Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s magisterial memoir further underlines the truth that the consolidation of India’s own nationhood depends crucially on our being able to look on Pakistan as a friend and neighbour, not as a threat and an enemy
Mani Shankar Aiyar Mani Shankar Aiyar | 08 Oct, 2015
Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, famously admonished a pesky correspondent who asked him whether he was a ‘hawk’ or a ‘dove’, saying: “Young man, we run foreign policy here, not an aviary!”
Kasuri has risked being branded a ‘birdman’ for his choice of title: Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy (Viking, Rs 999). But the deeper significance is that he has written this magisterial tome of 851 pages (pared down by his editors from the original 2,000 plus) with both Pakistani and Indian audiences in mind, both hawks and doves, both inveterate optimists (like myself) and inveterate pessimists (phalanxes of generals of both nationalities and armies of TV anchors demanding “the nation wants to know”). In the event, even if he cannot please everybody, Kasuri’s work is a triumph of objectivity, sober and balanced, giving due space to different points of view, tracing the valleys and the pinnacles in the evolution of this always tangled relationship, and doing so with a meticulous eye to accuracy and authenticity. It is a must-read for all those, Indian, Pakistani and third parties, who interest themselves in these issues (and who does not?). It is also, despite its forbidding length, an easy read, for Kasuri writes simply and directly, avoiding empty rhetoric and overblown bombast, densely referencing every statement and every fact relevant to his tale. His footnotes run to hundreds and the documentation is detailed. It is, thus, a persuasive recounting of a period in India- Pakistan relations when a breakthrough appeared imminent and was thwarted only by a malevolent fate. Had Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh visited Pakistan as scheduled in October 2006, instead of postponing it to March 2007, and if Pakistan’s then President Musharraf’s crisis over the judiciary had broken in early April instead of early March 2007, a public and official imprimatur might have been stamped on the conclusions arrived at by Musharraf and Kasuri with their Indian counterparts through their back channel boys: Ambassadors Sati Lambah and Tariq Aziz.
As it is, we have to start all over again. But when we do, we could reach the Lambah-Aziz point within three weeks instead of the three years it took them to get there. That is why Kasuri’s book is not just history but a clear guide to a brighter future.
That fresh point of departure is the four-point ‘framework’ that, says Kasuri, Dr Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf were agreed on: ‘(1) Jammu & Kashmir could not be made independent; (2) borders could not be redrawn; (3) the LoC could be made irrelevant; (4) a Joint Mechanism for both parts of Kashmir could be worked out’ (page 302). How they got there makes for fascinating reading. The trail perhaps begins with Vajpayee’s 1999 ‘bus journey’ to Lahore. (Actually, the security situation in Lahore was so tense that Vajpayee and his team had to get down from the bus at Wagah and proceed by helicopter to Lahore, indicating that preparations for the visit were inadequate even if the gesture were dramatic—a congenital disease that has derailed several Indo-Pak reconciliation efforts at the top from Vajpayee’s bus ride to the Ufa fiasco. Kasuri rightly emphasises, ‘In my opinion, one should not expect miraculous results from any summit meeting unless proper preparations are made beforehand.’)
Notwithstanding the disastrous set-back of the Kargil aggression and Musharraf’s subsequent ascension to power in Pakistan (deeply regretted in India at the time), it was LK Advani, according to Kasuri’s account, who was instrumental in persuading a hesitant Vajpayee to invite Musharraf to Agra in July 2001 as ‘an act of statesmanship’. It was then the same Advani who was instrumental in ensuring the breakdown at Agra, voicing strong opposition to the proposed Joint Declaration containing “no reference to cross-border terrorism”. While this was disputed by the Pakistani claim that ‘terrorism’ had been referred to in para 3(c), the fact is that this illustrated once again the perils of last-minute drafting when such an important document should be drafted with care by senior officials and cleared by cabinets before going for the fanfare of signatures by Heads of Government/State.
Just months later, in December 2001, came the attack on Indian Parliament. There followed Operation Parikrama, the mobilisation of a million troops to invest the Pakistan border. But even if peace-making is a fraught process, so is it difficult to sustain border tensions. Hence, within less than 18 months of the Parliament attack, Vajpayee extended a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan at a rally in Srinagar in April 2003. The Pakistan government responded by convening a meeting in Islamabad of ‘all stakeholders’ (that includes the army brass) where ‘various policy options were considered and probed’. The consensus was that Pakistan ‘would offer a series of Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs)…to initiate a dialogue’.
This eventually led to Vajpayee visiting Islamabad for a SAARC summit in January 2004 and agreeing at a ‘last- minute’ meeting arranged with Musharraf for a ‘simultaneous discussion of all issues’, including terrorism. Vajpayee had argued, “Let us deal with terrorism first since Pakistan was also faced with this problem” and Musharraf had responded that “terrorism should be eliminated” by addressing the “root causes of terrorism.” This, of course, was a ploy to ensure that terrorism be linked to the final settlement of issues relating to Kashmir since it is Pakistan’s view that unrest in the Valley is the root cause of terrorism, but Vajpayee seems to have let that pass in view of Musharraf’s assurance that he would do all he could to rein in non-State actors: ‘he will not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner’ (Joint Statement, 6 January 2004).
‘Both of us,’ says Kasuri, ‘underlined that the Joint Statement should not be considered as a victory for either side.’ This is a very important observation. The dialogue can succeed only on the basis of the Buddha’s wise injunction that true victory is when neither side is defeated. There is, however, considerable hyperbole to Kasuri’s approvingly quoting an international observer as saying that this was ‘the handshake that changed history’— for, after all, Kasuri himself cites Musharraf as telling Vajpayee, ‘that he could not guarantee that such incidents would stop entirely as there were ‘freelancers’ engaging in militant activities and no assurances regarding them could be given’. In Mumbai, 26 November 2008, these ‘freelancers’ were to wreak the havoc that interrupted, perhaps even definitively, the progress towards a resumption of the Composite Dialogue first agreed to in 1997.
Kasuri’s account of the reactions of different elements of the Pakistan polity to the 2004 Joint Statement hold important lessons. First, it was only Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jama’at-e- Islami (which wins less than a handful of seats in every election to the Pakistan National Assembly) who held that “the entire exercise was futile”. All other political parties welcomed the new ‘bonhomie’. This reflects the extent of consensus in Pakistan society to move towards accommodation with India.
When to this one adds the extent of cooperation extended by senior armed forces commanders to Musharraf’s efforts, recounted in detail in a separate chapter in the book, one sees that the belief in India that the armed forces constitute a monolithic opposition to any deal with India is a myth of which we need to disabuse ourselves. While pointing out that from cadets and staff officers at various defence institutions he addressed, ‘very rarely indeed did I face hostile questions towards the ongoing peace process’, Kasuri emphasises that ‘General Kayani [then DG of the ISI, later Musharraf’s Army chief] must be credited for making a positive contribution’ to the Kashmir framework. Vice Chief General Ahsan Saleem Hayat ‘strongly supported a negotiated settlement of Jammu & Kashmir along the contours being discussed by the back-channel negotiators’, as also did the generals on the Presidential staff. Musharraf took it upon himself to bring the corps commanders on board. ‘This,’ says Kasuri, ‘does not turn them into ‘doves’; instead it shows that they are ‘realists’ who understand where Pakistan’s core interests lie.’ He also quotes the DG of the ISI as arguing that “peace between Pakistan and India is imperative”. He stresses that ‘it is unthinkable that an issue of such a sensitive nature could be negotiated without having all the stakeholders on board…the military was deeply involved in the peace process’. Those involved with President Musharraf in reviewing progress on the back channel included the Foreign Secretary, DG-ISI, the Vice Chief, Corps Commander Multan and the Head of Military Intelligence. ‘The discussion was thorough and detailed.’ Kasuri adds that the ‘substantial progress’ made in 2004- 07 ‘could not have been done without the army’s support.’ He concludes that the ‘institutional’ view in the army is ‘in favour of a solution of the Kashmir issue on a just and fair basis’ and that those who disagree with this approach ‘constitute a small minority among the senior officers’. His definitive punch-line is: ‘It is my belief that the raison d’etre of the Pakistan Army is not permanent enmity with India; it is Pakistan’s permanent security.’ This is so contrary to the general view of the Pakistan army held in India that it gives one cause to pause and think.
