August 2001

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Vol. I Number 2

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India and Pakistan: Stepping "out from the Old to the New"


By Suresh Jaura


Fifty- four years ago, British Rule came to an end. With the division of the then British India, Pakistan and India emerged as two sovereign nations.


There followed the greatest migration in human history of 12 million people and a blood bath in which up to one million people were said to have died. For today's 24-hour instant TV media, it would have been a series of Breaking News stories that would bring the carnage to every home around the world and evoke revulsion.


Those living in North India, who witnessed the events in 1947, have vivid memories of what followed the creation of Pakistan and India, and their lives were scarred for good. Those born around that period have heard from their parents or grandparents about what happened during the time. For those born after late 1960s, there is some connection with the sufferings that their parents and grandparents went through. But for those born in 1975 or later, 1947 has no meaning except as date in history.


Over the last 50 years, things have changed all over the world. The foes of the Second World War have become friends and allies, the countries in Europe have joined to form the European Union, and America, Canada, Mexico are working on a United States of North America.


However, relations between India and Pakistan are still dogged by hatred, suspicion and misunderstanding. Politicians on both sides have tried, and failed, over the years to bridge the gulf that - despite their many cultural affinities - divides them.


India and Pakistan have fought three wars, including the one in 1971, that led to the creation of Bangladesh. There has been a build-up of conventional arms and nuclear weapons, thus diverting the much needed resources which can be better utilised to uplift the standard of living of the 1.2 billion people of these two neighbours in South Asia.


Notwithstanding the rights and wrongs of the positions that India and Pakistan hold over what happened in 1947 and after, there have been occasional whiffs of fresh breeze: joining SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) in 1985, Simla Accord, Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan, and the recent visit of Pervez Musharaff to India.


"You can change friends, but you can't change neighbours," Vajpayee declared at a civic reception in Lahore, Pakistan after a historic bus ride across the border in 1999, "So why not live as good neighbours?"


Pervez Musharaff expressed similar feelings, while visiting the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi, he said the great soul had "devoted his life to non-violence and peace", ideals that are very "relevant to Pakistan-India relations." 


We must realise that there are at least two parties, both with elements of right and wrong, and there is "need for flexibility and pragmatism that permits compromise and accommodation". There is no denying the fact that the two neighbours have no option but to sit down and sort out their differences which by no means are easy to reconcile.


As a first step, some issues can be resolved, and these include control of cross-border narcotic traffic, ease of commerce, nuclear protocol, and permitting citizens to travel freely between the two countries.


Kashmir has been at the centre of bitter relations between India and Pakistan. As Vinod Mehta, of Outlook, a weekly published from New Delhi, India, said, "Everybody knows that Kashmir is the main issue between India and Pakistan". No lasting  peace is possible without tackling Kashmir. The public senses it too.


As Ramesh Thakur, vice-rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo, writes, "The reality of increasing internationalization and globalization collides against the persistence of competitive nationalisms. In Kashmir, the secular nationalism of India competes with the religious nationalism of Pakistan and the ethnic nationalism of Kashmir".


Their positions on Kashmir remain far apart. Pakistan, citing a 1948 U.N. resolution, calls for a plebiscite to be held in Kashmir on its future. India disagrees, citing subsequent events and agreements, including the Simla Accord and a deal in Lahore in 1999 to settle disputes by negotiations. Pervez Musharraf, while in Delhi, conceded that "there is no military solution" to Kashmir.


It is important to keep the lines of communication open. Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan and earlier a possible meeting between him and Pervez Musharraf in New York at United Nations may help the process.


Psychoanalyst Carl Jung once wrote during the Cold War that it would take only the slightest change in the stability of the minds of the world leaders with access to the "nuclear button" to plunge the world into chaos and annihilation.


In connection with India and Pakistan, it can be said that it would take only a big change in the minds and hearts of the two leaders to come to an agreement to solve the 54-year old rivalry and to shift the balance towards peace and progress in South Asia. For the sake of a future of peaceful co-existence, there is need to "jettison their historical baggage of hatreds".


The leaders may be hesitant to take the obvious decision to make peace for fear of electoral consequences or loss of power for their daring. It is that daring that separates the statesmen from politicians.


Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, said in his speech on the eve of India's Independence: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially."


To paraphrase him: let India and Pakistan awake and work to live peacefully. "A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new," he said. Let us seize that moment and dedicate ourselves to peace and stability.


Early in the New Millennium, that is the least that those at the helm of affairs in both India and Pakistan owe to their people, who have lived together for centuries under British Rule and prior to that, and have no choice geographically too.

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