In this excerpt from ‘Do We Not Bleed-Reflections of a 21-st Century Pakistani‘, Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar writes about how India-Pakistan relations can be bettered.
I remember that day in November 2008 when I heard the news of the attacks in Mumbai. I was reminded of 9/11, as I watched with horror the TV reports, I uttered a prayer for the people of Mumbai. A friend in Lahore who was going to Mumbai for a business meeting received a call from the Mumbai JW Marriott, advising him not to travel. A sensible approach, but for how long would such precautions be taken to deal with situations that happen before one can even enunciate the word peace? India’s reaction to the Mumbai attacks was just what it was: immense anger, shock, grief and a vow to bring justice to the victims. It was a moment that changed India irrevocably, and as India mourned the deaths of its 160-plus people, the world including Pakistan mourned with India.
Pakistan, as soon as it accepted that the perpetrators of the attack—the face of which was Ajmal Kasab—were from Pakistan, should have started a proper process of investigation, ensuring full dispensation of justice to the victims of the Mumbai attacks. And the legal process did start. Yet, years later, in 2014, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks—Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi—was released on bail, and to date, the case remains unfinished, and is a constant impediment to improvement of relations between Pakistan and India.
And instead of initiating a proper mechanism to deal with cases of terrorism—signing of treaties for extradition or proper penalisation of suspects, and information-intelligence exchange—Pakistan and India simply did what they always do: hurled allegations and stopped talking.
There are constant violations of the LoC for which both sides blame the other. The Pakistani media highlights the casualties and damage done to our side and the Indian media describes—louder and angrier—how Pakistani soldiers shoot innocent Indians. Pakistani news channels are not shown in India and India follows the same policy: let us keep the people ignorant of what the other side is saying. Now courtesy of online live streaming of TV content, many people watch what is being shown as news and reporting on the other side.
However, while people are quick to believe and even quicker to judge, there is this conditioned laziness that obstructs the desire to have full information about a subject: two sides, all available facts, reportage of what really happened and not what should have happened. The very complex dynamics of the Pakistan–India status is narrowed into binaries of black and white. For Pakistani viewers, India is an arrogant emerging power that likes to bully all its smaller neighbours, Pakistan included. For the Indian audience, Pakistan is an army-run, rogue, terrorist state that is on the verge of internal collapse and is facing international isolation.
For Pakistan, all terrorist attacks in India that are blamed on Pakistan are false flag operations aimed to destroy Pakistan’s already tarnished image in the comity of nations. For India, all terrorist attacks—even without an investigation—are from Pakistan. For Pakistan, Kashmir is an unresolved issue and India’s allegations against Pakistan are simply a cover for its refusal to address the Kashmir issue. For India, anything that happens in Kashmir is Pakistan-endorsed, sponsored and financed.
The January 2016 Pathankot incident and the September 2016 Uri attack in which eighteen Indian soldiers lost their lives are both awful manifestations of how a warped mindset orchestrates the narrative between Pakistan and India, setting the template for that predictable knee-jerk reaction: we will not talk to you now. Back to square one. The visit of Prime Minister Modi to Lahore on 25 December 2015 thawed the icy relationship in a manner years of diplomatic overtures would not have. The January Pathankot attack, despite its audacious aim to do a great deal of damage, opened a new chapter in the Pakistan–India relationship. The Pakistan government, in an unprecedented move, offered its assistance in the case.
Indian media, in the meantime, kept up its pandemonium of ‘state-sponsored Pakistan terrorism’, and Pakistan’s media, in retaliatory mode, tried to give it back in the same self-defeating it’s-India-that’s-bad rhetoric. The debacle of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) meeting of interior ministers in August 2016 in Islamabad, in which unfortunately once again the Pakistan–India ‘enmity’ dominated all other regional issues, invoking a sense of frustration in other member states, resulted in further deterioration of a free-falling situation. After the United Nations General Assembly speeches, the situation worsened. And the Uri tragedy sealed it. For the time being.