The unexpected election of a Congress-led coalition in May 2004 caused apprehension in the Musharraf government as they had pinned their hopes on Vajpayee winning and carrying forward the process initiated in January. To their pleasant surprise, they found that the Congress wished to carry forward the peace process ‘with the same, if not greater zeal and commitment’. The Pakistani approach was based on Musharraf’s four- point formula: ‘(a) initiating a dialogue, (b) accepting the centrality of Kashmir, (c) eliminating whatever was not acceptable to Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris, and (d) arriving at a solution acceptable to all the three stakeholders.’ There were a number of issues here that were clearly not acceptable as formulated to the Indian side, but with “flexibility based on reciprocity” it was thought it might be possible to arrive at conclusions provided “channels of communication [were] not breached” and the goal was understood to be “sustainable peace and security”, not just “transient stabilisation measures”. Although these quotes are taken from an interview Kasuri gave, not a joint statement, they contained two critical components of a process that might succeed, whether then or now or ever: the need to keep channels of communication open and to define the goal as ‘sustainable peace’.
Making his first visit to New Delhi in September 2004 after the new government was installed, Kasuri found there was ‘instant chemistry’ between him and his Indian counterpart, K Natwar Singh. This was not in the least surprising as Natwar Singh had served very successfully as India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan and was generally well-disposed to doing business with Pakistan, if possible. Kasuri saw his role as not only arriving at a consensus with the government but also carrying along the Indian opposition, the media, general public opinion—and the Hurriyat. Typically for a Pakistani, he regarded the conglomerate that is the Hurriyat as representing the Kashmiris, so he made no attempt to meet mainstream Kashmiri leaders or anyone from Jammu or Ladakh. Gillani gave him a wigging; that alone should have persuaded Kasuri to widen his contact with the J&K polity. Instead, he kept holding ‘marathon sessions…sometimes secretly’ with ‘Kashmiris’ (that is, Hurriyat and PoK leaders) on both sides of the LoC ‘in Islamabad and New Delhi and in other world capitals’ who pumped him with such rubbish as ‘about a hundred thousands Kashmiris have been martyred since 1989’. Whether ‘a majority of Kashmiris’ will eventually go along with a solution cannot be left to the Hurriyat alone to determine on behalf of all Kashmiris; they are, in any case, a confused lot, often at cross purposes with each other. It will have to be determined also by those of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh with whom Pakistan chooses not to interact. But Kasuri did perceptively sense that ‘India considered Pakistan a deeply divided polity with no consensus on basic issues.’ Over time, however, the impression grew in India that Musharraf was firmly in charge and might, therefore, be in a position to deliver.
Natwar took the sensible stand that ‘diplomacy provided hope and not salvation’: so the principal outcome was a number of measures aimed at easing bilateral exchanges at the people’s level—but leaving open issues of contention, including the vexed question of ‘cross-border infiltration’. It appears Natwar suggested ‘establishing contacts between ISI and RAW’ but Kasuri demurred. This seems to be a proposal well worth pursuing. The long-term proposal of real consequence appears to have been Kasuri’s suggestion of appointing ‘a High Representative with a defined mandate to promote a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute’ since it led eventually to the ‘back channel’, which ‘would prove far more fruitful in generating fresh ideas for resolving the Kashmir dispute.’
