Eqbal Ahmad Distinguished Lecture – Mani Shankar Aiyar


Lecture under the aegis of Mashal Books






It is a sad measure of the distance from Amritsar to Lahore that it was not until I was invited to deliver this lecture that I heard of the distinguished Pakistani peace activist, Dr. Eqbal Ahmad, in honour of whose memory we have gathered together this evening. Tragically, we have drifted so far apart that we know little of each other and even less of the most distinguished figures of the last 65 years. I, therefore, welcome this opportunity to reduce that faasla by a few centimetres.

Let me recall that back in August 1947, with just a few days left for Partition and Independence, Mahatma Gandhi made the suggestion that India and Pakistan should have a common army that would protect both from outside aggression for otherwise there was the danger that the two armed forces would only be ranged against each other. Opposing this suggestion, Mazhar Ali Khan, the famed left-wing Editor of The Pakistan Times argued in an editorial published on 10 August 1947 that the Mahatma was wrong in thinking that after Independence the two countries would be locked in armed confrontation because the only quarrel between the two was whether or not there should be Partition, and now that Pakistan was being constituted as a separate sovereign nation, there would be no further differences between the two countries who would happily co-exist as good neighbours. I quote below Mazhar Ali Khan’s words:

”The latest and most surprising recruit to the ranks of these prophets of despair is no less a person than Mr. Gandhi. His contention that, after the division, the two armies will perpetually stand on the border line in battle array, waiting for the first shot to be fired, is curious indeed…If the two States have Governments friendly to each other, as we sincerely hope they will, we see no reason at all why a similar friendship should also exist between the two armies…Once the two States are formed and the two armies constituted, the scope for future cooperation is unlimited, given goodwill on both sides…There is too much loose talk flying around these days of the dangers confronting Pakistan and Hindusthan both from each other and from foreign aggressors. This is sheer nonsense, and the only thing that can give substance to these imaginary fears is our own stupidity…Whatever differences the people of Pakistan and Hindusthan had among themselves have already been settled by the materialization of the division itself.”

The quotation is to be found at pages 50-51 of Mazhar Ali Khan’s “Pakistan: The First Twelve Years” published by the Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1996.

In the event, both the Mahatma and Mazhar Ali Khan were wrong: neither could an independent sovereign state, which is what Pakistan was and is, do without its own armed forces; nor would Partition end, as Mazhar sahib fondly believed, the causes of war between the two countries. Indeed, within months of Independence and within Gandhiji’s own lifetime, his dire apprehensions of armed conflict came true. And alas, tension, suspicion, fear, animosity and a history of wars and near-wars has been much of the history of the last 64 years:

Boo-e-gul le gayi bairoon-e-chaman raaz-e-chaman

Kya qayyamat hai ki khud phool hai ghamaz-e-chaman

Ek bulbul hai ki hai mehb-e-tarannum ab tak

Iske seene mein hai naghmon ka talaatun ab tak

That bulbul is you and I, all of you have come to hear how we might put an end to all that we ourselves have wrecked. Happily, our two countries have been in dialogue over their differences, especially since the initiation of the Composite Dialogue in 1997 – albeit in a disturbingly on-and-off manner, the gains of the positive period often being negated in the losses of the negative periods that have alternated with better times. As a result, there would appear to be little actual progress in relations between the two countries. Many on both sides despair that India-Pakistan problems are intractable and argue that, therefore, instead of entertaining false hopes of eventual success it would be better to accept that there are no political solutions. Hence, national attention should be concentrated on shoring up one’s defences against sudden or deliberate attack by the other.

I am unwilling to give in to such pessimism and the cynicism it fosters. History may have divided us, but geography binds us, and a shared inheritance holds as much the potential to keep us apart as to bring us together. The choice is for us to make.

Hence, in this lecture, I would like to analyze the past and predict the future in the light of four fundamental sets of factors that have divided us for six decades but all of which seem capable of resolution provided we persist in engaging with each other and not letting the dialogue beak down. In my view, never before have the prospects been riper for enduring solutions, provided only that we consolidate in written agreements the positive outcomes of the 15-year old Composite Dialogue, to be signed when, InshaAllah, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh visits Islamabad, and simultaneously undertake “talks about talks” with a view to structuring the next and, I pray, final phase of the Dialogue as an “Uninterrupted and Uninterruptible” process that would be doggedly pursued, without disruption or interruption, until relations are fully normalized. Indeed, the last stage of Indo-Pak reconciliation should be animated by the realisation that it is only when India and Pakistan come together, instead of struggling to stay apart, that both countries will come into their own in the international community and enable the South Asian sub-continent to resume its traditional role, played out from the dawn of history till but two and half centuries ago, of restoring India, Pakistan and the rest of South Asia to the vanguard of the advancement of human civilization. Remember, we were the world’s sone ki chidiya. We could again aspire to that position within the course of the 21st century. But first we have to become friends. And if we don’t, then our future will lie in continuing entanglements that bring no peace or prosperity but only barren conflict and the waste of national and human resources in putting up barriers against one another.

Partition arose out of the Two-Nation Theory, the belief that Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations who could not live together under one roof for fear of the majority community lording it over the minorities. It was always a contested theory, but the germane point is that for the last six decades and more two sovereign, independent states have existed, and the issue now is no more co-existence between two communities but co-existence between two neighbouring countries. Given that have been independent since six decades, can our mindsets be eased out of regarding the Other as the Enemy Other. Can we move in the direction of recognizing the complementarities in our respective national destinies?

For most of the last six decades, the best and the brightest of our countries have done all they can to render us asunder: sants and ulema; ideologues and propagandists; politicians and statesmen; scholars and the media; diplomats and the military, as also the worst elements in our society – terrorists and cerebral communalists. They have not entirely succeeded. For we remain hyphenated in the minds of our people. And we remain hyphenated because we are hyphenated; we share too much to just turn our backs on each other and hope the other will go away. Siamese twins are not free to roam except with each other, even if they keep pulling away from each other.

Reflecting on all that has divided us for six decades and more, there are, it seems to me, four sets of factors that stand in the way of reconciliation. I would classify these as:

  • Generic/historical;
  • institutional;
  • endemic; and
  • episodic.

I propose to review each of these with you in the hope that we might discover how to move on from an essentially divisive past towards a more harmonious future.


Let me begin with the generic and historical issues of division.

Some in India and many in Pakistan would argue that the very reason for Partition having been the religious incompatibility between Hindus and Muslims, it is inevitable that the two nations would also find it incompatible to live together as good neighbours.

That, perhaps, is a somewhat fundamentalist way of putting it. But the point is generally that it is not so much a fundamental civilizational incompatibility as a lack of convergence in national interest that characterizes India-Pakistan relations. Regrettably, there is a persistent belief that hostility being the underlying reality of this relationship, it is not in promoting friendship as protecting oneself from hostile intent.

Yet, there are several levels at which this argument breaks down. First, the fact that India refused to become a Hindu country at Independence and has succeeded in showing itself and the world that secularism is the bonding adhesive of our nationhood. This has enabled the Indian Muslim community to live in harmony with their Hindu brethren? In consequence, almost every icon of India’s 85% Hindu youth is unabashedly Muslim: the four Khans – superstars Shah Rukh, Aamir, Salman, and Saif, as also that outstanding stage and screen actor, Naseeruddin Shah; leading ladies like Katrina Kaif, Waheeda Rahman and Shabana Azmi, following Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Nargis of yore; the golden voices of Mohd. Rafi and Talat Mehmood; the lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi and Javed Akhtar; music director A.R. Rahman (who was born Dilip Kumar and converted to Islam, where his renowned predecessor in the run-up to Partition, Dilip Kumar, the actor, was born Yusuf Khan in Peshawar and converted to Bollywood under an assumed Hindu name); ustads such as Bismillah Khan, Vilayat Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amjad Ali Khan and tabla maestros, Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain; cricketers like Tiger Pataudi and Azharuddin; and tennis star, Sania Mirza, whom we share, besides a whole galaxy of highly influential opinion-makers of whom I need mention only three – the Group Editor of the India Today stable, M.J. Akbar; columnist Saeed Naqvi; and historian Mushirul Hassan, Director of the National Archives – and business barons, Aziz Premji and Anu Agha, who has just joined me as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. Numerous intellectuals and scientists, civil servants and diplomats, judges and chief justices, even chiefs of the armed forces have been Muslim; so too have Muslim politicians and statesmen made their mark on national life, ranging from Chief Ministers and Cabinet Ministers to presiding officers of Parliament – and the Presidency itself. The point needs no labouring. What I would emphasize is that thanks to a secular, non-denominational definition of nationhood, and an insistence on plurality as the defining characteristic of India’s democracy, the religion-based strains of the pre-Independence period have not translated into a strained inter-communal relationship in independent India.

Except that the Justice Rajinder Sachar report will immediately be thrown at those who suggest that the lived experience of secular India shows no incompatibility between the two alleged “nations” of Hindu and Muslim. Yes, indeed, in many, many respects the denizens of the Muslim community are worse off than their non-Muslim counterparts, particularly in northern India. Equally undeniable is that while the North Indian Muslim elite largely took off for Pakistan at Partition, the vast majority of the ordinary Muslims voted with their feet to remain where they were. Deprived of a middle-class and a political leadership, the community has striven to raise itself by its boot-straps and while there are success stories there is much leeway to be made up. This points to the need for more affirmative action; it emphatically does not mean that Hindu and Muslim cannot live under one national roof.

Moreover, it needs to be recognized – in Pakistan, of course, but much more in India – that where population transfer did not take place, as in South India, the Muslim community is doing quite exceptionally well – and is not resented by the majority community for doing so.

Reciprocally, it is little known in India, and little bruited about in Pakistan, how many members of Pakistan’s non-Muslim minorities hold positions of distinction and responsibility in Pakistan, not only in the higher echelons of governance but also in the grassroots institutions of local government, in the civil services, in the judiciary, in agriculture, in business and the arts. Indeed, as my friend, former Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, pointed out in a TV interview with me, so few Pakistanis have ever met a Hindu that for most Pakistanis the question being pro- or anti-Hindu simply does not arise. Certainly the few Indians who do visit Pakistan are invariably received with great warmth and cordiality, and this also appears to be true of the friendship and goodwill that Pakistanis invariably receive when they visit India.

Therefore, whatever might have been the argument for a Muslim-majority State on this South Asian sub-continent at the time of Independence and Partition, now that Pakistan has been in existence for sixty years and more, the generic argument for Hindu-Muslim incompatibility has lost its sheen and transmuted more into national hostility than communal animosity.

Yet, six decades down the line, Pakistan is caught between what M.J. Akbar has described as the vision of the Father of Pakistan and the vision of its Godfather, Maulana Maudoodi, or what Sartaj Aziz has described as the triumph of the Deobandis over the Aligarhians and the Brahelvis.  There are, therefore, secyrial elements in Pakistan who have a strong theological bias gainst those they regard as kafir. These are also the elements who want to undo the plurality that underlies the identity of Pakistan and permeates Pakistan’s nationhood.

Fortunately, these fanatics are not typical of Pakistan. Pakistan is a modern nation-State. It is under serious threat from armed religious fanatics. But I am deeply convinced that it is not about to succumb as a society or as a State to elements who even in a moderate democratic garb have rarely managed to win more than a tiny handful of seats in any election.

I would, therefore, emphatically repeat that it is not communal animosity but national hostility that keeps India and Pakistan apart: a matter to be addressed by political and diplomatic action, not theology.

While the generic argument obviously does not hold, are the scars of history impossible to raze? Those who became Pakistani on 14 August 1947 had been Indians till the previous day. Therefore, there were many in India who argued that since nothing in language or literature, culture or cuisine, history or even religion distinguished a Pakistani from an Indian, the only way a Pakistani could distinguish himself from an Indian was by asserting that he was emphatically not an Indian. I do not know whether this argument was always a parody, but today, more than sixty years after Pakistan became a reality, those who began life as Indians are a rapidly diminishing breed. I would imagine that some 90% of Pakistanis today have never known any nationality other than their Pakistani nationality, even as 90% of Indians have never known Pakistan as an integral part of India. Thus, history itself is taking care of history. There is no reason why the nationhood of contemporary Pakistan needs to be built with the cement of anti-Indian or anti-Hindu sentiment.

