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Neither war nor peace

Neither war nor peace

Author: R Jagannathan
Publication: DNA India
Date: August 5, 2009
URL: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_neither-war-nor-peace_1279995

It is tempting to believe that Manmohan Singh's Sharm el-Sheikh goof-up was all his own. He certainly must take a large share of the blame. But, in a fundamental sense, he hasn't done anything that other Indian prime ministers haven't. Singh's naivete in assuming that the insertion of Balochistan in the Indo-Pak statement was something minor will be proved wrong as Pakistan starts tom-toming Indian encouragement of terrorism on its soil.

We have now compounded the mistake by claiming that our activities in Balochistan are "an open book". In its two decades of sponsoring terrorism, Pakistan has never once used the 'open book' argument to prove its hands were clean. It will never open its books to us and we will be stuck with the promise to do so in Balochistan. Consider how foolish we will look if Pakistan tells the world this: since India claims its books are open, why don't they allow us to check what they are up to in Balochistan?

The real issue is this: by talking about an open book, we are taking a moral position instead of being driven purely by the country's long-term interests. And this has been true for us since the time of Gandhi and Nehru. Manmohan Singh is only the latest leader in a long line of people to believe that somewhere, sometime, Pakistanis will want peace as much as we do.

They won't. There are several reasons why there won't be real peace in our time. One is a civilisational issue. The second is ideological. And the third has to do with geopolitics.

The civilisational issue between India and Pakistan is as old as the hills. The Indian approach is influenced by the largely Hindu ethos of letting things be. The Abrahamic civilisations, including the Islamic one, have a binary approach. It's either 0 or 1, black or white. One is either wrong or right. There is little scope for grey, where we can retain our separate opinions and get on with life.

The late Mexican Nobel laureate, Octavio Paz, who served as ambassador in Delhi during the 1960s, observed that Hindus and Muslims, despite centuries of coexistence, merely stared at one another in incomprehension. We could not reconcile the Islamic way of looking at reality with ours. This is why, even today, we can't understand how the Pakistanis think about Kashmir and why they are not interested in peace with status quo.

For people on the other side of Wagah, Muslim-majority Kashmir ought to belong to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, not Hindu-majority India. They don't buy our claims of secularism. They prefer to see the India-Pakistan relationship as a binary one -- a deal between Hindus and Muslims.

Even before Partition, a major issue on which the Congress and the Muslim League fell out was the right of the League to represent all Muslims. They couldn't comprehend the greyness of secularism. Pakistan, the inheritor of the Muslim League mantle, remains in that mould.

This brings us to ideology, the second reason why we can't expect a reasonable peace with our western neighbour. Pakistan was created on the basis of religion and it has defined itself as anti-India, anti-Hindu -- which for them is one and the same thing. Unlike conflicts relating to economic interests, ideological tussles cannot be settled through give and take. The US-Soviet cold war was an ideological conflict that was resolved only when one party collapsed. The Soviet Union realised that it could not battle an efficient market economy-cum-democracy forever, and started giving in to 'glasnost', ultimately resulting in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the USSR.

The same goes for the India-Pakistan conflict. The battle is ideological, between a state that believes that religion is the basis for national identity and another (that's us) which says that the state has to be neutral on identities. This essential ideological tug-of-war can only be resolved by victory or defeat: either we accept that secularism is the only way to go, or we accept the Sangh Parivar's views on Hindu Rashtra.

India and Pakistan will be able to smoke the peace pipe only when Pakistan agrees to become a secular nation, albeit with a Muslim majority. Till its self-definition changes, we will be at loggerheads.

The third issue is geopolitics. The rise of China and India is bringing another civilisational conflict to the fore. The US-India alliance is intended to contain China. But this equally means that a China-Pakistan axis is inevitable. Even if, ideologically, Pakistan becomes a secular republic, its ties with China will force it to be anti-India.

If we take these three realities into account, Indian policymakers should prepare for long-term antagonism from Pakistan. Pakistan wants peace only when it wants some rest between high-cost conflicts or war. The India-Pakistan divorce in 1947 was premised on civilisational and ideological assumptions from the Pakistani side. One meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh is not going to reverse all that.

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