It is a settled principle that you cannot choose a neighbour based on history and birth, therefore you should learn to live in peace and harmony with the neighbour. In the context of nations with geographical contiguity, if either of the two willfully decide to focus on points of divergence, instead of convergence, none of them can remain neutral and unaffected from the repercussions in the long run. The only option remains that either the two learn to deal with the irritants through constant endeavour to reconcile and resolve for a peaceful coexistence or perish through mutual deterrence.
The secular and democratic India shares this destiny with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.There has been a long history and eventful past between India and Pakistan mainly on account of the ownership of Kashmir ever since Independence and partition in 1947. While historians and political analysts have always differed and continue to vary in opinion whether the partition was the outcome of certain overambitious leaders of the then Indian National Congress and Indian Muslim League or indeed the genuine need of separate home land for Indian Muslims but the fact is ever since the birth of Pakistan, two nations share a common fate of mutual distrust, rivalry and hatred leading to several wars, low intensity conflicts further aggravated by the abetment and patronage of various terrorist outfits by Pakistan intelligence agency ISI and military leading to loss of numerous human lives and property.
Recent Border Conflict
Though it didn’t come as surprise when during the first week of October, 2014 the Pakistani Army started shelling and gunfire on Indian positions along the actual Line of Control in the Jammu region but the difference was the timing and the scale of ceasefire violations. Otherwise this has been customary tactic also of Pakistan Army while aiding trained terrorists from the other side of the border to infiltrate into India. But the unusual this time was the measured yet massive response of the Border Security Force to these violations with the consent of the government which was otherwise restricted to very controlled and commensurate measures in the past to avoid further escalations.
Reportedly, the Indian troops have responded to the Pakistani firing on their posts with a barrage of artillery and gunfire with punitive yet localized counterstrikes that have destroyed many of the Pakistani Army's permanent positions along the Line of Control. Besides, several civilians have been killed and wounded on either side and evacuated to safer positions apart from uniform personnel among the claims and counterclaims. After about a week’s hostilities, guns were finally fell silent on Pakistani side but for sporadic events with commensurate response from the Indian side. While comments from the political brass on Indian side have been measured and appropriate, Pakistani establishment has again raised the nuclear threat if hostilities escalate beyond a certain threshold.
It cannot be denied that the situation is tense and volatile and nuclear threat which Pakistani politicians and military keep on talking about is entirely unfounded. But this time, the Government of India appears to have refused to become perpetual victim of terror tactic by allowing free hand to its security forces to deal with the crisis on border. As such nuclear option being used to blackmail offers little by way of solution to the problems between two neighbours. The fear of conflict escalation to nuclear proportions is not insignificant but is certainly being exaggerated beyond its logic and rationale.
In this context, it may be relevant to quote comments of the top Indian political brass. “If Pakistan persists with this adventurism, our forces will make the cost of this adventurism unaffordable for it,” Defence Minister told a press conference. "Pakistan has got a befitting lesson. They will not dare to repeat it again,” Prime Minister while addressing an election rally in Maharashtra appeared fully assured and satisfied with the response of the Indian forces to enemy’s adventures. He assured all needful assistance and compensation to civilians who had to leave their homes following heavy mortor shelling and firing across the border. On their part, Pakistan Prime Minister reportedly deplored the loss of civilians’ life and said that their desire of peace should not be misunderstood.
History since Partition
Ever since the creation of Pakistan, its history of governance is full of short and unstable stints of parliamentary form/democratically elected governments followed by long spells of Martial law by military dictators with the likes of General Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan, General Zia-ul-Haque and General Parvez Musharraf. One common feature with all the heads, whether civilian or uniformed, remained their fear and focus on own survival due to social and political instability in the country all along and undue interference of powerful military brass and ISI.
The very creation of Pakistan was mainly on account of religious bigotry and intolerance and Kashmir remained in the centre stage of conflict between two nations since independence. While India claimed Jammu and Kashmir after its lawful accession to the Union of India, the Dominion of Pakistan staked its claim on account of Muslim majority population and forceful occupation of the part territory of the then princely state. To have deeper insight, some of the major past events and basic facts leading to partition of the erstwhile British India and princely states in the Indian sub-continent, are revisited in the following lines.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who initially worked as a secular and nationalist Congress leader of moderate outlook, working for the awakening of the Indian Muslims, later on joined Muslim League and propagated the ideology that the religion is the determining factor in defining the nationality of Indian Muslims. This ultimately led to the concept of the two-nation theory endorsed by the British too with the ideology that the primary identity of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent is their religion, rather than language or ethnicity, and therefore Indian Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nationalities, regardless of ethnic or other commonalities.
The two-nation theory became the foundation of Pakistan as Muslim nation leading to the partition of India in 1947. Partition in the aftermath followed a large scale communal riots, arson, bloodbath, mass displacement and exodus of a large Hindu and Muslim population on the either side of the border. The extreme violence that erupted, reportedly left between a half to one million people dead and a migration from ten to twelve million across the new borders of Punjab and Bengal. The fact on date is that despite these development and events, the secular India has almost as much Muslim population as in Pakistan and it could be anybody’s conclusion or argument as to what extent the ideology of two nation theory was right and succeeded over the years.
There were varying interpretations of the two-nation theory. According to one interpretation, sovereign autonomy must be granted for Muslim-majority areas of the Indian sub-continent with the right to secede without any transfer of population (Muslims and Hindus continue to live together). A different and far more radical interpretation was that Hindus and Muslims constitute two distinct with often antagonistic ways of life. Hence they cannot coexist in one nation and a transfer of populations (i.e. the total removal of Hindus from Muslim-majority areas and the total removal of Muslims from Hindu-majority areas) is a desirable step towards a complete separation of two incompatible nations. Post partition events vindicated that either of the interpretations were fraught with dangerous considerations and the only sustainable fact is that Hindus and Muslims are two intertwined communities in the sub-continent which can coexist peacefully only in the secular and democratic nation.
At the time of partition, British India was divided into two states namely the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan largely based on the theme or principle of contiguous Muslim and non-Muslim population. This left about 562 Indian princely states which were left to choose whether to join India or Pakistan or remain independent. It is a subject in itself and beyond the scope of this article as to how their choices were handled and integration achieved but here we are primarily concerned with what happened with Jammu and Kashmir. This was one of the largest princely states, where the population was predominantly Muslim but the ruler was a Hindu Maharaja, and Pakistan expected the annexation of Kashmir following the partition.
There are views and counterviews about the nature of invasion, but what cannot be denied is that Pakistan backed militant Muslims and tribesmen made rapid invasion and advances in the Kashmir valley with intention to forcibly occupy and overthrow the Dogra King. These developments led to Maharaja, apparently unsure for some time, signing an instrument of accession on 25 October, 1947 with the Government of India enabling the latter to dispatch Indian forces to fight intruders and save Kashmir. The war between the Indian forces and invaders continued till 1948 and India sought intervention of United Nations Security Council for the resolution of the issue. The Security Council passed a resolution on 21st April 1948 which inter alia provided for the immediate cease-fire of hostilities, the Government of Pakistan to secure the withdrawal from the state of Jammu and Kashmir of all tribesmen and Pakistani nationals who were not resident but entered the state for the purpose of fighting, and the Government of India to reduce its forces to the minimum that should pave the circumstances for holding a plebiscite in the state on the question of accession of the state to India or Pakistan.
However, due to mutual mistrust and differences over the fulfillment of these conditions, two sides could never implement their part of pre-requisites of plebiscite for long. In other words, Pakistan never vacated the occupied territory of Kashmir which they called ‘Ajad Kashmir’ and India never demilitarized fearing more adventures and surprises from the other side. Subsequent intervention of United Nations with revised formulae too could not resolve differences of two sides. Development in later years indeed proved that India’s fears were not unfounded as evident from Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 wars, Kargil war in 1999 and continuous face-off and low-intensity border conflicts and terrorist activities over the years.
In the above backdrop, the question of the said plebiscite became totally irrelevant yet Pakistan has made it a point to raise this dead issue time and again in United Nations and other international forums. It has been now sixty-seven years since independence and integration of Jammu and Kashmir with India as also illegal occupation of a part of Kashmir by Pakistan. Having lived on two sides of the borders under different socio-political and economic setup for two to three generations now, any well disposed person would have serious reservations on the logic and rationale of seeking plebiscite and even the motive or senility of such a thought.
The bitterly fought wars over Kashmir between two countries in 1965 and 1971 remained inconclusive. However, the war in 1971led to the dismemberment of Pakistan with the emergence of Bangladesh in place of the East Pakistan, 93,000 POWs (prisoners of war) and capture of about 14,000 square km in the Sindh and Punjab provinces of West Pakistan. The Shimla Agreement was signed between the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on 2nd July 1972 after the 1971 Indo-Pak war under which Pakistan recognized Bangladesh and secured the release of POWs as also the captured land on the west front as a goodwill gesture. The agreement is also significant that far the first time two countries had agreed to take steps for future normalization of relations based on certain principles by putting an end to conflict and confrontation. One of such principle was that in future the two countries would settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations as per Shimla Agreement, 1972. Despite this, Pakistan has repeatedly breached this commitment by raising bilateral issues on international forums including United Nations while India has repeatedly rejected any scope of third party intervention in bilateral issues.
