Munir Akram, a former Pakistani ambassador to the UN, lays out in an article in Dawn on April 14 the many hurdles to peace in South Asia, of amity between Indian and Pakistan. He first says that the recent crisis in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack was a “baptism by fire” for the Imran Khan government and adds: “In the event, the Pakistani leader emerged as a responsible statesman while Modi exposed himself as a rash warmonger.” But Akram disagrees with the Pakistan PM’s assertion that if re-elected, Narendra Modi will be strong enough to engage meaningfully with Pakistan. The crux of his argument is that in the current global geopolitical scenario, with the US and China ranged against each other in a “new Cold War”, “peace is difficult”.
He argues: “A new Cold War is underway between the US and China. The Washington ‘establishment’ views India as an essential ally in its global competition with China. After the Pulwama suicide attack, US National Security Adviser John Bolton immediately proclaimed India’s “right to self-defence”, providing New Delhi a virtual “carte blanche” to proceed with its threatened military action, irrespective of the inherent risk of a wider Pakistan-India war. Responsibility to avoid a conflict — by acting against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) — was placed on Pakistan.”
Currently, argues Akram, US hostility towards Pakistan is tempered by “ Washington’s need for Pakistan’s support to US-Taliban dialogue. Yet, here too, Islamabad’s help is perhaps being taken for granted.”
The article places the onus of peace in the Subcontinent on South Asia, and argues that New Delhi’s ego about the Belt and Road Initiative stands in the way: “Peace could come to the entire region if India decides to become a part of the Asian ‘order’ being created under the Belt and Road Initiative and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Unfortunately, Modi and the BJP’s obsessive ambition to emerge as China’s ‘equal’ has propelled them towards an alliance with America and may consign South Asia to remain a ‘zone of crisis’ in the New Cold War.”
The April 13 editorial in Dawn is something of a thought experiment, an exploration of a counterfactual triggered by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement expressing “regret” but not apologising for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. It says: the inability to cleanly apologise for the brutality and callousness that marked British rule reveals, unsurprisingly, that lessons from history are not always easy to learn. The old apathy laced with bouts of cruelty towards the ‘natives’ seems to have never left South Asia though the British went home more than 70 years ago. From Srinagar to Trivandrum, from Quetta to Dhaka, the promise of real freedom has eluded the quest for democracy in the successor countries, while many of the trappings of colonial high-handedness were quickly adopted as the norm on the mottled dawn of Independence by the new rulers. “
The bloodletting at Amritsar, the editorial argues, was a reaction to the Hindu-Muslim unity forged by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mohandas Gandhi with the Lucknow pact of 1916. “Some scholars have averred that the history of un-partitioned India would have been truly rewarding had the British decided to leave in 1919 — as a reward, if for no other reason, for the sacrifices that Indians of different religious hues had made for the war effort,” the editorial conjectures.
It concludes by saying “The colonial era may have ended but laws from that period still dog India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, sometimes enforced by the military, occasionally by civilian rulers, and increasingly so by state-backed mobs, which is an innovation on how the British crushed the quest for truer freedoms.”
Ports for Nepal
The April 11 editorial in The Himalayan Times calls for Kathmandu to draw closer to China and the Belt and Road Initiative to boost Nepal’s economy. “Nepal and China are all set to sign the protocol of the Nepal-China Transit Transport Agreement (TTA) during President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s upcoming visit to China, where she is scheduled to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRFIC). President Bhandari is paying her first ever official visit to the northern neighbour at the invitation of her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on April 24,” according to the editorial.
The agreement, which will allow landlocked Nepal access to Chinese ports, has been three years in the making. The implications of the agreement, and Nepal’s increasing closeness to and dependence on China have obvious implications for India-Nepal relations — an issue the editorial assiduously avoids. It concludes by calling for the Nepal business community and state to work towards increasing Chinese investment: “With the right policy in place, Nepal can also attract more Chinese investment to produce goods at competitive prices for export. This way, containers entering Nepal loaded with imported goods will not have to return empty. With China ready to link Nepal with a railway line in the near future under the Belt and Road Initiative, the TTA will be a milestone in enhancing trade with countries of the Far East and Europe.”
A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi