How to make peace with your neighbour

How to make peace with your neighbour

BG Verghese’s last book is a pragmatic reminder of the necessity of an India-Pakistan reconciliation.

Long before “connectivity” became a buzzword in India’s foreign policy, Verghese had a clear sense of the damage done by the economic vivisection of the subcontinent.

Book: State of Denial: Pakistan’s Misguided and Dangerous Crusade

Author: BG Verghese

Publisher: Rupa

Pages: 230

Price: Rs 500

Few in our time have thought as clearly on Pakistan as George Verghese, a former editor of this newspaper and many others. If his reputation as an editor and commentator was formidable, less well known was his passion for finding ways to overcome the post-Partition challenges of the subcontinent.

After he stepped down as an active newspaper editor, Verghese spent much time at Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research delving into issues that arose out of Partition — the question of sharing the waters of the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, the problem of Kashmir and the unending conflict with Pakistan.

Long before “connectivity” became a buzzword in India’s foreign policy, Verghese had a clear sense of the damage done by the economic vivisection of the subcontinent. For someone who grew up in undivided India, Verghese understood that the political partition of the subcontinent need not have been followed by an economic one.
He refused to accept that the self-imposed restrictions on commercial and people-to-people contact between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are either sensible or permanent. Verghese advocated the restoration of the historic connections with Xinjiang, Tibet and Yunnan that were ruptured by the unresolved boundary dispute with China.

PM Narendra Modi and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif at the swearing-in ceremony of the BJP government in May 2014. Neeraj Priyadarshi
PM Narendra Modi and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif at the swearing-in ceremony of the BJP government
in May 2014. Neeraj Priyadarshi

Reconnecting with Myanmar was also a major preoccupation for him. This volume by Verghese, who passed away in December 2014, is focused on Pakistan. As the title of the book suggests, Verghese had very strong views on Pakistan. I had the opportunity to interact with him closely at the Neemrana Track Two engagement with Pakistan at the turn of the 1990s, when tensions were running high over Kashmir.

At the first meeting of the Neemrana Dialogue in 1991, Verghese’s peroration on Kashmir sharply raised the tension in the room as he demolished Pakistan’s case with a calm but devastating intellectual precision. Unlike some of his peers in the peace movement, Verghese did not believe in “making nice” at these interactions.

Recognising and remembering the truth about Pakistan, its creation and evolution, were absolutely critical for Verghese. He combined a very critical evaluation of Pakistan with a clear sense of India’s imperatives for reconciliation and an enduring optimism about finding creative solutions.

The first part of the book is devoted to understanding the history of the Partition and its consequences for India-Pakistan relations. It races through the division, the controversies over Kalat, Bahawalpur, Junagadh, Hyderabad, the crisis over Kashmir and the 1965 and 1971 wars.

The second part of the book deals with some of the outstanding issues — Siachen, the nuclear rivalry and the intensifying disputes over the Indus waters. The third part of the book is a deconstruction of Pakistan and its ideology and conduct over the last seven decades. The book concludes with a discussion of the pathways to peace
with Pakistan.

For Verghese, the problems of Kashmir, the Indus waters and nuclear weapons are consequences of an “endless stalemate” with Pakistan. The “real core issue”, according to him, is “Pakistan’s lack of identity or anchorage”. Verghese insists that Pakistan is an ideological state that “continues to be chained to an ideology that is confused, illiberal and ill-suited to a modern state”.

But unlike the uber-hawks, who dominate India’s current public discourse on Pakistan, Verghese has no room for cynicism in his understanding of the western neighbour. India’s challenge, Verghese asserts, is to assist in the positive transformation of Pakistan.

“Even incremental success could be transformative. If right efforts are made, the issues of Kashmir and waters could be resolved”. The Indus, which Verghese terms as the “waters of unity”, could be turned from a source of confrontation into a domain of genuine cooperation through the integrated development of its basin from the Karakorams to the Arabian Sea.

Unlike those in Delhi that see the China-Pakistan economic corridor as a threat, Verghese wants to open up Kashmir’s disputed frontiers to enable road and rail connectivity between the two neighbours. On the Kashmir question, Verghese cites the possibilities for a political resolution opened by the back-channel negotiations between Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during 2005-07.

In the end, Verghese offers us a powerful reminder: “The fugitive hope surrounding Partition was that India and Pakistan would separate to come together in time, as fraternal friends and partners in a larger South Asian Union. That time has come. Kashmir is not the ‘core problem’. It can be shared. This will not undo Pakistan. Reconciliation could make it whole”.

That India has the responsibility and power to overcome the tragedy of Partition is the central message from Verghese’s final volume. In these times of frenzied anger and hatred towards Pakistan, Delhi’s political and policy establishments will do well to remember, shall we say, the “Verghese Proposition” on India’s historic burden and the opportunities at hand to restore the strategic unity of the subcontinent.


The writer is director, Carnegie India and consulting editor on foreign affairs for The Indian Express