After 1971 war, though the issue was raised and minor skirmishes took place on the north-western frontier off and on but there was no major conflict between the two countries for many years till both became the nuclear powers. However, the period experienced a new threat of growing terrorism in India exported from the other side of the border. The period experienced the emergence of several terrorist outfits getting active support in terms of training, arsenal and cover from Pakistan ISI and military mainly in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as also elsewhere for terrorist attacks and subversive activities in Indian land. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, from 1988 to 2014 India has seen a total of 43,637 deaths on account of these terrorist activities (Civilians, 14,687; Security Forces Personnel, 6,125; and terrorists, 22,825).
India had conducted its first successful nuclear test in 1974 while Pakistan conducted its first known tests in 1998 just about two weeks after a second and final series of tests by India. While India endeavoured to acquire nuclear power status keeping potential threat from China in view, Pakistan’s nuclear programme was entirely aimed at India. On 21st February, 1999, India and Pakistan signed the Lahore Declaration in a historic summit in Lahore, under which a mutual understanding was reached between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Bajpai and Pakistani Prime Minister Navaz Sharif towards the development of nuclear weapons and to avoid any accidental and unauthorized use of such weapons against each other. Besides, the Declaration also emphasized avoiding nuclear race and both conventional and non-conventional conflicts. Then it was considered a major breakthrough in overcoming historically strained relations and roadmap for a peaceful future.
However, the futility of the agreement became evident very soon with the escalation of Kargil War in May 1999, nicknamed Operation Vijay by the Indian establishment. The immediate cause of war was the infiltration of Pakistani soldiers and militants occupying positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control. In a bitterly fought war, the Indian Army supported with Air Force recaptured most of the land on the Indian side and with Indian onslaught as also intense international diplomatic pressure, Pakistani Army finally withdrew along the actual Line of control.
Growing Terrorism and Subversive Activities
In the following years, two major terrorist attacks pushed India almost on the brink of another war with Pakistan. First such incident had occurred on 13th December, 2001when five terrorists infiltrated the Parliament House in a car with forged Home Ministry and Parliament levels. While both the houses of the Parliament were adjourned a short while back yet many ministers, members of parliament and senior government officials were still in the building. In the ensuing battle that followed consequent to this attack, left about a dozen people including terrorists dead and several injured. Subsequent investigations established that the attack was result of a conspiracy by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed with links in Pakistan. The incident led to a major India–Pakistan standoff in the form of border tensions and massive build up of troops on either side of the international border and along the Line of Control in Kashmir region in early 2002 with real threat of the escalation of war.
Yet another heinous attack was carried out in Mumbai in the form of shootings and bombings from 26th to 29th November, 2008 by Pakistani terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba. This attack left about 164 people dead, including some foreign nationals, and 308 wounded. The only terrorist who was caught alive namely Ajmal Kasab was later prosecuted in India and sentenced to death penalty. His confessions during interrogation indicated terrorists’ link with the alleged master minds in the terrorist outfit in Pakistan backed by Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI.
Several terrorists and offenders wanted by the Indian law and security forces have been allegedly living in various hide outs in Pakistan. Pakistan has always been in a denial mode of having any links with terrorist outfits or any terror activity operated or executed from their soil. In this context, an interesting illustration could be Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of global terrorist group al-Qaeda, wanted by the American government for the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. leading to death of about 3,000 people and billions dollar of property and infrastructure damage. He was hiding in Abbottabad cantonment of Pakistan for years before US Navy SEALs apprehended and killed him in an operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, on 2nd May, 2011.
Whatever compulsion US government had in exercising restraints over Pakistani claims due to political and diplomatic reasons but it would be beyond any sane and rational mind’s imagination that a three storied house built in a massive compound with high security wall near Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad cantonment would not attract attention of the civil and military establishment of the Pakistan government for so long, and that they would be unaware of the owner or occupant and his suspicious activities. Evidently, despite its operation so close to military establishment, the US authorities did not notify Pakistan authorities about their operation till it was over. This indicates the level of trust that existed in the minds of US authorities about the credibility of Pakistan government.
Current Initiatives to Normalize Relations
Let us see despite a gloomy past and tense relationship, what has been done in the recent past to normalize the relationship of India with Pakistan. Immediately after winning the Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister (then designate) Mr Narendra Modi invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan along with other heads of South Asian countries to participate in the oath taking ceremony of his government on 26th May, 2014 and the latter certainly deserves appreciation for readily capturing the initiative. The event created a favourable atmosphere and a fresh initiative for the bilateral dialogue between the two countries. Reports did emerge in the backdrop of the Pakistani premier’s visit that it was not liked by ISI and military brass in Pakistan. It is a well known fact in the context of Pakistan that these organizations have always had a major say in any Pakistan regime and any initiative would have no future without their support.
