The Indo-Pakistan peace dialogue may have the right goal but the wrong approach. Recently, Pakistan Foreign Minister Kasuri said that peace talks between India and Pakistan were being conducted through many undisclosed channels. What do these secret talks portend? Consider this sequence.
President Musharraf surprisingly stated that Pakistan was not claiming Kashmir. Next, the Pakistan foreign office spokesperson stated that Pakistan had no legal claim to Kashmir. Mr. Kasuri endorsed his spokesperson by reminding his countrymen that apart from the UN resolution on Kashmir, Pakistan had no legal connection.
Then, Pakistan altered its school text books. The 1947 Partition was not attributed to the two-nation theory but to unequal treatment of Muslims in India. Around the same time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that priority must be given to Muslims while allocating government funds.
President Musharraf had several times floated the idea of a Kashmir solution based on joint management by India and Pakistan without altering borders. But the Indian government invariably responded coolly. On his return from Japan, however, the PM dramatically changed his tune. He now welcomed the Musharraf proposal as an effort to break new ground. The PM said: "I welcome the efforts whosoever puts in to normalize relations between India and Pakistan. If any new ideas come, we welcome them. In the last two and a half years we have had a very intensive dialogue with Pakistan."
Let's sift facts and see if we can scent a trail. The Pakistan government's giving up its legal claim to Kashmir and stating that Partition was not caused by the two-nation theory, that Jinnah was secular, and that unequal treatment of Muslims provoked the split, are not minor developments. Our PM's concern for Muslims was quickly attributed to garnering votes in the UP polls. But did not the PM's statement in some way also dovetail with Pakistan's new views about the cause of the Partition? Are both governments making an effort to undo the spirit of the Partition and its substantive consequences? If that is so, the two governments are proceeding in a manner that invites failure. The final goal of the secret dialogue would, in this case, surely be some sort of institutional arrangement that allows both nations a confederal relationship on certain subjects that affect the subcontinent. To create the proper mood for this, increasing people-to-people contacts is the path being presently pursued. Indeed, an official Indian team is already slated to visit Pakistan to share experience and suggestions on local self-government.
If the above surmise about the goal of the secret Indo-Pakistan dialogue is correct, the governments are starting from the wrong end. A step by step approach will never be allowed to succeed. Forces opposed to Indo-Pakistan normalization will always succeed in derailing it through acts of terror and sabotage. It will always be possible to inflame public opinion in both countries.
So how should both governments proceed?
First, they should recognize the truth, however unpalatable; secondly, they should start the exercise from the right end.
What is the truth?
The Partition did not occur because of the two-nation theory. It did not occur because of unequal treatment of Muslims - the British were ruling India before 1947. They wanted Partition in order to safeguard their post-war strategic interests. The British could succeed because - when it came to the crunch - the very highest leaders of India and Pakistan, including Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah, were like putty in their hands. The evidence to support this view is overwhelming. Britain's last honest effort to safeguard its strategic interests without causing Partition ended when the Cabinet Mission Plan was summarily rejected by the Congress. That plan would have created three dominions in a confederal arrangement. After that, given its global interests, Britain felt it had no choice but to partition India.
One need not recall the innumerable real causes of the Partition. Whole books have been written on the subject. Stanley Wolpert's disclosure in his latest book about Jinnah welcoming an independent sovereign Bengal suggested by Surrahwardy created considerable media excitement. Actually, this is old hat. The same passage drawn from the same sources had even appeared in a book by this scribe, published decades ago.
The fact is that Congress formally accepted Partition when riots in Punjab were very minor and controllable. The deadly riots resulting in transfer of populations started after Independence when the responsibility legally devolved upon the new Indian government, which had little grasp on the officials positioned by the departing British. The fact is that the vast majority in present day Pakistan voted against the Partition in the 1946 election. The vast majority of Muslims who did vote for Pakistan belonged to present day India. The few among them who migrated to Pakistan were never welcomed. They were called Mohajirs. Many among them, who could, moved subsequently to countries other than Pakistan. Their acknowledged leader exiled in London publicly stated that the Partition was a huge blunder.
The fact is that Nehru's proximity to the Mountbattens was unnaturally close. Maulana Azad was constrained to write about this in a passage of his book "India Wins Freedom" that was not made public. The fact is that all through the tortuous period of pre-Independence negotiations Jinnah was secretly communicating with Churchill. He addressed his letters to a lady who then passed them on to Churchill. The fact is that when Mountbatten confronted Gandhi on June 2, 1947 - the day the Congress formally accepted Partition - Gandhi could not register his protest.
The facts are endless. It is not one's intention to denigrate now the leaders of India and Pakistan. They were the best that the times could offer. One should empathize with their circumstances, and the British-created environment that shaped their minds. Nor should one berate the British for causing the Partition. The British followed their own national interests. Colonialism was an inevitable facet of history. It was the first step towards globalization. Apart from exploitation, it also brought technology and the infrastructure of a modern state. Of all the colonial powers, Britain, it may be pointed out, was most humane.
Only after the real cause of Partition is recognized can steps be taken to undo the evil effects of history. If the governments of India and Pakistan sincerely seek normalization, they must first commit themselves to creating a South Asian Confederation for fruition within, say, five years. Once that commitment is public the enemies of Indo-Pakistan normalization would know what they are up against. Only then might both nations move forward, step by resolute step, to reach their goal. Enemies will always derail movement on an uncharted course.