Event ReportsPublished on Sep 26, 2018
Focus on dialogue in India-Pakistan relations

India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads ever since the two emerged as independent entities in 1947, and have since developed divergent political, social and economic dispensations. On the one hand is their shared cultural past, and on the other, their extensive record of engaging in hostilities targeted at each other. There is a barrage of expert opinions and explanations available that intend to rationalise the aggrieved situation in favour of either India or Pakistan. However, a history of conflict as long as the one witnessed in the case of India and Pakistan, demands a thorough study of original documents and treaties to understand what transpired on the political/administrative front back then, before an accurate assessment can be made.

‘India and Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds’, the latest addition to the 10-volume publication on Indo-Pak ties, authored by Avtar Singh Bhasin, formerly with the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, was deliberated upon at the book discussion organised by Observer Research Foundation on 31 August, 2018. It was lauded for bringing to the fore crucial moments in the evolution of India-Pakistan ties, and by substantiating the same with information accessed from the archives of the Ministry of External Affairs, and the Nehru Papers.

At the very outset, it was brought to the attention of the audience the glaring difference in size and resource repository of India and Pakistan at the time of independence – a difference that has been the primary driving factor in India-Pakistan relations, according to the author. In order to offset the potential drawbacks of such asymmetry, Pakistan employed the route of forging military alliances, and in the process, acquired a false sense of confidence that it was now capable of dealing with the challenges of nation building. The independence of erstwhile East Pakistan, however, was testament to the fact that nations could not be built and sustained on religious beliefs alone, but require cultural cohesiveness, bonds of language and a common historical legacy. The book mentions the example of civil unrest in Balochistan as a case in point.

Another issue that remains to be of extreme important to India and Pakistan is that of Kashmir, and as the book suggests, has been frozen in the foreign policy discourse of both countries. It presents a detailed account of the meetings that took place between Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaqat Ali Khan, in an effort to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. As mentioned by one of the panellists, India’s biggest failure in Kashmir lay in the fact that it allowed the gradual alienation of the young populace of the State. Moreover, there was a severe lack of employment opportunities provided by the State to absorb the youth in productive activities. The author shrewdly encapsulated the sense of detachment and disillusionment felt by inhabitants of the state in one sentence, when he said, “The archaic rules that govern state policies are no less an impediment to human domestic investment than past 70 years of governance in the state”. Over the years, the problem of Kashmir has catapulted from being a domestic concern to an international one, with no end in sight to the violence ongoing in the State.

As mentioned by one of the panellists, Nehru was compelled to concede to most of the demands made by Sheikh Abdullah, of which one of the most significant was that of dual citizenship. At the same time, the conditions put forward by Nehru, on the fulfilment of which dual citizenship was to be granted to J&K – such as the supremacy of the Indian Constitution over that of the State’s, financial integration of the State with rest of the country et cetera - were also ignored. “The more Nehru compromised, the more demands he was faced with, and in the process the distance between the Centre and the State continued to grow”, remarked the author. The infamous Article 35A that the Supreme Court of India is adjudicating nowadays, is the legal provision that provides the State legislature with the exclusive right of identifying the permanent residents of the State, who would then be eligible for acquiring State citizenship. For Nehru, Kashmir was a symbol of Indian secularism, and he deeply feared that any change in the political status quo with regard to the state, would have an unsettling effect on the Muslim population of both India and Pakistan.

Another astute observation put forth by one of the panellists was regarding the gradual loss of institutional memory in dealing with Pakistan. The kinds of communication patterns that the two countries have historically engaged in, in the form of high level prime ministerial visits, diplomatic engagements during various summits, and at the level of the common man, don’t exist anymore. An effort has to be made in re-learning the language of the past, so to say, by encouraging ministry level dialogue with Pakistani counterparts, as the book refreshingly suggests. Whether or not the two neighbours at odds would be able to achieve reconciliation over the outstanding issues is open to debate, with a plethora of opinions for experts to delve into, but the texture and language of engaging with Pakistan needs to be one that is predicated on dialogue, rather than hard power.

 This report is prepared by Shubhangi Pandey, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

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