Thus, neither generic nor historical factors need necessarily stand in the way of reconciliation between the two countries. If nevertheless progress in the direction of reconciliation has been slow, then does the problem lie in institutional hurdles on the road to reconciliation?


From the Indian perspective – and perhaps also the perspective of a majority of Pakistanis – the overwhelming role of the military in Pakistan’s approach to India is often held to be the principal institutional block to reconciliation. The argument goes that so long as the army, abetted by a complaisant civil service, is the effective political power in Pakistan, and so long as the raison d’etre of the huge Pakistani military establishment and what Ayesha Siddiqa calls Pakistan’s Military Inc is founded on the assiduous propagation of the threat from India – so the argument goes – the Pakistani military will never permit hostility between the two countries to be undermined for that would be to cut off the branch on which the Pakistani defence forces are perched.

On the other hand, in Pakistan it is often claimed that revanchist sentiment in the entire Indian establishment, including the Indian military, is so strong and persistent that the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 was only the prelude to the destruction of the rest of Pakistan, whenever this might prove possible; hence the need for eternal vigilance as the price to be paid for Pakistan’s liberty.

Both these views appear to me to be a case of the wish fathering the thought. I do not believe that the actual course of India-Pakistan relations validates the view that India cannot deal with the Pakistani military; or that India is still hankering after a restoration of Akhand Bharat.

It was indubitably during the Ayub regime that the Indus Waters Treaty was signed, a Treaty that has weathered three wars and continues to offer the only effective forum for the resolution of water disputes. Also, it was President Ayub Khan who signed the Tashkent agreement, disagreement having been registered principally by his civilian colleagues.

Later, it was during the period of Zia-ul-Haq that a new impetus was given to people-to-people relations, the most important having been the opening of the Indian Consulate General in Karachi. And when in the winter of 1986-87 the temperature started building up over Operation Brasstacks, it was in Zia-ul-Haq that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi found a most effective partner in defusing the threat of war.

And although Gen Pervez Musharraf’s coup was almost universally looked at with deep disapproval and suspicion in India, coming as it did in the wake of Kargil 1999, eventually it was under his aegis that the composite dialogue made more progress on the Tariq-Lambah back-channel than at perhaps any other stage of India-Pakistan relations.

Equally, of course, the Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1950, the Simla agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration were the handiwork of civilian governments. I also salute the present Government of Pakistan for the decisive moves being made towards placing trade between the two countries on a Most Favoured Nation footing, a move warmly welcomed by the business communities of both countries. Perhaps we could still become each other’s ‘sabse pasandida mulk’!

Hence, I do not think the objective record makes for any insuperable difficulty in India dealing directly either with the Pakistan military or in dealing with a civilian government that has the military breathing down its neck or in dealing with a civilian government that stands up for itself. In any case, recent developments point to a new emerging equilibrium between the civilian authority and the military in Pakistan and we certainly hope, as I think all Pakistanis, including those in the armed forces do, that Pakistan stabilize as a democratic polity under an elected political authority.

On the other hand, the regrettably widespread view in Indian circles that Pakistan is a “failed” State or a “failing” one also needs to be countered. I do not think any nation, let alone Pakistan, can ever be a pushover. Pakistan nationhood is firmly anchored in history, civilization, ideology and spiritual belief. Pakistan has one of the largest populations in the world (even if relative to India somewhat small). Yours is also a polity and society with a high degree of political and philosophical sophistication. And you have a resilient economy and a burgeoning globalized elite, a strong bureaucracy and a stronger military, and an extremely lively and informed media. Howe can you possibly be a ‘failing State’?

