Event ReportsPublished on Feb 12, 2013
A desire to find a solution to the conflict that plagues both India and Pakistan was the common thread that run through the discussion at ORF on the bilateral relations and the way forward between Indian experts and retired military officials from Pakistan.
Indo-Pak ties: Increasing people-to-people contact is the way forward

A delegation of retired senior military officials from Pakistan and India discussed ways and means of finding a ’way forward’ in the bilateral relationship at Observer Research Foundation on December 2. The common thread running through the discussion was a desire to find a solution to the conflict that plagues both nations.

Vikram Sood, Vice President, ORF, said in his welcome remarks that both nations had wasted too many years in animosity and that peace was the way forward. He said that Pakistan and India cannot change their geography, and therefore they both must "deal with it" and "learn from Europe without taking the same route".

Lt Gen (Retd) Humayun Bangash, head of the Pakistan delegation, said that he was happy to have been met with warmth in India. He emphasised that both countries undoubtedly share a connection and urged for greater progress, claiming that nothing will improve between the countries without improved visa and entry policies. This would have a lasting impact, with the potential to facilitate greater communication and understanding between the people of both nations.

One participant said that everyone was "shackled to the past" and called for more open visa regulations and more frequent people-to-people contacts. Others emphasised that a more welcoming attitude would bring about a domino effect, where the military would eventually follow the people.

A member of the Pakistani delegation added that he viewed Pakistan, Bharat and Bangladesh each as pieces to a greater India due to the "same culture, the same language and the same people", noting that all parties should be able to move past current conflict due to such a shared culture.

Manoj Joshi, a Distinguished Fellow at ORF, focused specifically on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. He first addressed the common idea that there is a golden era of Kashmir that India and Pakistan can return to. He disputed this, noting that since the 1930s there has been repeated political tension in the region. He went on to mention that Srinagar is characterised by low polling as well as the issues of psychological autonomy, even though Jammu and Kashmir "lacks economic depth to give it full autonomy", and the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is not an ethnic or religious monolith and carries with it very complex religious tension.

Another Distinguished Fellow at ORF, Dr. C Raja Mohan, shifted the discussion from Jammu and Kashmir back to the larger issue of India and Pakistan, where he claimed that the relationship between the people of both nations was still live and not stuck in the past with older generations, as previously professed. He spoke of a transformation in relations in the past ten years. This has included trade growing "at least ten times" since 2004 as well as an increase in negotiations, and a queue for visas on both sides.

After presenting this positive outlook on India-Pakistan relations, he suggested that both should focus on a professional relationship where soldiers speak to soldiers. He went on to mention that both nations have a joint history which includes the First World War, where soldiers from both territories fought together with the Allies, even pushing out the Japanese from Burma. He also focused on the South Asian region as a whole, bringing up the point that 70% of peace keepers in the world are from this region and that it is thus logical to work together to achieve the same goals.

ORF Senior Fellow, Wilson John, simplified the discussion by stating that "all of us are aware of the problems and some of us might be the problem". He mentioned two issues that needed to be focused on - terrorism and water.

He noted that terrorists are not friends of democratic states and that the number of casualties in Pakistan over the last five years is tremendous. In those five years, the nature of terrorism has transformed drastically. Terrorism is now transnational and we now know that we are not in control, and there do not need to be big groups of terrorists for great damage to occur. He proposed the question of whether Pakistan and India can communicate with each other to defeat the growing clout and strength of terrorist groups in the region. He clarified that terrorism is not only a bilateral concern, but a regional and global issue where India and Pakistan must rise above border issues in order to be successful in the larger picture.

Moving on to the issue of water, he asked if it is possible to steal water. Both countries face acute issues of water and it is a serious issue not only regarding who is using it but how it is being used. Both must work together for a solution.

Another participant from the Pakistani delegation noted that both Pakistan and India should be able to move beyond the bilateral issues in order to achieve a greater good as both nations share a cultural history that includes even spirituality. He also noted that movement must take place and by staying static both nations ruin any chance for progress.

The discussion noted that terrorists also attacked Pakistanis and did not limit themselves to Indians. Various members of the Pakistani delegation were directly affected by terrorist attacks and pushed for Indians to change their perception that the Taliban is a part of Pakistan and not a separate entity. In fact, there have been 40-50,000 casualties in the country as an effect of such strife.

One military official suggested that the way forward was more people to people interaction. Another member of the Pakistani delegation added that perceptions of India in Pakistan are not limited to the negative. Many come to India for medical support and return with praise for India and its treatment. He went further to state that people to people interaction should include student exchanges.

Maj Gen (Retd) Ramesh Chopra, senior strategic and corporate advisor agreed, saying that the nations must not go to war over water and that water management is vital for relations. He also said that it would be more productive for both nations to work together to combat shared issues.

(This report is prepared by Madison Myers, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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