India-Pakistan interaction, in recent days, is fast losing its familiar flavour of distrust and bitterness. This is not to deny, however, that one can still identify the inertial sense of rancour, the propensity to misunderstand and misinterpret each other within the dialogic track that has completed one year. But, this time round, there is certainly a precipitate will on both the sides to engage each other, to diversify the nodes of interaction and to treat each track-one interaction as part of a ‘process’ not ‘event’, as the Indian Foreign Minister so aptly put during the course of the dialogue not long ago. Howsoever haltingly the process is hurtling along, the incremental advances are there for all to see, i.e., the willingness to re-open Srinagar-Muzafarabad bus-link after almost 58 years, the decision to revive the Munabao-Khokrapar rail-link and above all, the shedding of Indian inhibition on the gas-pipeline issue.
The thorns remain however. The spoilers are getting impatient on the margins. The issue of Kashmir everybody knows can turn the applecart. The move to re-start the bus-link between the two parts of Kashmir has divided the public opinion in Pakistan. Excepting Benazir Bhutto’s Peoples’ Party, and of course, the ruling PML(Q), being touted as King’s party, no other political party or group welcomed the step. The Indian decision to climb down on the issue of use of Indian passport by Kashmiris travelling to the other side has been interpreted by them as an adroit move to scuttle the Kashmir issue. The chief commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen and the leader of the United Jehad Council, Syed Salahuddin even said that the Pakistani government was playing with the blood of the mujahideens fighting in Kashmir. The sacrifices of the freedom fighters are being wasted, said the spokesman of the right-wing Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam (Fazlur). Musharraf and his men have assured the people of Pakistan that the core interests of Pakistan — an allusion to the Kashmir issue and the safety of the strategic assets of Pakistan — shall be protected, even if the gates between the two Kashmirs were to open.
Meanwhile, the Baglihar issue (the hydro-electric power-plant India is undertaking on river Chenab) has strayed out of the bilateral track. Pakistan has injected a third negotiator into the process by seeking the help of the World Bank to mediate between the two countries as the Bank had initially mediated and was a guarantor to the Indus Water Treaty between the two countries in 1960. India has requested continuation of bilateral negotiations over the issue but has taken no exception to Pakistan’s appeal to the World Bank. Pakistan has also brought in the issue of Kishenganga project on Neelum river in the Gurez valley, where India is seeking to divert the course of the river through a tunnel to the Wullar lake. The discussions on Kishenganga are going on. However, the India-Pakistan differences over Baglihar and Kishenganga have not affected the rhythm of the ongoing talks.
The trajectory of the process of dialogue seems to be on a positive track even if many analysts, in the US (Stephen Cohen, George Weinbaum, Hussain Haqani, Ashley Tellis etc.) and Pakistan, have come out with their observations, recently in a conference organized by the US Institute of Peace, that there is no future for the India-Pakistan dialogue. The irreconcilable differences over Kashmir and the ideological divergences between the two state-systems will soon upset the process, they have concluded.
The proliferation of tracks in the ongoing process of dialogue, however, suggest otherwise. The connect between the two Punjabs, the movement of retired soldiers, theatre groups, writers, poets, parliamentarians, students, political personalities, cine-stars and businessmen across the India-Pakistan borders, the effusive bonhomie between the people of India and Pakistan reveal the urge of the two people to come together in spite of their differences. They meet, argue inconclusively over Kashmir, convince each other about their mutually exclusive perceptions and depart with tears in their eyes, hoping against hope that such opportunities for fights would be there for all time to come.
Is it because they feel that years of separation have failed to wipe out the bonds that unite them? Is it because they want to take maximum advantage of the thaw that has set in between India and Pakistan? Is this because there is a mutual realization of the human costs of protracted sense of bitterness? The leaders of the two countries will have to register this surge of goodwill between the two people, the spontaneous flow of empathy for one another across the borders. It is easier to provoke hatred than to inspire love. The negativity in India-Pakistan relationship, the inertia of the politics of partition, is mostly an elite construct. The elite has managed to sell this idea of hatred to the people in Pakistan quite successfully. As some Pakistani observers (Adeel Khan, Khaled Ahmed) have concluded, the people of Pakistan are more united in their hatred against India than their love for themselves. The official histories of both the states have sought to villainise each other. One is reminded of the observations of Vajpayee during his trip to Pakistan as foreign minister in 1978 that the leaders of India and Pakistan have to shape political opinion rather than fall victims to it. The constituency of hatred has to be quarantined and its impact on statecraft has to be identified and evaluated.
At the same time, the leaders of the two countries will have to take their best step forward in each of the bilateral meets and shun the temptation to withdraw and reap political capital at the domestic level out of an exclusivist-moralist position. As the process shows signs of progress now, it is necessary to take the following points into account, to keep it afloat.
The onset of the present peace process is likely to pay huge economic dividends and ensure stability in both the countries. Peace is the crying need of the hour. The leaders will have to realise that they hold the keys to peace and they owe it to their people.