Is the army truly on board?

By Zubeida Mustafa

OF late, the on-again-off-again India-Pakistan relationship has entered one of its constructive phases. This comes as a happy development at a time when Pakistan’s partnership with the US is in the doldrums and Afghanistan continues to pose a dilemma.

It appears that the civilian government in Islamabad is trying to call the shots. After a number of diplomatic encounters on the sidelines of international conferences, the two countries have decided to proceed formally with the post-Mumbai phase of their composite dialogue.

Since early this year, a number of secretary-level talks have been held between the two countries. The two foreign ministers have also met and trade is to receive a boost after Pakistan decided to grant the MFN status to New Delhi.

This, as always, gives rise to hope. This is, however, nothing new, for people-to-people ties have been good ever since the second track was launched in the 1990s and the unofficial leaders of public opinion on both sides took matters into their own hands. Although they have not succeeded in changing official policy as it was hoped they would, it cannot be denied that their presence and personal friendships have tempered the relationships of the two states in times of crisis.

Against this backdrop, it was reassuring to have in our midst Mani Shankar Aiyar calling on the two governments to institute “an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue”. Mani Shankar who has worn many hats — at one time he was India’s consul general in Karachi, the Indian foreign secretary, external affairs minister and is now a member of the Rajya Sabha — is above all a vocal champion of India-Pakistan peace. Last week, he spoke at two seminars in Karachi lending weight to the growing desire of Pakistanis to mend fences with India.

Aiyar, who has numerous friends in Pakistan, has some basic contentions that appeal to many peace-loving men and women.
History cannot be reversed so it must be accepted and we must proceed from there. It is time we accepted the basic principle that there can be unity in diversity and an attempt to impose unity on people who are diverse in many ways can actually divide them. According to him, a common history, civilisation affinities and geo-strategic factors create the need for the two countries to normalise their relations.

On numerous occasions, Mani Shankar Aiyar has stressed the importance of a dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi that should not be interrupted come what may. The first time I heard him formulate this proposal was at Caux’s human security forum in 2009 where Raj Mohan Gandhi, another champion of India-Pakistan peace, had invited people from both sides for a dialogue.

Aiyar is very categorical on this score. The two sides should hold weekly meetings that must be held even when their relations go through a rough patch. To pre-empt the forestalling of a scheduled session, he suggests that the talks be held on a fixed day of the week on the Wagah-Attari border and the table be placed in such a way that the delegations of the two sides seat themselves on their own territory. He cites the examples of the Panmunjom talks on the Korean armistice and the Paris peace talks on Vietnam to provide a format to be emulated.

This is an eminently sensible idea. It is now widely felt in Pakistan and perhaps also in India, that the barriers to peace are not erected by the people of the two countries. The policymakers, armed forces and foreign offices are the real culprits. Their mistrust of one another, hairsplitting on the commas and full stops in the text of documents and paranoiac concern to safeguard their security have made peacemaking a challenge for both sides.

Sometimes one even gets the impression that there are vested interests in our armed forces who would prefer to have a no-war but no-peace relationship with India to justify Pakistan’s massive defence spending that leaves nothing for the development of the people in this cash-strapped country. Perceived enemies behind every bush create the pretext for them to nuclearise their arsenals.

That is one reason the peacemakers have failed to win peace even when it has seemed to be within reach. Will it be any different this time? There is hope. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Mr Gilani a man of peace. But more than that he also said that the Pakistan Army is on board this time.

One wonders if ‘memogate’ will give a new dimension to the peace process. A statement from Gen Ashfaq Kayani rather than one from Manmohan Singh about the army being on board would have been infinitely more reassuring. We know that the country faces an economic crunch which could cause a shortfall in the army’s resources as well. Has that led to a change of stance in GHQ in Rawalpindi? After all, any general worth his salt would know that to fight on many fronts at the same time does not make for good strategy.

Does that also mean that once the aid starts to flow in the armed forces may do an about-turn to become the game spoilers vis-à-vis India? Our best bet would be for the peacemakers to install strong structures for a dialogue and create the momentum for peace in such a way that they cannot be broken even when the sun stops shining. That is why Mani Shankar Aiyar’s suggestion for “an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” is so important.

Source: Dawn

9 thoughts on “Is the army truly on board?”

  1. I also think the army has no objection inview of its rising tension with the Americans. However, like in the past our establishment is not ready to give free hand to the civilian government. It is also learnt, that even the China want Pakistan and Indian to have trade inorder to make South Asia a strong economic power to challenge the American increasing interest. However, the problem with Pakistan and India is the lack of trust, which still persist and one incident can even break the diplomatic relationship. For the first time despite massive attack on 26/11, the Indian government did not break diplomatic ties. Lets hope for the best for the people of the two countries. Mazhar Abbas

  2. @Zubeida

    You have rightly remarked "The policymakers, armed forces and foreign offices are the real culprits" People to people there is no problem. There are too many Mani Shankar like thinking people on either side. Recently Imran Khan has joined this wagon and has advocated for a status quo position for Kashmir at least for ten years.He further declared that I will be (on being PM of Pak) boss of Kayaani which literally means Pak will be a 100% democratic country.

    Depending upon USA USSR China gives birth to another problem. India and Pak has become their customers for arms at the cost of social advancement.

    The present meltdown, in my opinion kicked by Hina Khar on her maiden visit to India, must be en cashed by all concerned to have strong relations (may be except Kashmir) and the Trade Avenues must lead to prosperity.

  3. True Zubeda Apa, Army is surely not on board, the whole uproar is reflecting it, neither army would be agree to it untill and unless we woulndt put them pressure to so. India bashing is main diet of army, they are sucking our recources on this sole BIG enemy (read india ) propangenda.

  4. I sure hope this leads somewhere. In addition to the current official and people-to-people efforts, one more project might be to use Indian history textbooks to teach history is Pakistan and vice versa … let us say at the 6th, 8th and 10th grade levels. What a conflicted view of history would students receive! And oh that it would motivate them to find the truth for themselves!

  5. Dear Ms. Zubeida Mustafa
    I agree with your views and share your hopes. In fact, I was in the Indian city of Pune when our newly appointed foreign minister Hina Khar came to Delhi for her meeting with her Indian counter part S.M.Krishna. The press gave more space to how Hina Khar looked, how she was dressed and so on than to what she said. When I met some journalists at a function and they sought my views on the dialogue process, I reminded them of the two words uninterrupted and uninterruptible, which she used in her very first exposure to the Indian press, to qualify the nature of dialogue between the two countries in the future. I also reminded them that it was Mani Shankar Aiyar who had first used these words and repeated it every time he talked about Pak-India relations and it would have been in the fitness of things, had the Indian press highlighted Pakistan foreign minister's emphasis on these two words. Some of the newspapers did carry my comment the next day.
    Is the army truly on board? A very tough question!

  6. I do not think that OF late, the on-again-off-again India-Pakistan relationship has entered one of its constructive phases.

    The relationship today is in its most complicated phase that I have encountered during the last 22 years. Afghanistan, America, Kashmir, China and the militants are the principal complicating factors apart from the usual ones.

  7. The post is a matter of very intense debate but the truth is that both countries having different governments.China is also not we can say a true friend for both the countries as we heard lots of uproars at the border.China only see His profit nothing more than that.Today he is having profit with Pak so he is with Pak today and utilise the relationships.China is doing it only for himself.

  8. Mr.Mani Shankar Aiyar is possibly the only MP who replies to letters from unknown admirers , like me.
    His opinions are positive for the future of South Asia.

    6 decades of mistrust has left us more insecure______its time to try other humane avenues for progress.

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