Initially, it was veteran diplomat and then National Security Adviser JN ‘Mani’ Dixit who was appointed as India’s representative for the back channel negotiations, his counterpart being Pakistan’s Secretary, National Security Council, Tariq Aziz. But after Dixit suddenly and tragically passed away in January 2005, Sati Lambah took his place. Natwar is reported as having assured Kasuri that Lambah was ‘his nominee who would work under him’. They were tasked with finding ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions— and they did!
While the back channel negotiations wound their way forward secretly in many different locations, at the more visible public level the progress on the back channel was supported and encouraged by high-level meetings between the foreign ministers in India, Pakistan and third countries, and, more importantly, between Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh. Year 2005 was the golden year when the bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad was flagged off, giving substance to the new thinking that “the LoC cannot be made permanent but it can and should be made irrelevant” (Musharraf, New Delhi, 18 April 2005) and Prime Minister Singh reciprocating: “Borders could not be redrawn but the two countries could work towards making them irrelevant…by allowing people on both sides of the LoC to move freely and trade with each other” (Amritsar, 24 March 2006). Thus, says Kasuri, ‘both sides had begun to feel that a possible solution was within their grasp.’ Dr Manmohan Singh was to put it this way, “Short of secession, short of redrawing boundaries, the Indian establishment can live with anything. Meanwhile, we need soft borders—the borders are not so important” (in an interview to Jonathan Power, 22 May 2009).
In Musharraf’s view, “self-governance with a joint management system at the top for both sides of the LoC [would] make the LoC irrelevant. This will cease to divide the people of Jammu & Kashmir—and thus become irrelevant to their lives” (Musharraf to Geo TV, 23 October 2006). The Indian side does not quite see it that way, its position being more nuanced by the need to “evolve a common understanding on autonomy and self-rule” (Dr Manmohan Singh), or, as stated by the Indian special envoy on the back channel, Sati Lambah: “work out a cooperative, consultative mechanism so as to maximise the gains of cooperation in solving the problems of social and economic development in the region” (Srinagar, 2014). Clearly, more work is required on what exactly the ‘joint management mechanism’ is to do and what it should be called. But, broadly speaking, India and Pakistan were agreed on the general thrust of this ‘out-of-the box’ framework solution, the focus being on ‘institutional arrangements to bring people from both sides of the LoC closer together’. This calls for further negotiations on the details (and the devil frequently lies in the details), which is why what we had under Musharraf and Manmohan Singh was a ‘framework agreement’, not a completed document.
Sati Lambah’s account, in the only public speech he has made on the subject, which was to the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute of Kashmir Studies, Srinagar, on 13 May 2014, is a useful and necessary supplement to Kasuri’s book. Indeed, a comparison between the many pages of Kasuri and the succinct words of Lambah underline the fact of what had been achieved being no more than a ‘framework’. Yet, reaching that in itself was the single biggest leap forward ever in moving towards an answer to the J&K conundrum.
Where the two interpretations coincide are in the agreement to search for progress “quietly” and “without the knowledge, prompting and involvement of any third party” (Lambah). Kasuri adds the need for a ‘pragmatic approach’. Lambah goes on: “A solution will also remain elusive if we keep harping on positions that have failed to resolve problems in the past.” Kasuri agrees that ‘no solution arrived at could be perfect’ but ‘it would have to be the best possible under the circumstances’. He underlines the need for ‘mutual flexibility’ and adds that ‘maximalist solutions’ are not feasible.
Lambah stresses “two pillars” as “the essential prerequisites” of progress: “respecting the ceasefire” (Kasuri cites figures that prove that when the two sides engage, ceasefire violations and deaths due to cross-border firing drop sharply, thus showing that it is dialogue that leads to lower ceasefire violations, not an insistence on ceasefire violations stopping as a precedent condition for starting a dialogue); and “disavowal by Pakistan of the use of terrorism as a state policy (or) allowing the use of its territory by non-state actors.” We have already seen Pakistan’s twin assertion that it will not as a state resort to terrorism nor will it ‘allow’ its territory to be so used by others—subject, however, to the caveat that it is not fully in control of its ‘freelancers’. Kasuri explains at length why, from a Pakistani point-of-view, ‘militant activities have proved counterproductive’ and, therefore, cannot be a substitute for dialogue. Finally, both sides agreed that ‘a workable plan be negotiated in relative secrecy in the first instance’ (Kasuri).
