Can Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif Deliver?

By Saeed Qureshi

The good neighborly relationship between India and Pakistan could not be brought about for seven decades. Can Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif resume the peace process initiated jointly by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif way back in 1999?

That historic process was left in lurch because of Nawaz Sharif’s removal and the Kargil fiasco mounted by Pervez Musharraf. Can the two nuclear armed South Asian nations that fought three wars since independence embark upon a course of cordial and abiding friendship?

In the hindsight one would conjecture that had that peace process continued with the inauguration of Delhi-Lahore bus service by Vajpayee in February 1999, India and Pakistan would have hopefully mended their fences and enter into a new phase of resolving their dicey disputes as border disagreement, terrorism, trade and Kashmir.

The Lahore Resolution envisaged expansion of trade relations, mutual friendship and denuclearization of South Asia. One would hope that Prime Minister Modi chooses to walk in the footsteps of Vajpayee and take up that unfinished agenda brokered by a BJP prime minister of India and PMNL prime minister of Pakistan. Incidentally the same parties are once again at the helm in both the countries.

Let me first of all offer sincere compliments to the commendable Indian democratic culture for electing a tea vender for the highest office in the country. That shows the unassailable strength of Indian democracy, planted and then nurtured by the successive leaders since the birth of that country on August 15 1947.

In comparison the army ruled Pakistan for almost half of its existence since its independence on 14 August 1947. Within three year after independence, India framed a constitution and protected it all along from being suspended or abrogated. India abolished the feudalism, huge landholdings, princely states at the outset and adopted secularism. Pakistan has remained infested with deeply corrupt political establishment, military coups, horrific Islamist insurgency, and crippling poverty

While in India democratic culture was being adorned like sacred deities, in Pakistan a political anarchy was let loose by the politicians from the beginning that intermittently paved way for the military rules. Pakistan is still under the sway of the Colonial era bureaucrats, rapacious landowners, cutthroat industrialists and ruthless tribal chiefs. Even the latter day politicians with high sounding charter to glorify the destiny of Pakistan had fallen prey to the rank opportunism and consuming lust for self perpetuation in power. They were consequently overthrown by the army.

One such iconic leader was Mr. Bhutto. Tragically he was not only a contributor in the disintegration of Pakistan but also deviated from his revolutionary course inducing a stone hearted religious bigot general Ziaul Haq to seize power. The story of General Musharraf is of recent origin and we are all witnesses to Pakistan coming under the military command although comparatively he was a benign and enlightened military dictator.

India too despite its democratic hallmarks, is plagued with multifarious socio-economic challenges such as grinding poverty endemic corruption and sleazy living conditions of the vast majority. However, it is trying to build an infrastructure that improves the societal picture of India. Still it has to go a long way.

Even though India is the world’s largest democracy, yet serious and “ human rights abuses are ongoing, including rape, extrajudicial executions, deaths in police and military custody, torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, and dowry deaths”. Yet despite all these distortions, India is far head of many countries in nourishing the genre of governance via popular mandate and for that it deserves a huge credit and esteem.

Coming to the most cherished yet elusive goal of friendly relations between the two nuclear armed neighbors, one would tend to believe that these can never be cordial and friction free. There are myriad reasons to draw such a conclusion. While superficial and perfunctory pledges and inane claims are floated with regard to friction free and harmonious bilateral relations, the stark reality is that these have remained unattained.

The first irritant is the rigidity of mindsets on both sides that cannot be wished away by any mantra, magic or effort. We have seen the Simla Accord and Indus Basin Treaty going awry. The so called confidence building measures (CMBs) remained confined to the mere lip service and were abided by more in breach that practice.

The Indian mindset is shaped by the embedded perception that Muslims in the sub-continent were outsiders and usurped power that belonged to Hindus. Although the Muslims also reached as far as Malaysia and Indonesia in the primitive times but such strong anti-Muslim sentiment is nonexistent there.

The driving reason for that situation is that in those Far Eastern countries, the population barring a tiny minority consists of Muslims. In India the Muslims are in minority and therefore remain on the receiving end of the non- Muslim majority populace. It would be a wishful urge for the people of both the countries to shun religious bias and live along.

This religious or racial animus pervades the whole of India and Pakistan and can be observed when a match is being played or an armed conflict is going on. The gory episodes like Babri Mosque or clashes on the borderline between the two countries spur the bitterness to a frenzied level both on people and the government levels.

Even if the governments would like to have friendly handshakes, there are religious or sectarian outfits that would want either country to be dispatched to hell. The religious interest groups play a major part in provoking the tempo of bitterness and hostility to the highest pitch. In Pakistan if it is Hafiz Saeed, in India there are stalwarts like late Bal Thackeray and of late Mr. Modi.

In contravention of Indus Basin Treaty brokered by the World Bank, India is building a string of dams over Jhelum, Indus and Chenab rivers that flow down to Pakistan from the Indian side of Kashmir. A time might come that irrespective of international obligations, Pakistan being a lower riparian, may be deprived of the substantial portion of water coming from the Indian side of Kashmir through Jhelum, Indus and Neelum rivers. That could spell disaster for electricity and irrigation in Pakistan.

With such persistent mutual antagonism, is there a possibility for the contentious dispute of Kashmir to be resolved that has remained on the tenterhooks for seven decades? As such what possibility remains that India would relinquish even an inch of that territory if the international arbitration gives such a verdict?

More than a half million soldiers in their part of Kashmir deployed for over two decades are not there for vacation. This huge bulk of army is stationed there to subdue the Kashmiris demanding liberation. Even India is not ready to convert the line of control into a permanent border although Nawaz Sharif might be willing to agree upon that face saving way-out.

In face of such insurmountable bottlenecks and intractable impediments one would be foolhardy to expect or foresee a meltdown of decades if not centuries old animosity. Nevertheless despite these bleak scenarios and murky possibilities there is always a silver lining on the clouds.

One may nurse the fond hope that what could not be achieved by the government of a moderate Indian National Congress party may be made possible by the newly elected Prime Minister Modi despite his credentials as an obdurate antagonist of both Pakistan and Muslims.

After all if another BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could make an historic visit to Pakistan during the last tenure of Nawaz Sharif’s premiership, why can’t Prime Minister Narendra Modi replay that glittering moment for a momentous breakthrough this time?

The writer is a senior journalist, editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.

You can read this and other articles of the writer at his blog www.uprightopinion.com

Categories: Asia, India, Pakistan

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