Inviting all the heads of SAARC countries except Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to the second time swearing in of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his triumphant election victory is typical of a bitchy start to of what could possibly be a hope for otherwise dying optimism for a new beginning of relations between India and Pakistan.
Surgically separated Siamese twins, if they survive, have a tendency to keep kicking at each other for their survival. It may sound a far-fetched analogy but it is nearest to truth when discussing relations between two nuclear nations. Having brought into being by an imperial power through carving out the sub-continent, apparently, they cannot live separately, they pin prick each other to remain in good humour as such I have never taken cross-border exchanges on the Line of Control (LoC) as something serious. If one looks back it would not be difficult to conclude that it is a seasonal affair—when snow melts fireworks resume to be suspended at the first fall of snow in Kashmir mountains. Unfortunately, for India, casualties fall in the category of co-lateral damage. However, increasing human rights violations have been worsening the tragic scenario. I would not like to draw any more similarities as it would amount to stirring the hornet’s nest of patriotism and be drawn into exchanges of accusations of being anti-state.
Not that knowing historical facts correctly is PM Imran Khan’s academic virtue, the hope that he expressed of his possibility of doing business with re-elected Prime Minister Modi on the eve of Indian elections was perhaps based on the above premise. Unfortunately, victory has its element of arrogance and the Indian tea boy who has emerged as perhaps the strongest Prime Minister after Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in India, has a memory not short enough to forget Imran’s jibe of calling him a small man. Besides, he is freshly wounded and has yet to recover from the Pulwama tragic set back that brought crashing down his dream of fixing Pakistan.
Though perception created by his propaganda machinery was different, it was IK and Pakistan’s military establishment that outmanoeuvred him especially when Pakistan returned captured Indian pilot without any gain as a gesture of good will and generosity. Some say it was American pressure that made him do it. What Modi thought would give him additional advantage in polls actually had optically sore ending. As such at the height of his popularity and unprecedented electoral triumph, one should not expect Modi Sarkar to invite an adversary with whom he will have to cross swords time and again.
Just when I sat down on my computer to do my piece for Truth Tracker I received a call from my editor asking me to write my column on Pakistan-India relations in the post Indian election milieu. I am a pacifist by nature and I believe that war mongering, hostility, exchange of firing, killing of innocent people on both sides of the border and cross border terrorism are anathema to peace and general weal of poor and deprived masses. I am also of the view that blowing of hot air on both sides of the divide would not help resolve the problem that has caused deaths of thousands of innocent people, rape of women and mayhem of children.
Knowing Khan’s saner views on Kashmir as leader in opposition that the core issue should be put on the back burner as long as not enough trust and confidence is generated to resolve it to end suffering of the Kashmiri people and foster peaceful co-existence between India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, IK does not have that independence in negotiations that Prime Minister Modi has. The question I was asked by a diplomat in London when British government was trying to revive composite dialogue between India and Pakistan that Indian Prime Minister Modi wants to know which Sharif they should talk to—the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or the then Army Chief General Raheel Sharif? Indeed, all our well-wishers who are keen to help are wary of this diarchic predicament faced by PM Khan.
Pakistan’s most trusted friend China has no doubt stood by us through thick and thin, yet Beijing has persistently hoped that Pakistan and India will seek civilised and peaceful channels for resumption of discontinued composite dialogue so that appropriate negotiations be held across the table to resolve any differences, improve bilateral relations and together cooperate to secure region’s peace and stability. Both the adversaries have been advised by friends to build confidence and mutual trust that their leaders desperately lack.
Chinese advice reminds me of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s visit to Beijing soon after her assumption of office in early 1989. It was nostalgic of her father martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s that I had as well the pleasure of accompanying in 1974 to Beijing when both of the country’s great leaders-Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Zhou en-Lai-were alive. The great warmth and unprecedented reception extended to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was a clear manifestation of Chinese affection for Bhutto Sahib who had taken Pakistan’s relations with China to unsurpassable heights of friendship deeper than the seven seas. The protocol given to her on her welcome was unprecedented like of which have ceased ever since. Bibi had been to Beijing with her father in 1972. She knew the depth of relations that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had cultivated with the Chinese leadership painstakingly striven during his six previous visits. Her visit besides being nostalgic was an opportunity to reinvigorate the ties with China.
She had more than two hour long one-to-one meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng. They covered vast areas of bilateral relations, Pakistan’s role under Benazir Bhutto’s leadership in global and regional politics. Being a senior leader, Li Peng expressed his world view of the possible future course of currents, cross currents and under currents in global politics. His advice to Benazir Bhutto served as a guiding principle for her foreign policy. She also had more than 90-minute long meeting with the ageing supreme leader, Deng Xiaopeng who in his charming story telling style took her down his memory lane and recalled his profound appreciation of Bhutto Sahib’s statesmanship.
In the unwinding session that Bibi had with me, she shared what transpired between the two prime ministers. Chinese Premier Li Peng stressed upon her to concentrate on country’s economic development. He was aware that Kashmir was the core issue between India and Pakistan and it had been responsible for two wars. He told her never to allow the situation to reach a point of no return and war, his advised her to emulate China’s policy vis-à-vis India—despite their border dispute—trade between the two countries had developed many folds.
We all know that China has a border dispute with India and been to war with it in 1962. Last year there were serious skirmishes on Dhokla. Notwithstanding, China has still developed trade and commercial ties with Delhi currently to the tune 400 billion. Chinese Premier Li Peng told Bibi not to ever allow situation to drift in a manner that would retard trade and economic relations. Finally, about Kashmir, he assured full Chinese support to Pakistan’s point of view. However, adding that “don’t talk of war” and pursue a negotiated settlement.
Chinese Premier Li Peng’s advice became a guiding light for her. As Prime Minister, she left no stone unturned in developing economy and making sincere efforts bilaterally for the resolution of Kashmir dispute with India. She stoutly opposed the thinking that supported physical external support. She did not want to give India an excuse to market Kashmiri intifada as a secessionist movement supported by outside forces. Her instructions to me as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to UK were to mobilise international support for the people of Kashmir on gross violation of human rights. She believed that if any external physical support was found in aid of peaceful Kashmiri freedom struggle- it would subvert the genuine cause. As compared to her, former dictator General Pervez Musharraf believed in low-intensity aggression and cross border infiltration. Even now he causes embarrassment to the state of Pakistan when in his interviews he accepts Pakistan’s explicit involvement in cross border terrorism.
First things first, IK shall have to act to consolidate his position as both de facto and de jure prime minister to show to the world that he is in effective control of power and not someone somewhere else. After having achieved that, PTI government should seek an out-of-the-box solution through a proactive foreign policy. In the month of July 1972, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto signed Simla agreement with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Both accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory. The two sides agreed to resolve it bilaterally without prejudice to UN Security Council’s resolutions.
After 47 years of war between the two countries Simla Agreement has withstood all the pressures, and vagaries of hostility to this date. Both the countries need to revisit Simla now as a way forward to break the deadlock. There’s no harm in untangling the Gordian knot through General Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula. It is time India and Pakistan show that quality of visionary statesmanship that led to Simla agreement without outside involvement or mediation extending the two nations an edifice for lasting peace on basis of equality, mutual respect and trust.