Amit Ranjan is a Research Scholar and has just submitted his Ph D thesis in South Asian Studies division of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reached at amitranjan.jnu[at]gmail.com.
Dr Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in India and Asif Ali Zardari-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in Pakistan are facing strong public ire in their respective countries. During Dr Singh’s premiership, various scams have been unearthed in which a few of his cabinet ministers are involved neck deep, while Asif Ali Zardari is in a clash with the judiciary for allegations of siphoning off public money. But on one front they must be applauded and appreciated. Since their coming into power in their respective countries, they have continued with a bilateral dialogue process without any major hiccup. Also, the way they have approached the dialogue must be appreciated. Besides going for a comprehensive dialogue on all pending issues and conflicts in the recent past, they had also applied an issue-based approach to the dialogue. Trade and commerce were highly focused upon, instead of time consuming, no pay-off issues like terrorism, Kashmir, etc. In the first half of 2012, Indian Minister of Commerce Anand Sharma paid a visit to Pakistan, where he inked a commerce deal with his Pakistani counterpart. As a result, the Integrated Check Post to facilitate and increase trade has been set up at the international border between the two countries. Then in August this year, the Indian government has allowed Pakistani investors to invest in India, though in limited sectors.
Also, no other unfortunate incident has taken place since the Foreign Minister, S M Krishna’s first visit to Islamabad, where he and his then Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, publicly engaged in a verbal duel. After that incident, relations between the two countries were frozen for a short period but the ice melted soon and the two countries once again kicked off the dialogue process. Hina Rabbani Khar, the young foreign minister of Pakistan, soon after assuming office paid a visit to New Delhi. She got an enthusiastic response from her reticent Indian counterpart, Mr Krishna. During that talk, the two ministers had realised the fact that they could not move forward with knives in their hand. Hence, during that negotiation, they explored the possibilities of trade and commerce. Then the visit of the former Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, during the India-Pakistan World Cup match at Mohali in 2010, and a private-cum-political visit of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to India in 2012 had been effective in stepping up the pace of political engagement between the two countries.
Now as Mr Krishna is all set to pay his much-awaited second visit to Islamabad, a positive outcome is being expected. One problem the two countries should negate during their engagement is to keep away from blowing with the winds of chauvinism and instead of discussing issues, if possible, try to strike the core of the problem in the bilateral relationship. The problem or contention between India and Pakistan is not Kashmir, terrorism or any disputed area; it is rather the existing trust deficit, mutual suspicion and, to a large extent, the persistent hatred for each other. These are the main reasons for the continuation of bilateral tensions between them. Unless these things are diluted tensions will remain, no matter how many issues they get resolved between themselves. Due to this, steps taken by the two governments in the past to improve bilateral relations had spectacularly failed. In many cases, instead of appreciating and supporting their leadership, people had followed the line of radicals and chauvinists. Also, due to that, state leadership shies away from taking mature and bold decisions to resolve their existing bilateral disputes.
Now the question arises, how to meet those challenges? The only way, as far as my understanding goes and if I am correct, is to change our existing perceptions about each other. This is a difficult task that would take a great deal of time but, honestly speaking, this is the only available alternative to move forward. This would be possible when progressive groups and individuals in both countries accept their social responsibility and are ready to take a bold step to fight against the hate-mongers and wicked elements. They have to act as an opinion builder and perception changer and should come out in support of the steps taken by their respective governments in improving the bilateral relationship.
Finally, as I have written in my past articles, a dialogue is a process that takes time to be concluded. The amount of time depends upon the nature of the bilateral relationship. States that have good relations with one another reach the conclusion easily, while actors having a not so good or a bad relationship take years to get even a small breakthrough. The latter case applies to India and Pakistan. The best thing is that they are making an effort and are continuing the dialogue despite all sorts of problems. In some discussions, they take decisions and then backtrack, and in some cases, they simply fail to take any decision. In this sort of a bilateral relationship, these things are bound to happen. They should not be deterred by these things and maintain the momentum of engagement, even in situations and circumstances where the odds seem to be against them.