Sunday, August 9, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 10, 2015

New controversy Where Pakistan-India relations are concerned, there is never a dull moment. Now a new controversy has arisen regarding the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) to be held in Islamabad from September 30-October 9. India has stated categorically that it will boycott the CPC if the Speaker of the Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) Assembly is not invited. The Indian stance flowed from a meeting of the Indian State Assemblies that insisted on the IHK Speaker being invited to the CPC. Pakistan, however, has taken the position that it does not recognize the IHK Assembly as legitimate, therefore its Speaker cannot be invited. Besides, as stated by National Security Advisor (NSA) Sartaj Aziz the other day, any such invitation would compromise the principled stance of Pakistan regarding the Kashmir issue, which is still a disputed territory. Even the expected NSAs’ meeting scheduled for August 23-24 in New Delhi has got entangled in the disagreement of what the agenda of the meeting should be. Reservations have been expressed by Islamabad that if the meeting focuses only on India’s desire to pin blame on Pakistan for allegedly sponsoring terrorism inside India, the talks may not even get off the ground. It may be recalled that the NSAs’ meeting was agreed between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi when they met on the sidelines of a conference in Ufa, Russia. Sartaj Aziz has now said that Pakistan is preparing its own agenda for the talks and once it is finalised, it will be conveyed to New Delhi. For good measure, he has also thrown in the alleged interference of India in Balochistan, Karachi and the tribal areas of Pakistan. That sounds increasingly like the usual stalemate on agenda and procedure even before any substantive discussion. The likelihood looms therefore that the moot may not take place as scheduled. What characterises Pakistan-India interaction over many years is the knee-jerk tit-for-tat approach of both countries to each other’s actions and words. If India blames Pakistan for terrorism inside the country, Pakistan retaliates by accusing India of interfering in its internal troubles. If India claims a militant captured alive in IHK has admitted (in what circumstances can only be imagined) that he is from Pakistan, Islamabad trots out a claim that three RAW agents have been captured inside Pakistan. If cross-border firing is initiated from one or the other side, the protagonists, true to script, blame each other for starting the firefight without provocation. This danse macabre has gone on for so long that it is no longer a surprise, let alone interesting or even credible. Neither side comes out of these bruising encounters, real or verbal, with any credit or credibility intact. Are there no wise or visionary heads left on either side of the divide? Who does not know that both nuclear-armed neighbours can no longer contemplate all-out war because of the threat of mutually assured destruction? (Of course that has not precluded below nuclear threshold probing of each other’s patience and restraint through provocative moves and words.) Things have never been as bad as after the advent to power of the Modi government in India. Mr Modi’s credentials as a potential peacemaker between the two countries that cannot change their geography are marred by his track record in the Gujarat massacre (despite being let off the hook by India’s Supreme Court), his infamous remark about feeling pain if even a pup is killed let alone Muslims in India, and his belligerent attitude of ‘inflicting unbearable pain’ on Pakistan for any real or perceived slight or hurt. Despite claiming the mantle of his illustrious predecessor Mr Vajpayee, the two men could not be more unlike. Domestic political compulsions and preconceived biases and prejudices may inform Mr Modi’s policies towards Pakistan, but one can only hope as the gloss on his election campaign promises to the Indian people incrementally rubs off, wiser counsel will prevail. Equally, our side’s penchant over many years for crowing over India’s difficulties with terrorism that has burst the bounds of the Kashmir terrain, can only bring ignominy bilaterally and internationally. Conventional wars are a no-no after nuclearisation, asymmetrical warfare is dangerously provocative and uncontrollable beyond a point, and the simple fact of having the liberty to choose one’s friends but not one’s neighbours should inform both sides’ attitude to each other and their responsibility to their own peoples and history.

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