The Hundred Years War in the Heart

Indian Express, April 30, 2005

The much hyped trip by General Pervez Musharraf to India has brought fresh promises of ‘‘confidence building measures’’ between India and Pakistan. But in substantive terms, the India-Pakistan peace process cannot become irreversible just with a joint declaration declaring it so.
The New York Times began its report about the weekend Mush-Man summit began with the words, ‘‘A cricket match brought them together. But it was talk of trade, peace and a gas pipeline that dominated the diplomatic spectacle here.’’ “But the same paper had reported on December 29, 1988 of India and Pakistan’s chance to ‘‘open a new era in relations.’’ The occasion was the summit meeting between Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi.

Vajpayee travelled to Lahore by bus in February 1999. ‘‘The journey of an Indian PM to Pakistan is rare and remarkable,’’ editorialised the Los Angeles Times on February 23, 1999. But the expectation of media optimists that Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy will ‘‘reduce the chance of war’’ was proven wrong on the freezing mountain tops of Kargil.

Each time, Pakistan’s leader of the moment was projected as the right man to make peace: ‘‘Benazir and Rajiv are both not poisoned by the bitterness of partition.’’ ‘‘Nawaz Sharif is a Punjabi and therefore can deliver the support of Pakistan’s Punjabis for a deal with India.’’ ‘‘General Musharraf commands the army and he can swing it in favour of peace.’’ But for peace between India and Pakistan to materialise, the domestic influence of the constituencies for hostility in each nation must be kept in check. All previous peace processes faltered because both sides saw their thaw as an opportunity to strengthen their hand over Kashmir. India assumed that it did not need to go beyond friendly gestures because the status quo in Kashmir suits it. The prospect of US economic and military aid raised Pakistani expectations of overcoming their asymmetry in power with India.

Deep down, Pakistan’s generals expect an American role in getting them a territorial settlement in Kashmir. Moreover, the ascendancy of the Pakistani military in internal decision-making militates against early normalisation of relations with India. Musharraf wants to keep the spectre of an Islamist Pakistan alive to secure western assistance. Last week, Pakistani authorities cracked down on the secular Pakistan Peoples Party, resulting in the arrest of several hundred party activists, to prevent a PPP rally even though fundamentalists from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal have been allowed to hold rallies.

What, then, can India and the international community (especially US) do to engage Pakistan more fruitfully and permanently in the peace process? They should work towards changing Pakistan’s internal power structure, weakening the military-intelligence combine and gradually empowering civil society. Then, Pakistan’s insecurities vis-a-vis its identity and territorial integrity must be comprehensively addressed. India would have to take an interest in Pakistan’s stability and prosperity rather than being seen as Pakistan’s rival or enemy.

That might be a longer-term recipe than periodic high profile summit meetings and declarations of peaceful intentions. But that is the more likely path to durable peace between India and Pakistan.