Yes, Pakistan has its difficulties. But so do we. So any strategy built on the assumption that Pakistan cannot hold is misconceived, misplaced and dangerously misleading. Equally unrealistic are doomsday prophecies of Pakistan falling into the maw of fanatical terrorists or disintegrating irretrievably into a congeries of nations. Pakistan is here to stay and it would best to deal with it on those terms. And that calls for an engagement with a Pakistan that will last, not a Pakistan on its last legs.

That accounts too, in my view, for no one in India harbouring any illusions any more about a return to Akhand Bharat. That was a slogan in the immediate post-Partition period, a cry from the heart of those who had been deprived of their hearths and their homes. That generation has gone, the refugee in India is well-integrated into India society, and there is no nostalgia for return except perhaps in the fading memories of some eighty-to-ninety year olds. Moreover, what on earth are we going to do with 18 crore seriously angered malcontents if ever anything so stupid happened as the end of Pakistan? No, there is nothing, nothing at all, to be gained by promoting any disintegration of neighbouring Pakistan, and I would advise any Pakistani who doubts us on this score to consider how steadfast a series of Indian governments, of every hue and colour, were in standing up for the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka through thirty years of a vicious civil war caused by gross discrimination against the Tamil minority despite the strong ethnic links that bind the Sri Lankan Tamil to the Indian Tamil.

There being no insuperable institutional obstacle to a sustained Indo-Pak effort to resolve simmering differences, let us now turn our attention to those differences, which, for convenience, I have divided into the “endemic” and the “episodic”.


The endemic issues between Pakistan and India are, from a Pakistani perspective, Kashmir and water; from an Indian perspective, doubtless it is cross-border terrorism based on Pakistani soil. I have no readymade answers. I doubt that anyone has. But is that cause enough to despair of any solution ever being found?

The historical record would appear to disprove any military solution to the argument over Jammu & Kashmir. The attempt to annex the Maharajah’s state when he and Sheikh Abdullah were readying to throw their lot in with India failed; so did Operation Gibraltar; so did the attack on Akhnur that followed; as did the hostilities on the Western Front in 1971; as did the Kargil misadventure; as did the proxy war of the Nineties. And while there are those in India who maintain that the war of 1948 should have been pressed forward to a conclusion, I think Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was sensible in listening to wiser counsel. There is no military solution, and subversion will not work.

On the other hand, is jaw-jaw impossible? The United Nations, once the forum for grand forensic battles between Krishna Menon and Feroze Khan Noon and, later, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Swaran Singh, has in effect washed its hands of the issue; the Question of Jammu and Kashmir remains on the UN agenda but lies dormant ever since India and Pakistan agreed at Shimla in July 1972 to discuss bilaterally all issues related to J&K. Notwithstanding the Naysayers – and there is no dearth of them in either country – progress has indeed been made. These issues are an integral part of the Composite Dialogue initiated in 1997. And, to go by available records, a framework for resolution had reached an advanced stage under the aegis of President Musharraf and Dr. Manmohan Singh through the Sati Lambah-Tariq Azeez back-channel talks. There was agreement in principle on no exchange of territory or populations and working instead towards rendering the Line of Control “irrelevant” by promoting cross-border travel and trade and facilitating the reunification of divided families and friends. Issues related to J&K are not as intractable as they were once believed to be. Even if that progress is not being acknowledged now, it does seem feasible to hope that the resumption of upfront and back-channel contacts might yet move matters further forward even on J&K.

As for waters, both drought and floods are on everyone’s mind. Water is a most serious issue between upper and lower riparians, whether within nations or between nations, as witness the contentious issues of water sharing between Punjab and Sind in Pakistan or between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India, or the question of the diminishing waters of the Indus Basin. We will have to find answers in 21st century technology, not in the polemics of the 20th century. The total availability of water has run so low that where India and Pakistan started in the 1950s with a per capita availability per annum of about 5000 cubic metres, water availability in both countries has since declined to under 2000, in Pakistan rather more sharply than in India, down to about 1200 as against India’s 1800. The problem of water shortage is common to both of us. Indeed, it is a global problem common to virtually every country in the world. Some would call it the most important universal challenge of our times. Israel has shown the way to the conservation of water through drip and sprinkler irrigation. I imagine that it is in such technology rather than in the 19th century technology of large dams and command area channels that the answer lies. And where differences persist, joint examination of data, where required on the ground, is required to keep alive the spirit of cooperation and goodwill even as technical solutions are found to technical problems.

