not coming up with quote-unquote ‘viable, legalistic or constitutional models’. He said that the political leadership had created the space for a certain amount of flexibility. And he also had some problem with the hardline peaceniks, rather than with the hardline warmongers, because they are not able to see the flexibility which is coming from the political leadership on both sides. Part of our job is to take the possibilities that have emerged within the past 10 years back to the activist groups.
BEENA SARWAR: Since 1994, people-to-people initiatives have been spearheaded particularly by the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, which has spawned offshoots in India and Pakistan – student groups, labour leaders, fisherfolk, doctors, teachers, union workers. The first initiative was in 1984, when the Muslims organised a conference in Islamabad and invited Indian intellectuals and lawyers. Sometime later there was a series of conferences in Lahore, to which Indians were invited. But those were isolated incidents because, until the 1990s, there was really no place for Indians and Pakistanis to interact, except sometimes in some third country at universities or foreign conferences.
One of the reasons the popular mood is against conflict is that there have now been so many interactions. The People’s Forum has addressed legal, economic and social issues, but somehow the governments don’t pick up on it. In 1994, I heard that Kashmir was not a territorial dispute, but a matter of the lives and aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Now for the first time you can see Kashmiri leaders being invited for dialogue with India and with Pakistan. We’ve really come a very long way, and it’s due to both of these processes – the government and the people-to-people processes.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: In Pakistan, especially, I don’t think that these groups have had much impact on the approach and the overall perspective of the policymakers. But things are now changing. Civil society has started playing a very important role in Pakistan, and will start influencing the policymaking process.
A G NOORANI: This people-to-people contact – for example, this India-Pakistan People’s Forum. Well-meaning people organised it, but is it anything short of a jamboree? What happens there? Nothing. Everyone says nice things about one another, then nothing really happens. What I would like to have is a focused discussion, of the kind we are having here.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: The People’s Forum should not be a PR exercise or a jamboree. The focus should be the youth. In 60 years we have not been given the correct version of history. People have been made to believe that we are enemies. Given the depth and the length of our civilisational experiences and close linkages, cultural affinities, we couldn’t be enemies. Since the futures of our countries and our regions depend on the younger generation, we have to educate them properly, correctively, objectively. There should be more student exchanges, so that the youth can see the reality with their own eyes – and not continue to live with this notion that Pakistan is a country of mullahs and extremists.
TALAT ASLAM: I’ve always found this people-to-people contact thing to be extremely in-house: a group of people preaching to the converted, talking to each other, patting each other on the back and agreeing. It really needs to be broadened to some real kind of people-to-people movement, like what you saw in the cricket matches. People who are sceptical of each other – Pakistanis who think Indians are not quite right, and Indians who think all Pakistanis are all terrorists. This needs to take place on a more mass level, encouraged by liberal visas. There are also little subtle interconnections being built. Last year, for instance, a couple of Indian movies managed to get released in Pakistani cinemas. An Indian film called Awarapaan has been playing almost unnoticed for the last three to four months in Karachi, Lahore, Pindi, everywhere.
KANAK MANI DIXIT: In the context of the size of the two populations, the enormous level of interaction that is required, could it not be said that the actual volume of what the India-Pakistan People’s Forum and others are doing is rather insignificant?
ZAHID HUSSAIN: People-to-people contact has played a positive role, but it has slowed down and applies to a very limited section of people. At the 2004 cricket match, there was some hope that that people-to-people contact would increase. But since last year, I have seen a gradual decline in that contact, since people cannot actually cross the border freely, and the visa regime has been further restricted. One of the issues we should raise quite strongly is for a liberal visa policy – without which, people-to-people contact will not go beyond a certain limit.
A S PANNEERSELVAN: Regarding visas, the diplomatic team in each country, who seem more cosmopolitan and less paranoid than the home ministry, should become more assertive. That will open up the space.
BEENA SARWAR: We are the only countries in the world where you get a visa not for the country but for different cities. Officially we don’t even have visas for tourism – you can only get a visa for visiting relatives. Then there’s the police reporting: within 24 hours you have to report to the police. Over the last eight or ten years, exceptions have been made for conferences, the cricket thing. But that needs to be on a really regular basis. The only place that you can get an Indian visa in Pakistan is Islamabad; the only place that you can get a Pakistani visa in India is through Delhi. It is mind-boggling why the two consulates in Karachi and Bombay are still closed.
KANAK MANI DIXIT: To allow for mass-scale visas, you’d need to create a new political atmosphere, so that not only the rich and the influential but also the poor can get visas with ease. But that cannot happen unless the media picks this up as its agenda, and writes about it and goes to the mass level. Only that will impact the politician, which in turn will impact the bureaucracy and home ministries.
SHAMSHAD AHMAD: Foreign ministries seek to promote people-to-people contacts and liberalised visa regimes, but lobbies which exercise tremendous pressure on governments are also at work. In Pakistan, the very strong rightist lobby believes that people-to-people contact could bring an invasion of culture from India. Other groups, like the People’s Forum, can play a role by constituting another lobby. The India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue contains an elaborate set of proposals that include educational exchanges and tourism; cooperation in Ayurvedic medicine; youth affairs and sports; visits to religious shrines; media-related issues; and arts and culture; and finally, visas and consular issues. But a word of caution: in both countries there are lobbies which are working to obstruct this.
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL: In Kashmir there is an element of scepticism about bilateral people-to-people contact. They say, Well the Indians and the Pakistanis are getting together and they’ve forgotten all about Kashmir. There is no conducive atmosphere for allowing for the participation of the Kashmiri people. That can only be created by introducing certain confidence-building measures, like reducing human-rights violations and demilitarisation.
BEENA SARWAR: The lack of space for Kashmiris to meet also came up in the Pakistan-India People’s Forum meetings, where they said that there should be specific forums to allow Kashmiri women from both sides of the border to meet. And I think that there’s a case for organising meetings for Kashmiri journalists from both sides of the border, also. In a lot of India-Pakistan meetings, that specific area gets left out, and the Kashmiris either don’t get the visas or don’t get the invitations.
A G NOORANI: About the visas, if you would only liberalise this, have some visa offices in Lucknow, in some of these provincial areas, in the catchment areas, these consulates can serve as cultural centres also, and distribute literature.
N RAVI: To what extent would people-to-people contacts, or the media, or any of these ‘soft power’ areas, be able to swim against the current of official policy? It would be virtually impossible. Probably one area where they could serve a very valuable purpose would be to create a constituency for peace – to raise the stakes for the people as a whole in the peace process. And for that, I would suggest the involvement of the political parties and the political leaders at the state level, outside of the official dialogue process.