July 2001 News

A Separate Peace

9 July 2001
The Indian Express

New Delhi: THERE is a touch of the unreal about the forthcoming Vajpayee-Musharraf summit. Hype and near euphoria seem to be the defining emotions of the liberal community in India and Pakistan, with expectations at an all time high. What is frightening is that these hopes of a dramatic breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations are rarely based on a sophisticated analysis of either the ideational or material circumstances that might draw together these long-estranged neighbours. Surely the desire for peace alone cannot be a sufficient instrument for overcoming the deep structural hurdles that have prevented stability from acquiring deep roots in the last 53 years. On the eve of the summit, it is important, therefore, to conduct a reality check and challenge the myths that are being perpetuated by all those who believe that we have virtually turned the corner in India-Pakistan relations. Myth one: Pakistan’s army alone can make lasting peace with India. This myth has almost become an axiom with Pakistan watchers in India. True, Pakistan’s army, because of the long history of praetorian rule, is unarguably the most powerful institution in the country, but it is also the organisation that has the greatest vested interest in the continuing conflict with India. Indeed, its growth in power and influence has much to do with the long saga of enmity with India. There is little evidence, beyond anecdotal instances and an occasional statement, to suggest that the army today is willing to deny itself the most important reason for its existence and sustenance. Recent cuts in Pakistan’s defence budget reflect in reality the pressure from international financial institutions, rather than the acceptance that the conflict with India cannot be continued. Instead the belief that the strategy of bleeding India ‘‘through a thousand cuts’’ has worked is still finding expression in the statements of important voices within the armed forces. In other words, while a deal with Pakistan’s army is likely to be challenged in the short term within the country only by extremists, the armed forces are the one institution that have the least incentive to make peace with India. More important, in the long term, it should be clear that the road to stable peace in the subcontinent can only be on the basis of shared values, especially those backed by public opinion in mature democratic political systems. This has been the experience across the world, and there is no reason to believe India and Pakistan are exceptions to this global norm. Myth two: Settlement of Kashmir will lead to a breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations. This belief, which has always found expression in Pakistani writings, seems to be gradually finding supporters within the Indian intelligentsia. Notice the mushrooming within the Indian media of proposals to settle the Kashmir issue. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. Any understanding of the history of India-Pakistan relations would suggest the dispute over Kashmir is only a symptom of the larger structural conflict between India and Pakistan rooted in different conceptions of national identity. As long as Pakistan continues to believe that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together and rejects implicitly the idea of multi-religious plural states, the conflict with India will continue. In short, until Pakistan is able to construct its national identity in terms larger than opposition to India, there is little hope of lasting peace. The problem is that while the real road to peace can only be travelled by first accepting that the Partition of India was a mistake, any attempt by Indians to do so will seem to question the existence of Pakistan as an independent state. This will inevitably invite a negative reaction. Thus only when Pakistanis themselves are able to construct a modern nation state on the basis of modern values can there be a real chance of a genuine partnership. It is, of course, not besides the point that at the moment there is virtually no chance of finding a solution to Kashmir that will be acceptable to both Indians and Pakistanis. Myth three: Economic interdependence will create the conditions of stable peace. Although the experience from other regions, especially the European Union, suggests that a growing network of common economic institutions can often mitigate long-standing conflicts and erode bitter national memories, there are important differences that need to be noted. Economic interdependence usually promotes stability when the integrating units are roughly of equal size. In the absence of economic symmetry, integration can often accentuate conflict. Indeed, new scholarly evidence suggests that asymmetrical economic integration may create pockets of influence, but can become the basis for deep social unrest and conflict. While elites may develop a stake in stability, the large section that is marginalised may wreck any chances of long-term peace. Given the asymmetry that exist between India and Pakistan, it is unreal to believe close economic integration will minimise conflict. Myth four: Dramatic breakthroughs are needed to push South Asia towards peace. All those who believe the Musharraf-Vajpayee summit could and should lead to a breakthrough in bilateral relations often point to the examples of the Middle East and the US-Soviet relationship, where summits generated a peace process. These examples are, however, erroneous. In the case of the East-West relationship, the Soviet Union collapsed after making ‘‘peace’’ with the US, and in the case of the Middle East the jury is still out on whether summits contributed to building what, in any case, is still not peace. Real peace can be created not by dramatic gestures or meetings between top leaders, but by the power of incrementalism. Only through detailed agreements in peripheral areas that can be sustained over the long term can cooperation be learnt and institutionalised. Peace, as has often been said, can only be achieved through pieces. In other words, the greatest contribution that the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit can make is by institutionalising a process of dialogue at multiple levels that will be continued through ups and downs in the bilateral relationship. On the one hand, by achieving agreement only on a few issues, like nuclear risk reduction measures and Siachen or Wular, Musharraf and Vajpayee will ensure that the summit is not a failure. On the other hand, by resisting the temptation for grand results they will be protecting their constituencies, and ensuring that the process is not subverted by those who will inevitably lose out if a grand settlement is made. The stark reality is that at present there is no win-win resolution of India-Pakistan problems. The best hope is that both Islamabad and New Delhi can agree to live and let live, in the same region but separately.

 

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