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Book Review

Building bridges

Print edition : Mar 11, 2022 T+T-
This book is a significant contribution to the understanding of India-Pakistan relations and the complex peace-building process.

T his volume contains a formidable collection of 50 articles by experts, compiled by O.P. Shah, chairman, Centre for Peace and Progress, Kolkata, and an eminent peace activist. Over the last 30 years, he has been trying to find peaceful solutions to the problems India and Pakistan face mutually in order to establish harmony and bridge the inherited gulf between people divided by history and politics, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, which was once described as the most dangerous place on earth. Considering the emergence of India and Pakistan as nuclear powers in the 1990s, the exercise could have included some other dimensions of the peace processes—historical, political, social, economic, and so on.

The articles are arranged in the alphabetical order of the contributors’ names. Shah deserves praise for his efforts to document problems in complicated conflict situations and move towards possible solutions.

In his prologue, Shah explains the context and purpose of his efforts to create opportunities for mutual understanding among people who are divided by caste, religion, ethnicity, and so on. India and Pakistan originated from a basic conflict at birth, which has led to a great deal of mutual misunderstanding and tensions. The complexity of the processs of improving India-Pakistan relations is evident from the rich collection of essays in this volume.

Backchannel diplomacy

In his article ‘Bridging the Gulf’ (pp.158-167), Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, formerly Pakistan Foreign Minister and an eminent peace builder in South Asia, makes a solid contribution to improve bilateral relations. His masterpiece, Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy (Penguin 2015), makes a strong case for resumption of the stalled backchannel diplomacy in order to find a fair and just solution to the vexed disputes over Kashmir and other issues.

In his book, Kasuri extols the framework for the resolution of the Kashmir conflict that evolved through backchannel diplomacy during the time of President Parvez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India and Pakistan became nuclear powers in May 1998. A peace process initiated at the February 1999 meeting of the two Prime Ministers was followed by the Agra summit in July 2001, which failed owing to a lack of adequate preparation.

The 2004 meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Islamabad led to a Composite Dialogue Process. Kasuri reiterates the need to continue backchannel diplomacy.

Real progress was made via backchannel negotiations from 2004 to 2007. A four-point formula for the settlement of the Kashmir conflict emerged: i) Jammu and Kashmir would not be made independent; ii) borders would not be redrawn; iii) the Line of Control (LoC) would be made irrelevant; and iv) a joint mechanism would be established for management of both parts of Kashmir.

The political dispensation under Narendra Modi in 2014 and again in 2019 erected obstacles in the path of peace, stopping its progress. Kasuri cites Henry Kissinger who said that the goal of backchannel diplomacy in hostile complex international negotiations should be to achieve not full satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.

Kasuri expresses concern over the Indian move of August 5, 2019, to change the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and its covert anti-Pakistan operations in Afghanistan. He urges both countries to give up their ‘zero-sum approach’ in dealing with each other. The common challenge in both countries is poverty eradication. Mutual respect and mutual confidence are essential, he says. Only a ‘win-win’ solution will work for both countries. Religious polarisation in India will set back mutual cooperation.

The author wants the recent ceasefire between the two countries to be made permanent. There can be no peace if the core issue of Kashmir remains unsettled. Both countries need to show flexibility and address issues that disturb the peace, such as terrorism, bigotry, majoritarianism and extremism. Minority rights should be protected at all costs. The LoC must be made the line of connectivity and cooperation, says the author.

Rather than be wary of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), India should see it as an opportunity to connect the whole of South Asia. Further, instead of destabilisation as in the past, both countries must work for peace and reconstruction. The SAARC mechanism should be put to constructive use, he says.

Kasuri holds further that India should respect the statesmanlike appeal for peace and cooperation made by General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, on March 18, 2021. Kasuri devotes particular attention to the media’s role. People-to-people cooperation is the need of the hour, he says. He believes backchannel diplomacy must continue despite the recent setbacks.

Connectivity and cooperation

Sudheendra Kulkarni, who was aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, states that ‘maximalist positions’ (pp. 278-288) are under retreat in both countries. He calls for the conversion of the ‘Line of Control and Conflict’ along the India-Pakistan border into a ‘Line of Connectivity and Cooperation’, enabling India and Pakistan and the Kashmiri people to move closer to each other in solving the long-standing dispute. He gives evidence to show that both countries and even the hard-line Indian Prime Minister are in favour of connectivity and cooperation, abandoning maximalist positions on issues, including Kashmir. Changes in General Bajwa’s position must be welcomed. Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser, too has spoken on similar lines.