Over the next three years (2004-07), the back channel negotiators sought “ideas that are practical, workable and acceptable” (Lambah). They both agreed that “there can be no redrawal of boundaries” (Lambah) and that the joint aim would be to render the LoC ‘irrelevant’—a breakthrough for ‘new ideas’ and ‘thinking out of the box’.
They also agreed, in Lambah’s words, that the people of J&K, who belong to “the same ethnic groups” and suffer on account of belonging to “divided families” should be enabled “to move freely from one side to the other”—another breakthrough of immense humanitarian significance considering that Kashmiris on either side of the LoC have not been able to see each other for more than half a century.
Both sides also agreed that “there has to be respect for human rights” and that those “involved in militant activities” had to be “reintegrated” into society (Lambah). On his part, Kasuri highlights Pakistan’s ‘Deradicalization, Disengagement and Rehabilitation’ (DDR) programme towards this end, but the gap to be closed comes through when Kasuri describes LoC violations by militants as ‘cross-LoC movement’ and the need to ‘control’ that!
It was also agreed that there should be a “progressive removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers” to “ensure meaningful trade” (Lambah). In contrast to the bus service that has run for over a decade and been expanded, cross-border trade remains one of the barely fulfilled promises of the back channel.
Both also agreed that ‘self-governance’ on both sides of the LoC should be “on the same basis” (Lambah)—but a great deal remained to be filled out about what exactly would constitute ‘self-governance’ and how to assure that it would be on the ‘same basis’ on both sides. Conceptually, however, it did amount to a breakthrough because it projected parity in constitutional, legal and political rights for all inhabitants of the erstwhile Riyasat of Jammu & Kashmir. This was a significant achievement because initially the Pakistanis were unwilling to include the Northern Territories (Gilgit-Baltistan, etcetera) in their definition of J&K.
There was also some convergence on “military forces on both sides” being “kept to the minimum, particularly in populated areas” (Lambah) and Kasuri’s view that both sides had agreed ‘to a major reduction of armed forces in the region’ to be brought about ‘gradually, in consonance with the improvement of the situation on the ground’ and especially from ‘population centres’. Where agreement was total lay in Pakistan and India agreeing that there could be no ‘independence’ for ‘J&K areas’.
Points on which further negotiations were required were also flagged. The most contentious of these relates to terrorism and violations of the ceasefire. For us, says Lambah, “an end to hostility, violence and terrorism” are “essential prerequisites” to any reduction in the presence of armed forces on our side of the LoC. After Mumbai 26/11, the need for actively combating terrorism has become more pronounced even as Pakistan continues to elide this critical question. Before the Mumbai outrage (which took place after Kasuri demitted office), Kasuri had accepted Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon’s suggestion of an ‘Anti-Terror Mechanism to ease tensions and restore mutual trust’. At the Havana NAM summit later in 2006, ‘the two countries agreed on Anti-Terror Mechanism to identify and implement counter terror measures and investigation’ as also ‘not to freeze the peace process’ despite terror incidents (such as the Samjhauta Express explosions—the investigation and prosecution of which is proceeding in India at an even slower pace than the investigation and prosecution in Pakistan of the 26/11 attacks). Had the Lambah-Aziz back channel continued into 2008 and beyond, the joint Anti-Terror Mechanism could have been fleshed out. Perhaps it is now time to reactivate the Havana agreement on that issue.
Unfortunately, Musharraf fell before the next step could be taken. And the next step has been indefinitely put off following the vicious attack on Mumbai on 26 November 2008. That, at any rate in the Indian view, catapulted ‘terrorism’ beyond ‘Kashmir’ as the issue that must be tackled, not in supersession of Kashmir but co-terminus with that. Most regrettably, the current Modi Government is blatant about this, putting Pakistan in a corner. I have little hope of progress under the present regime, but as and when the dialogue is resumed, Kasuri’s exertions will surely ensure that the threads can be picked up from where they dropped off in 2007.
