By KS Venkatachalam
The recent diplomatic spat over the harassment of the diplomats and their families has touched a new low in the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. There is an immediate and urgent need for resumption of talks before the situation spirals out of control.
Narendra Modi, immediately after becoming the prime minister, did reach out to all the countries, including Pakistan, as part of his ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. His unscheduled stopover in Lahore was one such effort to better the ties. It must be said in all fairness that the then Pakistan prime minister responded positively to the peace initiatives. In fact, during the tenure of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the historic Lahore Declaration was signed to settle all contentious issues through dialogue. Sadly, before the ink could dry, the Kargil incident happened. Similarly, Modi’s visit to Lahore was followed by a terrorist attack at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot.
Every time, a genuine attempt is made to improve the ties some forces have successfully managed to stall the peace process. It seems there are forces in both the countries that don’t want both the countries to live in peace.
The recent increase in escalation at the Line of Control has become a cause for worry, as it has led to the death of innocent civilians living on both sides of the border. One shudders to think when this madness would end with the ostrich-like approach by both.
India is rightly concerned with Pakistan’s inability to reign in the terrorists, especially, when several terror groups are being used to wage a proxy war against India. Although, Pakistan is itself a victim of such terror attacks, using these groups against the neighbours is not only counterproductive but may not serve its interest in the long run. We have recently seen how the United States successfully managed to put Pakistan in the terror funding list.
India, on the other hand, should show magnanimity in extending its hand of friendship. Pakistan has to take the army on board for all future negotiations with India to prevent vested interests from derailing the talks.
India should immediately initiate several confidence-building measures in order to bridge the gulf of mistrust between the two countries. First and foremost, both it should resume the cricketing ties, as the game has generated a lot of goodwill among the people on both sides as the players have established friendly relations at a personal level. Moreover, the players have proved themselves to be good ambassadors of peace. Secondly, both the countries should encourage and facilitate people to people contacts. Thirdly, there should be resumption of cultural ties. We have seen how Pakistani singers have become popular in India and, similarly, how Bollywood movies run full house in Pakistan theatres.
It is true that the genesis for all the ills has been the botched partition in 1945 and the unresolved Kashmir issue. A paradigm shift is required to create a climate of trust, before even start addressing all contentious issues, including Kashmir.
One hopes that the leaders of both the countries would show statesmanship to improve the ties. India can take a lead by extending its hand of friendship for normalising the relations. Unlike the past, where the people on both sides have been witness to horrific incidents at the time of the largest human migration that had taken place as a result of partition, the people who are born after 1947 want to see better ties between the two countries, especially when both the countries share language, culture, dress, cuisine and music. We owe it the younger generation to forget our bitter past and instead work assiduously to normalise the relations.
(The writer is an independent columnist and political commentator.)