War and Peace
Reading fine print in joint statements is an exercise that sustains many arm- chair experts. Insistence by some senior officials of the Indian foreign office to the media to display better understanding of the English language when reading the Sharm-El-Sheikh joint statement of India and Pakistan is, in substance, an exercise in obfuscation and damage control. The statement is not a botched up draft that needs analysis of experts, as made out to be by the outgoing foreign secretary. It is a simple statement of intent put together by two leaders of sovereign nations who wanted to break free from the restraints put together by lobbies and vested interests that want India and Pakistan locked in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. Its unequivocal enunciation of the road map between the two countries reveals itself in the de-linking of "composite dialogue" with "action on terror".
Unfortunately, hate spewing TV experts have latched on to this part of the statement and criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for capitulating to the pressure of the Americans and the wily Pakistanis. To buttress their argument for maintaining status quo after the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008, they have picked up a hanging sentence on Baluchistan. What is ignored in this high-pitched debate is the reiteration of India's interest in a stable and democratic Pakistan and promotion of regional cooperation. This is an important affirmation by India and Pakistan 62 years after they were partitioned by a dishonest midwife who had an agenda of its own.
Reading of new Partition literature clearly shows the Machiavellian role a devalued world power played with its former subjects. Reading of history, these days, is providing a newsy spin to the violent happenings in Afghanistan-Pakistan and India. Historians and members of strategic establishment are wondering whether it is possible to reorder geography and people's destinies. The joint statement talks about the two countries realising their full potential if factors like terror and hatred is eliminated and the possibility of a war is reduced.
The degrading poverty and misery in South Asia is due to the mindless arms race that diverts billions of dollars in weapon systems that cannot be used. The tragedy of both the countries is that western powers that pontificate on peace are the ones who benefit the most by selling costly weapon systems while these countries desperately need schools, drinking water, hospitals and robust infrastructural development. Besides, the global slowdown is forcing western strategists to rethink old practices. Cash-strapped western powers are wondering whether they can allow regional powers to look after their own affairs. Withdrawal from Iraq and change in policies in Af-Pak is a case in point.
The joint statement is an expression of how the region could re-build old ties when there were no borders. It leaves unsaid the criminal vested interests that the Hobbesian state of war between the two neighbours has created. Although official trade takes place between the two neighbours, almost $3 billion worth of it takes place through third countries like Dubai and Singapore. This figure is an underestimation and lots of goods are smuggled between the two countries. Profit margins for businessmen are higher in an environment of illegality. Criminal syndicates that benefit from smuggling and illegal activities help in financially sustaining terror organisations. It is a vast, multi-layered network that includes armed merchants, corporate interests, the army, the police and bureaucracy and prevents normalisation of ties between warring neighbours. It is a syndicate that will not shy away from spending a few millions dollars to fund non-state actors to sustain the agenda of ex-colonialists who felt that absence of antagonism could leave no reason for the existence of Pakistan. It is not for any other reason that Kashmir's wounds have been allowed to fester for so many years.
The decision to take forward the peace process requires a lot of courage. In the sub-continent, Partition and the consequent hate and mass murders have contributed in shaping the two nations and their politics. It is easy to trash the PM and his peace initiative by branding it due to manifest American pressure. The PM is doing the right thing on hastening slowly on restoration of the dialogue process. Indeed, he can succeed in his attempts if terror syndicates do not repeat another Mumbai.