What are the prospects as and when the threads are again picked up—be it tomorrow, next year, five years from now—or when Modi goes? As at present, both governments are in denial over the progress made in the halcyon days of the back channel. Sceptics would also be able to find several passages in Kasuri’s argument that would give offence to India. It bears noting that at least an equal number of passages could be found that would give offence to Pakistan. That is the essence of the problem. Kasuri has shown exceptional courage to take on both audiences simultaneously. Yet, the effort—not just the book but the entire 2004-07 period—is an indication that India- Pakistan relations are not ‘intractable’. We can move forward step-by-step provided the will to persist permeates the dialogue. A stop-go approach, such as that which has characterised all previous initiatives over the last seven decades, is doomed to failure. The back channel, backed by atmosphere-building and decision-making up front, as was demonstrated by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh can, with patience and goodwill, gradually evolve a level of acceptable mutual understanding—a process that must proceed uninterrupted because any interruption converts the India-Pakistan dialogue into a game of snakes and ladders: the mouth of the snake swallowing up all the climbing of ladders, requiring the negotiators to start again from square one.
That is why for years, as an impassioned advocate of a viable India-Pakistan relationship and an occasional participant in the process, I have been advocating the need for a restructuring of the dialogue to make it ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’— a phrase that was adopted by Kasuri’s successor, Hina Rabbani Khar, as Pakistan’s official foreign policy, but which has not appealed to the Indian side (nor to Ms Khar’s successors).
I urge it because our approach has been to regard dialogue with Pakistan as a reward for good behaviour. We seem to think that talking to Pakistan amounts to bestowing a favour on them. We don’t seem to recognise that the need to talk arises when the going is difficult, not when everything is hunky- dory. We also need to acknowledge that we can either talk or let problems simmer—there is no third way. When we shy away from dialogue, the immediate consequence is a rise in ceasefire violations as well as in cross-border firing and militant infiltration. And when we break the dialogue, we award a prize and an incentive to the terrorist and every anti-Indian element in Pakistan.
What we need to understand is that we cannot expect to bring Pakistan to heel by putting the country in the dock and ordering it to confess, “Mea culpa”. It is a separate, sovereign nation and no sovereign nation is going to publicly incriminate itself by abjectly apologising. Also, Pakistan can take action against terrorists only by prosecuting them at its own initiative. The country cannot be seen to be doing so at our instance. As such, whatever is contentious needs to be discussed—preferably ‘quietly’. A solution cannot be guaranteed if we talk; but what can be guaranteed is that problems will continue to fester if we do not.
And there is no wishing away Pakistan. We can choose our friends but not our neighbours. And the failure to find a via media with Pakistan is a huge albatross around our necks in our quest to find a place under the international sun. Locked in confrontation with Pakistan, we can never find a place in the UN Security Council. What is the use of a Foreign Office that is expert at cultivating excellent relations with Paraguay but is confounded when confronted with Pakistan?
Therefore, drawing on the 1969-73 talks between North Vietnam and the US every Thursday at the Hotel Majestic in Paris during the worst period of their war, and the Panmunjom talks that have been regularly scheduled since 1953 on the ceasefire line between North and South Korea to keep the armistice going despite a much higher level of tension between the two halves of the Korean peninsula than between India and Pakistan, I would suggest that both countries agree to an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue at the Wagah-Attari border on a day of the week to be mutually agreed. It should also be agreed that Kashmir and terrorism would be equally on the agenda at every meeting, with other subjects being mutually agreed in advance for discussion. Following the example of the Paris talks having been anchored by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, I would take up Kasuri’s suggestion for the two sides to be headed respectively by high representatives, with their advisers changing in accordance with the agenda. This would give a single-point focus to the dialogue that has been lacking so far, leading to a lot of back-and-forth consultation. I would also suggest a ‘zero hour’ arrangement at which contemporary grievances are aired so that neither Indians nor Pakistanis get the impression that their current concerns are being ignored. I am confident such a process would lead us even quicker than it took special envoys Aziz and Lambah to move towards constructive solutions—since these two interlocutors have already laid the groundwork on the back channel.
