Walking away from peace - Kamila Hyat - Thursday, July 22, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

The men and women who draft headlines have been having a field day.

Clever phrases have appeared in English, Urdu, Persian and no doubt other languages to describe the farcical talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan which led nowhere at all despite prolonged bouts of dialogue.

Attempts at damage control in the immediate aftermath of the debacle are somewhat pointless. They cannot hide the fact that very little, if anything at all, was achieved when Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Mr S M Krishna met in Islamabad.

The clumsy attacks launched on his Indian counterpart by an obviously angry and embarrassed Qureshi only made things look worse.

The suggestions that Mr Krishna was taking instructions from somewhere other than the prime minister's office are attempts to poke fingers where they have no business to be. Diplomacy demands greater grace and more maturity.

But we need to understand the dynamics of what went wrong.

There can be no doubt at all that Pakistan, most urgently of all, but also India has no real choices but to move towards peace. Unless this can be built militancy will continue. New Delhi should keep in mind the kind of unrest we currently see in Indian-Held Kashmir has been a key factor in triggering the rise of militant groups which today threaten both countries.

The Pakistani side has alluded over and over again to India's focus on terrorism as a key factor in the Islamabad stalemate. There could indeed be some truth in this. But there are also facts that have to be faced up to. The disclosures by David Coleman Headley pointing to links in the context of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai are unsettling.

There are other aspects too that cannot be ignored.

During recent raids in the Punjab, as police rounded up dozens of activists of banned militants outfits, the Jaish-e-Muhammad of Maulana Masood Azhar was left untouched. Like Hafiz Saeed, Azhar too is said to have had a long relationship with the ISI. It is a bit difficult to believe that the fact his group was left alone is purely a coincidence. Logic dictates that there is a pattern and that almost everyone follows its distinct lines. It is this pattern that needs to be change if a new relationship between India and Pakistan is to be established in the future. Suspicion on the part of New Delhi that this is the case is damaging.

The Indian government and its advisers are not alone in this thinking. There are many in our own country too who are equally convinced of this, though self-imposed restrictions within the media bring a reluctance to mention secret agencies that persists even in an age of far greater freedom for the Press. The issue is rarely talked about openly or freely.

But in many ways the thinking that at least some elements adhere to determines the nature of our state. The idea of a security paradigm stands at the centre of it and determines much of what happens. The notion that India is an enemy state is deeply-rooted in our psyche. Small children imbibe the ideas that underpin this from peers, from teachers and from elders. For those who benefit from keeping alive the idea of a giant dragon breathing down our necks from the East there is of course still more temptation to keep tensions high and prevent the monster from being tamed. This temptation alone could be enough to keep intact the mindset of hatred constructed over many decades.

The same modes of thinking exist too within India. The identification of the LeT as the primary force behind the terrorism in that country ignores the fact that this force was conjured up in response to Indian actions in Kashmir. New Delhi too needs to engage in exercises aimed at loosening fixed thought if it is genuinely committed to the peace process.

If they are to safeguard their future, both countries must find this commitment. The need to invest in people is essential to both countries. They can do so only if they recognize that security interests cannot be served through military means. The failure to do so is evident in the fact that some six decades after the military build-up began on either side of the border dividing them, the two countries are today more insecure than ever. Militancy threatens people in all their largest cities, instability across the region is higher than ever and the issues that fuel it remain unresolved. Clearly a change in tactic is needed.

The latest failure leaves behind debris which can be gathered up and used to build success. The evidently harsh exchanges between the foreign ministers that took place from time to time in Islamabad have at least made it clear what the central issues are for both sides. Pakistan's focus on Kashmir is apt in that militancy cannot fully be overcome until that issue is addressed; at the same time levels of trust necessary to do so can be created only if efforts are made to tackle the terrorist threat and the factors behind it.

It is necessary to move on. It is unlikely that there will be any sprint towards peace. But like a well-planned middle-distance race, a careful strategy needs to be devised to finally reach the winning line – even if this is possible only after a great deal of jostling and shoving through the course of a steadily run race.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

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