But while technology may hold the secret, there is no denying the fact of water deprivation or the politics that flow from it. That is where the Indus Waters Treaty has proved its immense worth. The numerous mechanisms it has for finding acceptable ways of resolving agonized issues, as was demonstrated over Baglihar recently and as is being demonstrated over Kishangana now, are solid examples of India and Pakistan being able to discover forums of settlement in preference to the vapid aggravation of real problems and real issues. At the same time, creating pondage must take into account the availability of water at the required time in Pakistan: that was not done in 2010 and needlessly gave cause for a public outcry in Pakistan.

I now turn to the Indian priority issue – terrorism. Till 9/11, cross-border terrorism was one of several subjects under discussion in our bilateral composite dialogue notwithstanding the proxy war in Kashmir nor the jehadi strategy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts. The attack on our Parliament on 13 December 2001 led to the armed confrontation of Operation Parikrama but did not stall either the Agra summit of 2002 or the Islamabad Declaration of January 2004 or the dramatic progress made between May 2004 and March 2007 when the going was never better.

Meanwhile, the Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers brought the American retaliation to the borders of Pakistan. Ever since, terrorism has become a global issue, perhaps the most important issue before the international community. In that war against terrorism, Pakistan, willy-nilly, has become a front-line state, with horrific consequences for itself. No state has suffered as much from terrorism as Pakistan itself. I think there needs to be much wider appreciation in India than there is at present of how terrible is the daily threat of terrorism striking any day and anywhere in Pakistan and, therefore, how steely is the will of the Pakistani people to not let their country be taken over by suicide bombers and pathological killers. I do believe that while the Pakistan establishment might at one time have been complaisant regarding terrorism directed at the West or terrorism directed against India, while being extremely vigilant against terrorism directed at Pakistan, there is now an increasing realization that all three networks are inter-connected and, therefore, the counter-attack on terrorism has to be holistic, taking on all three components without distinction.

Indeed, that is the message that came through in President Zardari’s initial reaction to 26/11. That brief flicker of hope of a joint India-Pakistan front against those undertaking, sponsoring or abetting terrorism was snuffed out over the offer, first made and then withdrawn, to send the ISI chief to India to initiate a cooperative approach to the joint threat of terror. The  subsequent stand-off over the next two years was most disturbing. Now there is once again a flicker of hope as Pakistan’s Judicial Commission has visited India. Perhaps now the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi can get down to trials in right earnest. I certainly hope that will happen because, bluntly speaking, the Indian establishment and almost all Indians remain unconvinced that India-directed terrorism is, indeed, seen in Pakistan as an unmitigated evil that must be stamped out.

But I do believe only a joint strategy to counter terrorism will enable both India and Pakistan to overcome what is, in effect, a joint threat to both our peoples. We either hang together or hang separately. The challenge is to set the stage to being together on this issue instead of languishing in confrontation, thus giving the edge to the terrorist. The threat to both of us from terrorism in any form is so great, and from what is in practice a single undifferentiated source of extreme danger to both countries so severe, that it can only be effectively tackled by a joint process that will have to be set in motion sooner than later. This requires trust. And the sooner action is taken against those who abetted 26/11 the more quickly will trust be established.


In a relationship as turbulent and accident-prone as that between India and Pakistan, it is only to be expected that there would be daily disturbances to any equilibrium we might establish or strive to establish.

Take, for example, the opening of the Indian Consulate-General when I arrived in Karachi 33 years ago. It was expected that a Pakistani Consul General would soon land in Bombay. That was delayed. A year later, elections in India led to a change of government. Jinnah House was no longer on offer. Three decades on, there is still no Pakistan CG in Mumbai. And the Indian CG in Karachi was closed down 18 years ago. Who has gained? I do not know. But I do know who have lost. Ordinary, very ordinary Pakistanis and Indians. Indeed, I would plead for an Indian visa office in Lahore, as we had in the immediate aftermath of Partition.

