Nuclear weapons, the greatest hurdle to India-Pakistan friendship
- Nuclear weapons, the greatest hurdle to India-Pakistan friendship
[Karachi January 7, 2005]
Over a year has elapsed after the much-publicised Jan 6, 2004 accord
between Indian PM AB Vajpayee and Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf to
resume 1997's structured, eight point Indo-Pakistan dialogue for
normalizing relations between their countries. Second round of the
Composite Dialogue may be said to be limping along. Sad to say the
deadlock remains intact. Not one Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)
like Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service or Khokrapar-Munabao train
link could be agreed upon. Latest failure is of the experts meeting
in New Delhi on Baglihar Dam. The outlook is bleak.
Ordinarily, the leaders of both countries desire peace; they have no
reason to like wars that only cause destruction. Reasons for repeated
failures in fence-mending need to be seen under four heads: First,
the legacies of history hang heavy over the negotiators. It is not
simply the last 57 years that have shaped the adversarial perceptions
in these countries. Independence came through harrowing experiences
of what remains the world's largest ethnic cleansing. That itself was
a culmination of a hundred years of festering communalism.
Secondly, some suspect that the desire to make up is superficial. The
two are going through the motions of negotiating to strengthen peace
and be civilized neighbours largely at the behest of the US. Consider
the position of both countries. Both are strategic partners of the
hyper power. Both are nuclear powers and a war between them can
escalate into a nuclear holocaust. That easily possible war can upset
the agenda of the US, whose advice can not be ignored. While it is
possible to overrate the force of American advice, the sophisticated
pragmatists of Islamabad and New Delhi are unlikely to underrate it.
Thirdly, both countries are, after all, strategic partners of the US.
It is therefore legitimate to assume they share ownership of American
agenda in Asia. To that extent, an Indo-Pakistan modus operandi is
their own need and not because the US is advising them to normalize.
Whatever benefit or advantage Islamabad or South Block may expect
from partnership with the US can be jeopardized by continued cold war
between India and Pakistan.
Fourth, one asserts that the objective being sought by these two,
viz. normalization of ties, is inadequate; it is not attractive
enough to overcome the legacy of the Hindu-Muslim deeply coloured
hatred which has the basic orientations of Pakistan and India. To
overcome this overhang of history, something stronger is needed: a
people-to-people reconciliation at all levels. Look at the French and
Germans today after only 40 years of specific reconciliation effort:
they constitute the strong nucleus of the EU. Both are incomparably
richer thereby. And yet they had fought three biggest wars: 1870,
1914 and 1939. Their age-old enmity and disputes have been forgotten.
A thoroughgoing rapprochement among peoples, from grassroots up, of
India and Pakistan is a stirring vision; it can, given intelligent
and modernist leadership, change the encrusted prejudices and
adversarial perceptions fairly quickly. What will dissolve the old
inimical perceptions is the effects of large-scale people-to-people
contacts and their joint economic and cultural pursuits on as largest
possible scale. Their people have thousand and one commonalities and
once they start cooperating, the whole chemistry of Indo-Pakistani
relationship can change with incomes growth. It is laughably simple
and easy. No doubt, it seems a Herculian effort to those who have
grown up - and have prospered - during long cold and hot wars.
One has no desire to minimize the difficulties involved in the
process of rapprochement between such inveterate adversaries. After
all, the philosophies that inform these two states are diametrically
opposed to each other. India, championed a formally inclusive secular
and democratic Indian nationalism while emphasis of Pakistan Idea was
on Muslims being distinct. Mr. Jinnah tried vainly to inform Pakistan
Movement with secular liberalism. Jinnah is today idolised but his
legacy is not his liberal ideas but the very opposite. Jinnah is
murdered everyday in Pakistan when he is portrayed as an Islamic
Saint; every dictator profusely venerates him but goes on torpedoing
There are other difficulties. In pursuance of hateful politics both
countries became nuclear powers. One is aware of the elaborate
justification of the Indian Bomb, in violation of its traditional
policies. The writer regards both Bombs to be directly linked with
subcontinent's politics. It is American CIA inspired stories of
Islamic Bomb in early 1970s that seem to have made Mrs. Indira
Gandhi's annoyance through the 1974 PNE. As for Pakistan, it was
frank; 1971's decisive defeat rankled and the Bomb was designed to
offset India's superiority. Whether it does so or not is irrelevant
The Pakistani Bomb has done great mischief. It made Ziaul Haq and
Mirza Aslam Beg, Army chiefs in 1980s and early 1990s, arrogant; they
said even the putative Pakistani Bomb has made Pakistan unassailable
and they could do anything, even carry on a proxy war in Kashmir.
Later India chose to become a nuclear power and proved its prowess on
May 11, 1998. Pakistanis countered it with their own atomic
explosions. A frightened world's perception was that the only place
where a nuclear war can happen is the Subcontinent; the US advised
talks. After much worsening of the situation during 2002, the two
could see no alternative to normalization. Vajpayee indicated it in
April 2003 and set the talkathon rolling in January 2004.
Indo-Pakistani atomic weapons have greatly strengthened the
hardliners on both sides. The hubris these weapons systems have
created is the greatest hurdle in the way of India-Pakistan
friendship. This huge hurdle is rivaled by another: These weapons
have destroyed the trust between the two countries. Who can forget
that these are Doom's Day weapons? There is no defence against them;
all talk of missile defence systems is just that. Which government or
general can trust an adversary that has nuclear tipped missiles at
the ready; so long as Pakistan and India remain atomic powers, they
will have to stay on hair trigger alert. Neither Islamabad can trust
New Delhi nor vice versa. Even US good offices cannot remove the
bleakness of outlook.
One earnestly hopes this picture is overdrawn. The purpose is to
underline the situation's gravity. Conscious decisions to reverse the
trend are possible, in theory. Would the possible become actual? But
this is predicated on great many acts of faith about atomic weapons.
Their mischief cannot be undone by mere CBMs. Indeed, CBMs can be
extraordinarily treacherous red herring; they implicitly assume the
long-term presence of atomic weapons; they seek merely to reduce the
risks of accidents, bad ways of deploying, storage and transportation
of these weapons and hope to prevent unauthorized launches. CBMs,
while being useful, are likely to create false optimism - and at the
cost of making nuclear weapons permanent. These weapons are a
difficult problem that is required to be solved.
The two leaderships should have realized that Composite Dialogue is
going nowhere nor can it succeed because of current premises.
Provided they genuinely want peace, friendship and cooperation among
South Asian peoples and are prepared for acts of faith in seeking
true reconciliation while ignoring vested interests, it can be done.
The intellectual effort involved will certainly be taxing. Are there
leaders ready to pick up this gauntlet?
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