By Rustam Shah Mohmand
IN the eternally sour relations between India and Pakistan, voices of sanity have been repeatedly drowned out by the noise of populists pandering to powerful lobbies on both sides of the divide.
For these ‘crusaders’ of triumphalism, February’s Pulwama attack was wholly promoted, and the paranoia fed relentlessly at the expense of the 1.5 billion people of India and Pakistan.
On both sides of the border, hatred has become the dominant narrative. Seven decades of the trust deficit have only grown deeper, with each country chasing the other in a deadly and expensive race for acquiring more lethal weapons without any serious endeavors taken to halt the arms-war. If this was the ultimate deliverance of the partition of 1947, the pioneers of the scheme might have had second thoughts.
The dominant hate narrative in India, based on ethnicity, betrays the whole edifice of a multi-cultural country. Rather than promoting the concept of an India which prides itself on tolerance, a devious, nationalist attempt is underway to weaken the foundations of a vibrant, historic, multi-cultural state.
Those who support the normalization of relations must not be driven to frustration for lack of political support. An environment for replacing hatred with tolerance must be created in the wake of a reconciliation based on the acknowledgment of each other’s sovereignty.
The question is, will Pulwama now unleash a fresh, more belligerent, more militant narrative? Not necessarily. Historic enemies in Europe who fought two of the bloodiest wars in recorded times established a convergence of ideas and ideologies that would usher in long periods of progress and prosperity for millions of people. In the same spirit, a solution to the Kashmir conflict, one which reflects the aspirations of the people and delivers peace, can be reached. That may not necessarily revolve round the scheme of secession.
But should the fate of regional peace be tied down or become hostage to the non-resolution of the Kashmir dispute for all time to come?
Should 1.5 billion people continue to live in poverty as precious resources are invested in bringing more autonomy to less than the 10 million people of Kashmir? These are troubling and morally problematic questions for certain. But the silent majorities of both countries should wake up to the demands of history.
It will be a test of statesmanship, of foresight and of vision for the leaders of both countries, but the benefits are manifold, translating into trade, cultural exchanges, cooperation in science, technology, medicine, and agriculture.
Pakistan has initiated some serious measures to finally restrict the activities of militant outfits on its soil. It is unfortunate that an event as grave as Pulwama had to occur to bring on this long awaited change in policy. One can expect that it will be implemented with the focus and determination it rightly warrants, and that it will be irreversible.
If New Delhi meets Pakistan halfway and begins to address the causes of the rebellion and unrest in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, an atmosphere crucial for mutually beneficial cooperation in line with a vision of true prosperity could be achieved, with advantages for the entire region.
Pakistan and India have to move on. Pulwama must not irrevocably derail the process of reconciliation, and instead be the foundational ground from which a new policy vision arises, one that is in tune with our changing regional dynamics. At stake is the plight of a little less than one fifth of humanity; the predicament of the millions caught in webs of poverty, of disease, of insecurity, and lack of opportunities. At stake is those who do not hold the promise of a better life for their children.
(The author Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has
served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.