Episodic disturbances are par for the course in almost everything that affects the life of the aam admi: from visas to newspapers to cultural exchanges to pilgrimages to trade, to investment. I would also add as a casualty of “episodic” disturbance the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline which I initiated as Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, but which is, alas, withering on the vine. The initiation of the TAPI pipeline, that is the gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and thence to India, shows, I think, that there are no insuperable political or security concerns relating to transit through Pakistan. If TAPI is acceptable, then why not IPI? India needs every cubic metre of gas it can lay its hands on if it is to sustain its high rate of GDP growth. The stalling of the IPI, especially when the Iran-Pakistan sector now stands agreed, needs to be overcome with all deliberate speed. For the loss on this account and, cumulatively, the loss to both countries on account of all episodic disturbances is huge, almost incalculable. Yet, we persist in scratching at the scab. And we call this “diplomacy”!

At the same time, there are also larger political issues: Siachen; Sir Creek; the Wullar Barrage or what we call the Tulbul navigation project. In the frozen wastes of Siachen, General Frost Bite kills hundreds of jawans in the never-ending battle that both armies wage against Nature. Siachen has almost been almost solved several times. It awaits no more than signatures on a piece of paper readied virtually 20 years ago between Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto. The Lambah-Tariq back-channel seems, by all available accounts, to have reached near conclusion on all important issues, including J & K, till, first, the stand-off between the judiciary and the Presidency took these issues from the back-channel to the back-burner and 26/11 then extinguished the back-burner.

Confirmation of the unprecedented progress made during 2004-07 has been publicly forthcoming from then Pak Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri. What does this show? That engagement leads to solutions; stand-offs lead nowhere but to the aggravation of problems. So where do we go from here? In my view, towards uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue – there is no other way!

Uninterrupted and Uninterruptible Dialogue

Fifteen years ago, in a book called my “Pakistan Papers”, largely comprising a long despatch I wrote in my last days in Karachi, which I was surprisingly permitted to publish as representing my “personal views”, not those of the Government, I had first suggested a process of “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” as the only way forward. My suggestion had no takers then. In Pakistan Foreign Minister, Begum Hina Rabbani Khar, I seem to have found a possible taker now as she publicly voiced the concept at her press conference during her visit to India last July in the presence of the Indian Minister of External Affairs, and repeated it at the UN General Assembly in September 2011. I see no alternative to structuring such a dialogue into an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” mould if we really are to effect a systemic transformation of our relationship.

I hope what I have argued so far shows that such a systemic transformation is both desirable and feasible. I know that most in the Establishment of both countries would seriously disagree. They would argue that differences are so fundamental and intentions so hostile that to be tricked into talking without knowing where such talk would lead to would amount to compromising vital security concerns, jeopardizing national interests and rendering diplomatic initiative hostage to a meandering dialogue from which there would be no escape. Better to keep the guard up, look reality squarely in the face, and leave romanticism to soft-hearted poets – and out-of-work Consuls General.

There is also the other argument, growing more strong in India by the day, and possibly here too among the younger generation in Pakistan, that we have lived in simmering hostility for the last six decades and can do so indefinitely, there are other things to do than engage in fruitless interchange, best to let matters simmer while we get on with other things.

I belong to the minority that thinks there are three compelling reasons why India should pro-actively engage with Pakistan. First, for the domestic reason that a tension-free relationship with Pakistan would help us consolidate our nationhood, the bonding adhesive of which is secularism. Second, for the regional reason that regional terrorism can be effectively tackled only in cooperation with Pakistan and not in confrontation with it. Third, for the international reason that India will not be able to play its due role in international affairs so long as it is dragged down by its quarrels with Pakistan.

Equally, I believe it is in Pakistan’s interest to seek accommodation with India for three counterpart reasons. First, the Indian bogey has harmed rather than helped consolidate the nationhood of Pakistan. Second, Pakistan is unable to become a full-fledged democracy and a sustained fast-growing economy owing to the disproportionate role assigned to alleged Indian hostility in the national affairs of the country. And, third, on the international stage, Pakistan is one of the biggest countries in the world and instead of being the front-line in someone else’s war perhaps deserves to come into its own as the frontline state in the pursuit of its own interests.

