Whenever two neighbouring states with strong political and military standoff, acquire nuclear capabilities with effective delivery means, the entire gambit of diplomacy and warfare changes. Nuclear parity (that exists between Pakistan and India) if properly understood by political and military leadership, nearly precludes atomic war as well as conventional military operations. This automatically pushes the conflict in the political, diplomatic, psychological and economic zones. The danger of overt suicidal conflagration, institutes deterrence, but may give space to other types of warfare, falling in the ambit of Hybrid War or Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC) definition. However, it has to be understood that if pain threshold of the opponent is crossed, LIC can escalate and lead to dangerous and unthinkable overt operations. If these facts can sink in the minds of both groups of policy elites and troublemakers, they would realise that India and Pakistan have no option, but to change their attitudes from adversarial to cooperation mode.

Without going in the lengthy discussion of the reasons of deep-rooted mistrust and adversarial nature of Pakistan-India relations, the conclusions could be simplified to dump it on ‘history’, ‘unresolved issues’ and ‘absence of will at politico-military’ levels of both countries. Also, there are enough indicators that some ‘other players’, due to their own political and economic interests, are not very keen to see a rapprochement or détente in the relationship of these two neighbours in the subcontinent.

Now under the prevailing environment, where do we go? How do we get a fresh start? I postulate moving from easier to difficult. First, let us try to get out of the groove of a history of hatred and concentrate on the present sticking issues. Who did what to whom? Which grand empire was more grand in expanse and administration, Hindu, Muslim or Sikh? What conditions led to the partition of the subcontinent, etc.? The matter of fact is that India and Pakistan are two separate nation states, and both can do very well in the comity of nations. Both countries are very well recognised the world over with memberships of all significant international and regional organisations and forums. Unfortunately, both neighbours are afflicted with poverty, illiteracy, social and economic injustices and bad governance, to varying degrees. Social indicators are dismal, and whatever resources have been developed, a significant chunk of those are being wasted in a continued useless confrontation.

So, can we try forgetting the bygones and start afresh, willingly accepting each other’s existence and importance, with an understanding that future rather than past should guide our relations? Coexist like any good neighbours in spite of some problematic issues that definitely require resolution. The two sides must realise that ‘international arms producers’ and those ‘entities that get threatened’ by the political and economic cooperation of the two neighbours, would never like and not encourage peace in the region. Our leadership and peoples should not remain naive to fall prey to such machinations and must show resolve and grit to live like self-reliant, confident, honourable countries, capable of making independent decisions, suiting the interests of about one and a half billion people of this region. We must refuse to become the leading weaponry markets and to play puppets in the hands of those who want us to remain perpetually in a hate loop, whether these are external or internal entities. In my humble opinion the onus of removing environment of distrust and giving confidence for normalising the relations, squarely rests on the bigger power, that is India.

Now coming on to the problematic area of outstanding disputes. Unfortunately, our number of differences have been increasing and piling up with the passage of time, thus raising the level of difficulty to pursue normalisation.  Kashmir and waters were our initial and primary sticking points. We added to it Sir Creek, Siachen, Mumbai, Pathankot, terrorism, etc. The newly created issues could be quickly resolved, comparatively, if the relevant experts, with clear political guidance, meet at serious platforms and undertake deliberations that lead to mutually acceptable positions. The two sides must also show sincerity and resolve not to create further issues that would increase the already existing alienation between the two nations. Yes, Kashmir is a core issue, and not easy to resolve. Both sides had agreed many times in the past that it is an unfinished agenda of the partition, duly endorsed by UN resolutions. Any later bilateral agreements have not annulled the UN resolutions. Nevertheless, present and immediate problem are of acute human rights violations in Indian Held Kashmir that is continuing unabated, rather intensifying with the passage of time. So the immediate focus should be to reduce the woes of Kashmiri people and both countries along with the Kashmiris must agree, as a first step, to resolve this humanitarian issue.

The hardcore and enduring problem of Kashmir can only be solved in steps.  And we can do it without compromising on the UN Resolutions and bilateral agreements. Initial phase could be to ask India to consider giving relief to the people of Indian Held Kashmir. Consider stopping their persecution due to their variant political thoughts of independence or pro-Pakistan etc. Allow them normal life with enough political space to vent out their feelings. Secondly, both countries should talk about demilitarisation of the Kashmir Region. Simultaneously create an easement of movement and interaction, enabling social and economic activities in the region. Encourage people to people contact thus creating the right environment to recognise Kashmiris as the legitimate third party and initiate debates in pursuit of final settlement of the issue. The UN Resolutions, all international and bilateral agreements remain intact pending the definitive agreement by the three parties.

If the two countries succeed in lowering the tensions and switch to cooperation mode, one and half billion people of the region will benefit immensely. India will continue following the economic growth trajectory, and smaller countries of the area will be able to latch on to this growing economy.  Pakistan will be able to reorient its resources and overcome its economic and social woes. The whole region, including India, will be able to benefit from China’s new initiatives. India’s desire for passage rights through Pakistan, both East-West and North-South will likely to be fulfilled. Iran, Afghanistan, entire South Asian region and Central Asian Republics (CARs) will get connected, and business, as usual, can result in the social and economic development of a large chunk of the world. We shall all create bright prospects for one another, propelling the entire region on the rapid growth curve, bringing happiness and a good life for all. Unprecedented growth likely as the hard-earned capital will be diverted towards social sectors, raising the standards of education, health, justice and economic opportunities for the long deprived habitants of this unlucky region and beyond.

Now it is well understood that all the above is easier said than done, but is this region intellectually so bankrupt that we cannot see even our bleak future if we continue on the present tracks? It is for India to understand that by keeping Pakistan under pressure, they also have no prospects to achieve their international political goals. I think it would amount to insulting our collective wisdom and foresight if we believe we will never be able to correct our course. People, media, intellectuals, leaders, soldiers, traders, farmers, and every segment of civil society should get involved in carving out our new destiny and force the present tides of hate and bigotry to subside, replacing it with cooperation, understanding and love. This is what all religions and philosophies profess.

Both countries should consider starting negotiations on no aggression pact, resolution of outstanding issues through peaceful means, strategic stability, among others. People to people contacts, business communities interactions, sports and cultural exchanges need to be encouraged as well. All this is only possible in the environment of mutual respect and accommodations. This must become the top priority of the two governments. For this purpose special task forces be constituted on both sides comprising politicians, diplomats, social scientists, jurists and nuclear experts.

Let us start a movement on both sides of the border to rise above petty or even more significant issues and get into the mode of resolving the problems, rather than fighting with or over them. This all might look strange coming from a veteran soldier. But believe it or not, no one hates.

Lt. General (Retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi

is the former Secretary of Defence. He is also the Policy Advisor of CSCR.

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