Updated: March 5, 2021 8:56:52 am
Neighbours should live in peace, not in permanent conflict. No one knows this ancient truth more viscerally than the Indian and Pakistani jawans standing eyeball-to-eyeball at the Line of Control in Kashmir, and also the families living in perpetual fear in villages on both sides of the LoC. But let’s ask ourselves: Do unending Indo-Pak hostilities threaten only the hapless families living near the LoC and the soldiers who routinely get killed in cross-border firings and later forgotten as “shaheeds” in both countries? If we think so, it only means we don’t care for the fact that both India and Pakistan, along with other nations in South Asia, are members of a civilisational family tied together by bonds of shared culture, religion, race and language. Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest representative of this civilisational family in modern times, had the audacity to declare, “Both India and Pakistan are my country.” At his daily prayer meeting on January 26, 1948, just four days before his assassination at the hands of a Hindu extremist, he affirmed: “[T]hough geographically and politically India is divided in two, at heart we shall be friends and brothers helping and respecting one another and be one for the outside world.”
Our Father of the Nation was not alone in voicing this noble sentiment. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, his fellow Kathiawadi and Father of the Pakistani nation, also desired good, neighbourly relations between our two countries. When the first US ambassador to Pakistan, Paul Alling, asked him what kind of India-Pakistan relations he wished to see, Jinnah replied: “An association similar to that between the US and Canada.”
We Indians and Pakistanis are a long way from realising the common dream of the Mahatma (Great Soul) and Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader), but — thank God — faint hopes of peace along the LoC have again broken out. Our two militaries have agreed to “strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and all other sectors”. This positive development could not have happened without cool heads at the highest levels in New Delhi and Islamabad — prodded no doubt by Washington and Beijing — having decided to end the chill in our bilateral relations. For this, we should congratulate Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan, and their two trusted aides — Ajit Doval, India’s redoubtable national security adviser, and Moeed Yusuf, his cerebral counterpart.
But there is another special person who deserves our commendation. He is General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s all-powerful Chief of Army Staff. All those who know him aver that he is the man India should trust. He regards religious extremism, and not India, to be a greater threat to Pakistan’s national security. Indeed, the build-up to the ceasefire agreement itself came from his forthright statement on February 2: “We stand firmly committed to the ideal of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. It is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions.” Five days later, Yusuf, in a lengthy interview with Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency, said, “The Pakistani prime minister’s number one goal in the region is peace with everybody.” What he stated further was revealing: “If we want peace, we have to move forward. If we want to move forward, everybody has to be rational, not ideological.”
Paradoxically, the ruling establishments in both Islamabad and New Delhi now seem to have chosen rationality over self-deception. In New Delhi, gone is the Modi government’s hawkish talk about India being ready for a winnable “two-front war” against both Pakistan and China. Gone also is the bravado of our senior ministers (home, defence and MEA) who said, “We would one day have physical jurisdiction over Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.” Similarly, the new “non-ideological” thinking in Islamabad is that “Kashmir banega Pakistan” is, well, just a slogan without any operative meaning. Abrogation of Article 370 is now regarded as India’s “internal matter”, and its restoration is no longer made a precondition for bilateral talks. The crux of the ceasefire agreement is simply that neither India nor Pakistan is in a position to capture a single square kilometre of territory in each other’s control. The LoC is thus accepted, de facto if not de jure, as the international border between India and Pakistan.
On its part, Pakistan has now decided to prioritise its economic security, progress and prosperity. Yusuf has put it categorically: “Can you have economic security without peace in the region? No, it’s an oxymoron.” Pakistan has planned to leverage its pivotal geo-economic location by building connectivity links and developmental partnerships with South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, China and Russia. This paradigm shift in Pakistan’s thinking has been guided by none other than Bajwa himself. Speaking at the National Defence University in June 2019, he had said, “Countries cannot develop individually, it is the region which develops. For our region to develop we need to have greater regional connectivity amongst all neighbours”. Remarkably, Modi had echoed the same view in his speech at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao in June 2018. With both Imran Khan and host Xi Jinping in attendance, he said, “We have again reached a stage where physical and digital connectivity is changing the definition of geography. Therefore, connectivity with our neighbourhood and in the SCO region is India’s priority.” A quick look at Asia’s map would make it clear that neither India nor Pakistan can bypass each other for regional connectivity.
Thus, the logic of the ceasefire agreement points to a historic opportunity to convert the LoC into a Line of Connectivity and Cooperation. The fact that all Kashmiri leaders have welcomed the agreement is highly significant because this new concept of LoC meets their deepest aspirations for peace with justice, dignity, democracy and development. It can eventually lead to a lasting solution to the Kashmir dispute in a manner that is acceptable to India, Pakistan and Kashmiris themselves. This is what General Bajwa has called “honourable peace”.
India and Pakistan must not lose the hope and momentum generated by the ceasefire agreement, despite likely setbacks. Here are four suggestions. First, Modi should travel to Islamabad for the SAARC summit later this year and contribute to its success. He can expect a good response from Imran Khan, who has often said, “If India takes one step, we will take two towards peace”. (He had said this to me when I had called on him at his Islamabad residence in 2017.) Second, Modi should ask our Army Chief General Manoj Naravane to invite Pakistan’s COAS to visit India. If Bajwa could go to Beijing and Washington to have talks with Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, he can certainly come to New Delhi for ground-breaking talks with Modi. Third, Pakistan should irreversibly end all support to terrorism and India should end all human rights violations in Kashmir. Fourth, our two countries should plan a joint celebration of the 75th anniversary of freedom in 2022. This would make Gandhi and Jinnah happy.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 5, 2021 under the title ‘It takes two to make peace’. The writer was an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
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