As for just turning our backs on each other, I have already said that Siamese twins have no option but to move together even when they are attempting to pull away from each other.

So, what is the way forward from today’s impasse? I do not think the impact on the Indian mind of 26/11 is fully comprehended in Pakistan, even as I do not think Indians are sufficiently aware of the extent to which Pakistanis are concerned about terrorism generated from their soil, whoever the target might be, India, the West or Pakistan itself. I suspect that the least positive movement in the direction of determinedly going after the perpetrators of 26/11 will generate a disproportionately positive reaction in India.

To take matters forward, the first task would be to consolidate the gains of 15-year old Composite Dialogue, including especially the gains on the back-channel.

And even as we proceed with consolidating the outcomes of the Composite Dialogue and the back-channel talks, we should initiate “talks about talks” to structure the “Uninterrupted & Uninterruptible” dialogue.

Let me place before you, in outline, what I envisage as the seven essential elements to be structured into an “Uninterrupted and Uninterruptible” dialogue:

One, the venue of the dialogue must be such that neither India nor Pakistan can forestall the dialogue from taking place. Following the example of the supervision of the armistice in Korea at Panmunjom for more than half a century, such a venue might best be the Wagah-Attari border, where the table is laid across the border, so that the Pakistan delegation does not have to leave Pakistan to attend the dialogue and the Indians do not have to leave India to attend.

Two, as in the case of the talks at the Hotel Majestic in Paris which brought the US-Vietnam war to an end, there must be a fixed periodicity at which the two sides shall necessarily meet. In the Hotel Majestic case, the two sides met every Thursday, whether they had anything to say to each other or no. Indeed, even through the worst of what were called the “Christmas bombings” – when more bombs were rained on Vietnam alone than by all the combatants on each other during the Second World War – the Thursday meetings were not disrupted. In a similar manner, we need to inure the India-Pakistan dialogue from disruption of any kind in this manner by fixing a specific day in the week or the fortnight or the month when we shall meet irrespective of whether we expect progress or not.

Third, the dialogue must not be fractionated, as the Composite Dialogue has been, between different sets of interlocutors. As in the case of Hotel Majestic, where the US side was led by Kissinger and the Vietnamese by Le Duc Tho (and both of them won the Nobel prize), Ministerial-level statesmen should lead the two sides with their advisers perhaps changing, depending on the subject under discussion, but the two principal interlocutors remaining the same so that cross-segmental agreements can be reached enabling each side to gain on the swings what it feels it might have lost on the roundabouts. Thus, the holistic and integral nature of the dialogue will be preserved.

Fourth, instead of there being an agenda agreed in advance, which only leads to endless bickering over procedure, each side should be free to bring any two subjects of its choice on the table by giving due notice at the previous meeting and, perhaps, one mutually agreed subject could thereafter be addressed by both sides.

Fifth, half an hour should be set aside for each side to bring its topical concerns to the attention of the side. This will persuade the general public in both countries that the dialogue is not an exercise in appeasement.

Sixth, there should be no timeline for the conclusion of the Dialogue. This will enable both sides to come to considered, and therefore, durable conclusions without either of them feeling they have been rushed to a conclusion against their better judgment.

Seventh, and finally, as diplomacy requires confidentiality, there will, of course, have to be some opaqueness in the talks; at the same time, we cannot afford to swing the other way and bring in total transparency; so, what I would suggest is a translucent process where spokespersons of the two sides regularly brief the media but without getting into public spats with each other. Dignity and goodwill must be preserved to bridge the trust deficit.

I commend this seven-point programme to your consideration. I cannot guarantee that such a dialogue will lead to success, but I do guarantee that not talking will lead us nowhere. Let us give peace a chance. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to gain.

I thank you once again for giving me this exceptional honour to address you in memory of a great peace activist, Dr. Eqbal Ahmad. May his soul rest in peace.

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