My confidence in India and Pakistan being able to work out a ‘viable relationship’ if we put our minds to it, is based on my reading of current ground realities.
First is the passage of time; 1947 is more than six-and-a-half decades behind us. Pakistanis who were Indians till 13 August of that year no longer need to answer the question, “Why are you a Pakistani?” by replying, “Because I am not an Indian!” Almost any Pakistani below the age of eighty—and that must include some 90 per cent of that country’s population— were born in Pakistan, brought up in Pakistan, have always been Pakistanis and so do not have to define themselves, as their forefathers did, in relation to India. A Pakistani now is a Pakistani because he is a Pakistani. Equally, over 90 per cent of Indians have no memory of Lahore or Karachi having been part of India. They have no nostalgia for ‘Akhand Bharat’ and have accepted all their lives that Pakistan is a foreign country—and here to stay. This removes a major psychological barrier to mutual acceptance that bedevilled the Partition generation.
Second, the partition of Pakistan in 1971 is an event of a distant past for most Pakistanis. They have no living memory of East Pakistan and do not yearn for reunion. One major consequence of this is that Pakistanis are no longer pretenders to the protection and patronage of the Muslims of the Subcontinent, a pretension with which Pakistan was conceived. Indeed, they are no more able to absorb even Biharis from Bangladesh, let alone provide refuge for migrants from India. Significantly, there are probably more Muslims in India than in current-day Pakistan.
Meanwhile, secular India has answered many unfounded fears of Muslims of the Partition generation that they would be held hostage to the Hindu majority in independent India. With Rashtrapati Abdul Kalam as an icon of Indian youth, we do not even need to invoke Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, or Sania Mirza and Azharuddin, to demonstrate how religion has not proven a bottleneck in providing role models for Indians of all religions. Indeed, in many ways, it is safer to be a Muslim in India than in Pakistan since we have been spared the sectarian strife that Pakistan is subject to owing to the tensions between Sunni and Shia, Barelvi and Deobandi, Ahmadiyas and others, stoked by processes of Islamisation in that country. Indian Muslims are Indians—and would like to keep it that way. Pakistani Muslims are Pakistanis—and would like to keep it that way. Differences are political, not communal.
Notwithstanding the essentially secular ethos built up in India since Independence, we do, however, have a continuing problem of fully integrating the Muslim community into our common nationhood. A principal reason for this is the salience between ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ in many—but, happily, not most—Indian minds. This is evidenced most starkly in the difficulty that many urban Indian Muslims, even of the middle- class, have in finding accommodation for themselves and their families, and other petty acts of everyday prejudice and vindictiveness. It is also evident in their being asked, consciously or unconsciously, to prove themselves in ‘loyalty tests’. The cricket field is a favourite place to discover not which is the best team and, therefore, deserving of applause, but in checking to see if Indian Muslims are applauding a Pakistani sixer. Questions of personal security and safety of property are a continuing source of tension for many Indian Muslims. And the Sachar Committee has conclusively established that there are many parameters of national life on which the Muslims of our country have to be pulled up by their bootstraps to match the overall Indian achievement.
To end this kind of subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination, a better relationship between India and Pakistan is an obvious answer. Thus, the consolidation of India’s own nationhood depends crucially on our being able to look on Pakistan as a friend and neighbour, not as a threat and an enemy.
Several points of Kasuri’s narrative will be put by scholars and participants to further examination, but we should be thankful that he has made a major effort to spin out the story of the only years in the history of India and Pakistan when a breakthrough seemed imminent. Kasuri’s enduring message is that ‘the value of dialogue can never be underestimated’. So, an alternative title for the next edition of the book might be, ‘Lage Raho, Munna Bhai’!
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