The predictable happened. India cancelled its visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit, followed by four other member states. Actors are banned, movies are banned, and there will be no presence of Pakistanis at literary festivals in India and vice versa.
While all India’s allegations against the Pakistan government for the Uri killings cannot be taken on board without question, there are certain questions that must be asked. Pakistan must show that it is sincere in its commitment to the elimination of terror from its soil. That there is going to be no compartmentalisation of terror. That there are no good or bad terrorists. That all India-centric terror will be looked into and dealt with just as all Pakistan-centric terror is. That the term ‘non-state actors’ is not used as a camouflage to turn a blind eye to banned militant organizations that freely operate in Pakistan invoking jihad against India. That any perpetrator of terror in India who is of Pakistani origin is caught and punished. That people like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar, leaders of banned organizations, are not allowed to hold rallies and glorified as ‘heroes’.
In 2016, the killing of Burhan Wani, commander of the Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, and the aftermath of his death initiated a new chapter of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir. The months-long curfew, the numerous deaths and the wounding of hundreds, the arrests of thousands of people, curbing of press freedom, incarceration of separatist leaders and so on marked a new low in the situation in Kashmir.
Now for the short- and long-term good of Kashmir, Pakistan must denounce any kind of armed support any organization in Pakistan is giving or planning to give Kashmiris who are fighting for freedom from India. Pakistan’s stance should be categorical: no militant intervention in Kashmir. The pain of Kashmiris is felt by Pakistanis and that empathy is unconditional, but the way for Pakistan to help Kashmiris is to support all peaceful ways to get their voices heard. Also India must abjure violence in Kashmir. Violence only begets violence.
For all who seek peace, the solution must begin with this basic step: listen to the wails from the beautiful vale of Kashmir. Peace in Kashmir is the first and last casualty of the power games of Pakistan and India. And nothing will change unless India is ready to talk to Pakistan on that one issue that is the raison d’être of all problems between Pakistan and India: Kashmir.
It is not merely about tackling the issue of terrorism. It is not about the UN resolutions or the Simla Agreement. It is not about the four wars between Pakistan and India. It is not even about the water of the rivers that flow from Kashmir. It is not about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace overtures. It is not about Pervez Musharraf’s proposed four-point formula. It is not about the apparent warmth Prime Ministers Sharif and Modi shared. It is about old enemies moving forward. It is about putting the country beyond self. It is about the bigger picture, setting aside old grievances and bloodied history. It is about India agreeing to a dialogue that would address the fundamental issue: Kashmir.
India cannot go on using one excuse after the other to sideline the real issue. If Kashmir is an ‘integral part’ of India then why is there a constant refusal to resolve the issue? If Kashmir will always be a part of India what is the fear India has in addressing the pain of Kashmiris? If India does not wish to talk to Pakistan on Kashmir, why have all Indian governments reiterated, time and again, that they would resolve all issues between the two countries, including Kashmir?
It must also be recognized that no dialogue between Pakistan and India will yield any far-reaching benefit if the people of Kashmir are not part of it.
This is the time when Pakistan and India must start talking to one another. This is the time when statesmanship must replace political point scoring. Both governments must shed the pretence of not giving a damn about the other and start looking at the larger picture. Pakistan would not be able to have internal and external peace unless its relationship with India is stabilized. And India would not be able to move towards its goal of regional leadership unless there is peace with its closest neighbour.
Improvement of relations between Pakistan and India is a national and regional imperative, the first steps of which are not rocket science. It is not about Pakistan’s international ‘insignificance’ and India’s growing strength. Two countries—notwithstanding the differences in their size, capability, resources—that can benefit much from one another because of their geographical proximity, similarity of issues and cultural and historical affinity cannot exist like two petulant school bullies who whenever there is an issue turn their backs to one another, uttering the same old cliché of an excuse: you are bad and now I will not talk to you.
The dialogue must start, and it should remain uninterrupted and uninterruptible.
Published by special arrangement with Aleph Book Company.