With some more diplomatic overtures and initiative, finally foreign secretary level talks between two countries was scheduled for August, 2014 in Islamabad to open fresh dialogue on bilateral issues. However, talks were cancelled just a few days before by India when Pakistan envoy in New Delhi chose to hold a separate meeting with separatist leaders of Kashmir despite India cautioning against it at secretary level. Thus the current Indian Government has shown both its goodwill and tough side in a short time to deal with Pakistan with a position of resolve and strength.
Being a democratic country, there have been views and counterviews on this decision within the country itself but the point for a thoughtful person should be whether a handful of separatist elements with potential nuisance value should matter or the democratically elected government and opposition leaders in Jammu and Kashmir are relevant after 67 years of independence. The event had also dimmed rather ruled out the prospects of two prime ministers later meeting in New York towards the end of September, 2014. Once again Prime Minister of Pakistan raised the issue of plebiscite and intervention of UN in Kashmir in the UN General Assembly and Prime Minister of India spoke next day about futility of raising bilateral issues in the august assembly.
Personally, this author has no doubt about Pakistan’s present political leadership’s intention to work for restoring peace and normalcy in relations of the two countries. But every time such initiative is taken, events are precipitated and the initiative is disrupted to vitiate the peace and normalization process. This is what happened immediately after Lahore declaration in 1999 by precipitating Kargil war and this is what happening now with Prime Ministers of two countries agreeing for normalization of relations. Clearly there are influential and powerful elements with vested interests in Pakistan who are not in favour of good relations between two countries. Whenever the peace process is on track, they ensure that the same is derailed through subversive and coercive measures.
Crisis in Pakistan
The present elected government of Prime Minister Nawaj Sharif is facing a stiff anti-government agitation for the last few months (ever since his visit to India) led by the supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek in a bid to overthrow his government over the alleged poll rigging in 2013 elections and corruption charges. Nawaj Sharif government is finding it difficult to tackle with this mass agitation in alleged collusion with army and ISI. Whatever may be the exact reasons but it appears unlikely that Nawaj Sharif, who was not in power during the last elections, would be able to manage large scale alleged poll rigging in his favour. Thus the chief motive of agitators and forces behind appears to weaken and destabilize his government. This has happened in the past and this is happening now. Whenever Pakistani rulers face internal crisis or find own survival at stake, they try to divert attention towards their common agenda i.e. anti-India rhetoric and escalation of tension along Jammu and Kashmir border.
India is a democratic country and people do have freedom of expression and speech. When the political leadership and armed forces are seriously engaged on the border to deal with the enemy action, perhaps politicians and political analysts too need to be little more responsible and restrained with their skeptics and criticism. In the middle of recent stand-off with China in Chumar sectar in Ladakh and current conflict with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir border, this author came across certain laughable remarks of some leaders in media and press, and likes of hard and soft options of some political analysts with their do's and don'ts prescription for the government to follow. They should realize that there is a system in place, and that diplomatic initiative and military strategy are based on assessed ground realities and available intelligence inputs. These are not discussed and answered in the public domain in the middle of crisis and instead applied wisely and discreetly to attain intended results commensurate with the national objective(s). This author considers the response of Indian Prime Minister as enough and appropriate, "Leaders should keep their mouths shut when jawans' fingers are on the trigger of their guns."
Can Peace Prevail?
While two armies on the border are engaged in a bitter stand-off by trading gunfire, a ray of hope for peace comes in the form of another historical event when the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded jointly to an Indian and a Pakistani in recognition of their work for the liberation of children living under various forms of subjugation in two nations. Kailash Satyarthi is a well known anti-child labour activist from India while Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan is fighting for the right of all children to education in her country. She is currently living in England under threat from Taliban after surviving a fatal gun attack two years back. This author wonders if this is just a coincidence or an intervention of destiny to enable two countries to seriously ponder to take initiatives for mutual peace and harmony to secure future of present and next generations.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has rightly regarded it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism. When there are common evils and enemies in the form of poverty, illiteracy, deprivation of women and children, extremism and terrorism, human rights violation, corruption and favourism, and challenges of growth and development for a decent living, will it not be wise for the right thinking people and governments of both the nations to put behind territorial disputes (which could not be resolved in over six decades!) for a few decades to join hands for fighting against common evils and cooperation for mutual progress? This may sound utopian yet it is not impossible provided people and governments join together in areas of convergence rather than divergence.