Readers will recall my response to Pakistan High Commissioner Mr. Salman Bashir’s criticism of the Indian media. I had put to him the question whether Pakistan would accept joint efforts with India to stamp out terrorism from the region. I have received a letter from Mr. Abrar Hashmi, Political Counsellor, on behalf of the Pakistan High Commission.
Referring to my article Mr. Hashmi has sent me a copy of the joint statement by the Indian Home Secretary and his Pakistani counterpart issued in Islamabad on May 24-25, 2012 after they had held talks. Mr. Hashmi has pointed out in his letter that the two officials had agreed on behalf of their governments to create mechanisms for close cooperation between the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers, between the Indian Coast Guard and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, and between the two anti-narcotics agencies of both nations.
The enclosed joint statement dealt with how these and other Indo-Pak mutual problems should be addressed in the days ahead. Para 4 of the statement read:
“Both sides agreed that terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security and full normalization of bilateral relations. They reiterated the firm and undiluted commitment of the two countries to fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations and bring those responsible for such crimes to justice.”
Probably it was on the basis of this statement that Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani had proposed a joint probe on the Line of Control to address the current cross border violations. This writer had welcomed the proposal and sought explanation from the Indian government why it had not given a positive response.
In his letter Mr. Hashmi concluded with the following observation:
“Optimal use of these mechanisms (mentioned in the joint statement) is credible way forward to address concerns.”
I beg to differ.
I consider the approach adopted by the officials of New Delhi and Islamabad to be grievously flawed. On the very day that the letter from the Pakistan High Commission reached me there was a report by the Indian Defence Ministry leaked to the media. It stated that the biggest security threat to India came from Pakistan. The Defence Ministry cannot be blamed for the report inspired by the recent acts of cross border terror and infiltration. That is why I say that the approach for peace adopted by both governments is flawed.
The approach is based on the premise that steps for cooperation will gradually build up trust and ties between both countries that might lead to a lasting peace arrangement. But each time there is any meaningful attempt towards an agreement the enemies of Indo-Pak peace create acts of terror to derail the process. This has been happening in the past. It is happening today. It will happen in the future. New Delhi and Islamabad are putting the cart before the horse. If the Indian government has not responded adequately to the joint statement of the Indian and Pakistani officials in 2012 it is because it cannot sufficiently trust Pakistan. It cannot trust Pakistan because of the acts of terror perpetrated by the enemies of Indo-Pak peace.
The first and prime goal therefore must be to create trust between the two governments that overcomes the sabotage by the enemies of peace. That trust will not be created by taking one confidence building step after another which can always be derailed by terror. Trust will only be created if both governments declare in principle their commitment to the final goal towards which they have decided to reach. Such a commitment will be a clear signal to the enemies of peace that they can delay but not derail the peace process. More importantly, given such trust the sincere joint efforts of both governments to stamp out terror from the region would succeed sooner rather than later. The question therefore arises what should be the final peace arrangement to which both governments must declare their commitment.
This writer presents a peace package that he believes would help both sides to gain. He presents it for consideration for those who matter in Pakistan. Doubtless there would be within India many critics and opponents of the proposed package. But if Pakistan would indicate a public commitment in principle to the package one believes that Indian resistance both in government and among members of the public could be overcome. If the eventual arrangement envisaged in the package is accepted in principle it can be achieved in calibrated fashion over the next five to ten years.
The first overall commitment by both governments must be to create a South Asian Union that allows the citizens of its member states to move freely and live across borders. Starting with India and Pakistan , the only two nuclear nations, invitation should be extended and membership should be made available to Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. The Union may have Free Trade agreements with any other nation or group of nations as a single block but no other nation may be allowed full membership of the Union. The South Asian Union would have a Common Market with common tariffs and joint defence between all its armies. There should be an agreed roadmap to achieve the Union starting with India and Pakistan within a time frame of the next five to ten years.
Public opinion in both India and Pakistan would not accept this proposal without a settlement of the Kashmir problem which is the excuse to justify terrorism in the region.
The following formula to settle the Kashmir problem is proposed.
Credible and reliable opinion poll conducted by a Chatham House think tank in Britain after a detailed survey in undivided Kashmir concluded that people in Jammu and Ladakh want to stay with India; people in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir want to remain in Pakistan. But people in both regions want soft borders allowing free movement of goods and people across borders. The overwhelming majority in the Valley want independence, a few want to remain with India and less seek merger with Pakistan. The only honourable and just solution lies in allowing people in the Valley to decide their future through a free and impartial vote of self-determination.
If the Valley wants independence, so be it. But this offer would be accompanied by two preconditions.
First, that whatever the outcome of the plebiscite the Valley would remain part of the proposed South Asian Union;
secondly, all Kashmiri Pandits would be securely rehabilitated in their previous areas of residence.
Need one add that equal reciprocity guaranteed in the proposed Union would give more rights in the Valley to the remaining Indians than are presently made available?
Such a South Asian Union would allow people across the borders of India-Pakistan, India-Bangladesh, Pakistan-Afghanistan, India-Nepal and India-Sri Lanka to mingle freely in pursuance of their cultural unity. It is a distant goal but it is achievable. A firm commitment by governments to this goal would invest each confidence building step with permanent value. If ever such a Union were created, it could become the role model for a New World Order.
How would the government and people in Pakistan respond to this proposal?