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Start talking again

Leaders of India and Pakistan must learn to speak to their own peoples as well as to each other. A view from India

Start talking again

At 69 years of age, both India and Pakistan are leaving even middle age behind, but their reactions and intentions, at least towards each other, smack of a persecuted childishness that is neither seeking closure for a traumatic past nor willing to plan for a benevolent future.

The way both countries have been at each other these past few weeks hardly bodes well for the future of 1.4 billion people. The cycle of accusation and counter-accusation by both governments is deepening the sense of cynicism and foreboding in the population; it’s enough to cause a fracture.

The people had hoped that prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif would, at last, break through the circle of endemic poverty, not create a new one of propaganda. Unfortunately, it seems that India and Pakistan are condemned to drag their people down, not lead them to a new dawn.

Crossing the Radcliffe Line in April, with both my daughters to attend a wedding in Lahore (and no, we didn’t get a visa to visit Harappa), a shop-keeper outside the stunning Masjid Wazir Khan told us, “All we want now is for two large-hearted ‘siyasatdaan,’ (leaders), to end this acrimony so that we get to know each other better.”

While a former Kannada actress, Divya Spandana, who has since joined the Congress party, returned from a SAARC young parliamentarians meeting from Islamabad last week and announced in Delhi, “Going to Pakistan is not like going to hell. The people there are just like us. They treated us very well.”

Certainly, there’s something about Indian and Pakistani men that riles them up so quickly. Perhaps it’s a missing gene called tolerance. As soon as Kataname Vittal Gowda from the South Indian state of Karnataka heard what Divya said, he was so furious, he filed a case of sedition against her.

Both Modi and Nawaz Sharif have hardly vindicated themselves, either. To be sure, they have reached out to each other these past two years — Modi dropping in at Nawaz’s grand daughter’s wedding last December, both breaking bread at Ufa, Nawaz coming to Delhi — but the truth is that our expectations of our leaders is so low that any gesture is lauded as great leadership.

Truth is, both Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif have failed us. It is not enough to say that Nawaz Sharif made peace with India an early plank of his rule and overcame the hardline elements in his own Army and intelligence to publicly demand the completion of the journey he undertook in Lahore with Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1999. It is also totally spurious to say that Modi overruled his own hardline mentors in the RSS to reach out to Nawaz Sharif so publicly.

India has made the current situation much, much worse by firing upon its own citizens with pellet guns and killing and blinding several score in the Kashmir Valley. The anger and frustration inside India’s northern-most state, has turned it into a tinder-box.

The whole point of democracies is the election of leaders who can stay the course despite moments of trial and tribulation. But the leaders of India and Pakistan made such tentative and self-congratulatory efforts for peace that they forgot that any worthwhile journey is tough and long and hard. Neither the RSS nor the Pakistan army was going to roll over and say, “Okay, now you two can go ahead and sing ‘Yeh dosti, hum nahin chhorenge…’ as you skip towards the orange horizon in a Bollywood movie together.”

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Of course, India has made the current situation much, much worse by firing upon its own citizens with pellet guns and killing and blinding several score in the Kashmir Valley. The anger and frustration inside India’s northern-most state, in the wake of gathering human rights violations over the decades, has turned it into a tinder-box. You needed the guile of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and the energy of Narendra Modi to pull off this incredible experiment between the BJP and the PDP.

And what has Pakistan done? Instead of being anguished by a neighbour’s grief, it has instigated the crisis by seeking to internationalise the issue. So letters are being written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the Chinese are being petitioned and leaders from the OIC who come a-visiting are being told that the human rights of its Muslim compatriots in Jammu & Kashmir are in danger.

Unfortunately, 2016 is not 1992, when in the wake of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the Pakistanis sought to internationalise the Jammu & Kashmir issue and then Indian prime minister, PV Narasimha Rao, successfully fought the Pakistani onslaught by sending an all-party delegation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 1994.

The reason 2016 is different is not only because India and the US are coming much closer together and Pakistan and China are tightening their embrace. The truth is that the world has had enough of the troubles created in the Middle East and the refugee crisis in Europe to tolerate another independent state — even if the Kashmiri protestors are repeatedly dreaming of one — in the middle of an India and Pakistan nuclear-armed to the teeth.

Some of the old truths also need to be reiterated here. Remember former external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, in the wake of Pakistan’s invasion at Kargil in 1999? “Map-making in the subcontinent must come to an end,” the wise old Indian politician said, indicating that no country can now hope to expand their territories through the use of force. It is a lesson as true in 1999 as it is in 2016.

But, first things first. India must stop the horrendous use of pellet guns to control the violence in Jammu & Kashmir. Yes, protestors are using stones and bricks and sharpened marble chips as deadly projectiles against security forces. That should stop, immediately. The end of violence must be followed by dialogue with all — with nationalists and separatists and stone-throwers. “India go back” is a slogan splashed on the walls of downtown Srinagar, but the truth is that the Indian state is never going to retreat from Kashmir, just as the Pakistani state isn’t going to retreat from Balochistan.

Meanwhile, Delhi and Islamabad must prepare for talks on both Kashmir and terrorism. It is utterly childish to demand, as Pakistan has recently done, to invite the Indian foreign secretary for talks only on Kashmir — and for the Indian foreign secretary to accept the invite, on the condition that the talks are held only on the question of Pakistan’s involvement in the ongoing Kashmir crisis.

Stop. Speaking. Past. Each. Other. The leaders of India and Pakistan must learn to speak to their own peoples as well as to each other. Grow up.

Jyoti Malhotra

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