India & Pakistan need to change their narratives of each other, only then can they begin to solve disputes, says former Pakistani ambassador to the US.

Mumbai: India and Pakistan first need to forge a friendship before beginning to solve disputes, former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani said Friday. For this, he said, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken the initiative, but the process was “sabotaged”.

“I think PM Modi did, to his credit, take the initiative. He did show up at Lahore. Unfortunately, right after that, the process was sabotaged by attacks in Pathankot and elsewhere,” Haqqani said.

Speaking to ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta at an Off The Cuff event in Mumbai, Haqqani said though disputes remain, India and Pakistan should first resolve issues that they can agree upon, such as trade and travel, and come to issues such as the status of Kashmir later.

Trump’s suspension of aid

On President Donald Trump’s New Year’s Day tweet indicating that the US would cut off aid to Pakistan, the former diplomat said there was a vast government machinery and a proper multi-agency consultative process behind the stance.

“Trump likes to talk himself. But, I was told that all US government agencies were consulted. Some made the argument that Pakistan is too important for the US to ignore. Others said just because it is important, there should be efforts made to reform Pakistan,” Haqqani said.

He added that the suspension of aid ought to strengthen the civilian government, and allow Pakistan to reflect on its own policies and reform.

“Is it useful to us to have jihadi groups in the country? Is dependence on China a good thing for Pakistan? The point is, we were in the arms of Uncle Sam before; now we are going to fall in the arms of Aunty China, and that’s not the way it should be. We should be thinking about ourselves. We should first have good relations with our neighbours,” Haqqani said.

Change in narrative

For an open and transparent resolution of disputes between India and Pakistan, it is not a ‘who’ but a ‘what’ that’s needed; the ‘what’ being a change in narrative on both sides, Haqqani said.

“The narrative in India that needs to change is that Pakistan is a country that should not have been created, and on Pakistan’s side, we have to stop the propaganda that India is out to finish off Pakistan and is Pakistan’s eternal enemy,” he said.

He also praised External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s promptness on Twitter in responding to Pakistani families seeking a medical visa to India, but added that the situation ideally should not be this way.

“Sushma Swaraj does something very nice when Pakistani families tweet asking for a medical visa to India, and she responds and gets these issued. But it shouldn’t have to be done that way. Pakistanis who come here should be able to do so without difficulty, without fear. Similarly, people should be able to study in each others’ universities,” he said.

Pat on the back

Haqqani appreciated India’s foreign relations under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the efforts can bring about a vision for the stewardship of the region without China being the only dominant power.

“I think that this is a moment when India is actually finding international recognition as a rising power, and to engage with international leaders at this moment is important. PM Modi is spending time talking to leaders of the United States, Japan, Australia. He is also talking to the ASEAN countries, to Israel. He also went to Pakistan,” he pointed out.

“I would want the South Asian civilisation to have its rightful place on the world’s stage, and if it is getting that, there is no reason to criticise.”

List of sponsors for OTC with Husain Haqqani

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