Vivek : Issues & Options

India, Pak & a happy mirage

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There is no policy change

The positive vibes emanating from the meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in Addu, the Maldives, have generated a lot of misplaced optimism on the future of Indo-Pak relations.

Notwithstanding the encomiums heaped on each other by the two Prime Ministers and their declared intention of “writing a new chapter” in relations between the two countries, the fact of the matter is that neither of them has the political capital to break the logjam. There have been innumerable occasions in the past when the promise of a new dawn in relations between the two countries was very soon eclipsed by the harsh ground realities.

Despite the excellent atmospherics, there has been really no change in policies, even less in mindsets. The claim that “trust deficit” has been shrinking — the Pakistani foreign minister has been brave enough to say it is “zero” — is laughable. Consider the following: Even though India has publicly withdrawn its objections to EU trade concessions for Pakistan, unnamed senior Pakistani officials have accused India of putting the Bangladeshis to the task of opposing these concessions; the Pakistanis removed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (responsible for 26/11 attacks) from the list of banned terrorist outfits; the Jaish-e-Mohammed is making a very strong comeback; Pakistan’s entire policy of backing Islamic militants in Afghanistan is India-centric and given that the Pakistani people are fed on a daily diet of anti-India, anti-Hindu poison (in schools, newspapers, TV channels, public discourse), only someone purblind would say that trust deficit is shrinking.

While the Indian Prime Minister insists that he will follow an approach of “trust and verify”, his approach is more aptly described as “trust in spite of verification”. After all, his intelligence agencies have been highlighting the continuing inimical actions by Pakistani terror groups backed by the Pakistani military establishment. And yet if Dr Singh continues to trust the Pakistanis, then either he is being misled by the Indian intelligence agencies, in which case heads should roll; or else he is misleading India, in which case his head should roll.

A repeated blunder committed by Indian policymakers and opinion-makers is to superimpose their personal relationships with Pakistanis on national policy-making. It is delusional to imagine that excellent personal relationships and, indeed, friendships can be replicated at the national level. Personal relationships, between people, politicians and even military officers, survived even the holocaust of 1947. But these didn’t help much in improving relations between the two countries. Until Pakistan can accept the reality of India and learn to live in peace with its neighbours despite differences and disputes, there can be no normalisation of relations. One litmus test of such a change having occurred will be when Pakistani citizens are not harassed by spooks when they apply for an Indian visa.

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Published in The Asian Age 17th November - 2011

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