Kulkarni notes that both India and Pakistan, as well as India and China, which have so far allowed their bilateral relations to be guided by geopolitical and geostrategic considerations, are now in favour of putting geo-economic, geo-social, geo-cultural and geo-civilisational considerations at the forefront.

The emerging new order in Asia and Eurasia has prioritised the concept of connectivity as a factor that promises history-transforming benefits.

At the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao in 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted the importance of connectivity in the region. India cannot achieve connectivity in the neighbourhood without partnering with Pakistan and China and without joining the CPEC. It would be futile for India to raise the issue of sovereignty to oppose the CPEC which passes through a part of Jammu and Kashmir. India cannot stop Islamabad and Beijing from implementing the CPEC.

Kulkarni makes a compelling case here, which is a major contribution to the peace process in the region.

Anis Haroon of Pakistan-India People’s Forum writes on the “unfinished agenda of Partition” (pp. 33-42). Naureen Farooq Ibrahim Khan discusses the need to “move beyond the past for a better future” (pp. 229-235). Both have provided gendered perspectives on peace-building in a sensitive, humane context.

India’s role

Mushahid Hussain, Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee, Pakistan, makes disturbing revelations about India’s negative role in the region. He says that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s intelligence agency, set up 66 training camps in Afghanistan and they have disappeared after the liberation of the country from the control of the United States.

Hussain mentions three geopolitical points that could improve India-Pakistan relations. i) The decline of U.S. power in the region has marked an end to U.S. military operations in third countries. U.S. unilateralism has given way to multilateral diplomacy. ii) The rise of China and its global development through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been accepted by over 120 countries, but not India. China’s participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is not matched by India, which has opted out of it. Of the total 193 countries in the world, 123 have more trade with China than with the U.S. iii) Given the CPEC, Pakistan has become the hub of regional connectivity, with its Gwadar Port as the most convenient port for landlocked Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Some key strategic positives could help the nuclear neighbours—India and Pakistan. General Bajwa prefers normalisation of relations with India. The change in Afghanistan has provided a strategic space to Pakistan and allows friendship with China and closer ties with Russia. The U.S., too, looks at Pakistan as a vital link of communication with Afghanistan.

Hussain notes three impediments to Pakistan’s closer friendship with India: i) Indian rulers’ Hindutva preoccupation; ii) India’s change of the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2011, which constrains settlement of the border dispute with Pakistan and China; iii) India’s emerging closeness to the U.S. creating new lines of confrontation in the region, including between China and India.

For better relations

Satinder K. Lambah, Special Envoy to the Prime Minister of India (2005-14), an important figure in the backchannel negotiations, is of the view that the constitutional changes in India need not come in the way of building better relations with Pakistan. He states (pp. 289-295) that domestic policies on both sides are the biggest obstacle to normalising relations between the two countries. The agreement negotiated in 2007 would not be affected by the changes in the status of Jammu and Kashmir made by India in August 2019. The agreement was made keeping in mind not any individual or a particular political party but the future of the two nations. Successive Prime Ministers who have had different styles of functioning have handled the issue of peace differently. A settlement would benefit the people of Jammu and Kashmir and strengthen the prospects of durable peace and stability in the region; it would enable India to focus more on the rapidly emerging long-term geopolitical challenges.

Several authors—A.M. Watali (p. 70), Iqbal Ahmad Khan (p.141), Asif Khurshid (p. 43), Altaf Hussain Wani (p.60), Farooq Abdullah (p.104), Admiral Ramdas and Lalita Ramdas (p. 180), Mani Shankar Aiyar (p. 189), Mohamad Yusuf Tarigami, (p.214), Niladri Shankar Mukherjee (p. 236) and Talat Masood (p. 380)—have made important contributions in the book.

Shah, by producing this book on a complex subject, has made a vital contribution to understanding the relations between India and Pakistan and the complex peace-building process.

K.S. Subramanian is a retired Director General of Police. He is an author and his current area of interest is peace and conflict studies.