If the war on Iraq did not receive support from India or Pakistan, it certainly helped these countries take a hard look at their differences and its potential effect on the Indian subcontinent. Middle East rivalries, both domestic and regional, have led to the weakening of few existing democratic institutions, contributing to economic stagnation and tyrannical rule, paving the way for easy foreign invasion and occupation.
India and Pakistan, still recovering from colonialism, are too close to the history of foreign occupation to ignore the possibility of how internal squabbles can lead to foreign control.
While India is a secular democracy, its economic growth is still in an embryonic stage—limited both in its ability to eliminate domestic poverty effectively and compete in the global economy confidently. Any military conflict in the region will seriously hamper this nascent economic growth. India’s secularism is also under jeopardy by leaders who have no vision and feed into Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism.
Pakistan will be in a worse situation than it already is, if it initiates a war against India. It will be overwhelmed by both internal chaos and external violence that could spread from neighboring Afghanistan giving Islamic fundamentalists greater control over a more moderate government.
Battered women will tell you that the very tension of possible abuse depletes their energy and takes away their sense of security, making everyday activities difficult to perform with ease or joy. This holds true for nations in conflict as well. The chronic tension of an imminent war makes governments and the citizenry, not just the military, hyper-vigilant, uneasy, and diverts attention from important domestic issues.
Money, administrative time, exclusive focus spent on defense preparedness, planning, and sophisticated intelligence depletes precious resources that need to be spent by these countries on basic economic growth and stability.
It is good to hear that the top brasses in Delhi have reached out to Pakistan and sought dialogue renewing diplomatic ties. Pakistan’s prime minister, unlike many elite leaders with petty egos, has accepted this invitation. At last we have sensible men who put their country and people first.
Countries like India and Pakistan with a large illiterate population living in acute poverty, while a few enjoy excess wealth inherited through their privileged position of birth or office, rather than merit, are revolutionary volcanoes ready to erupt. In India, the socio-economic extreme is further affected by religious conflicts that become more violent every year.
In Pakistan, dictatorial regimes that overthrow corrupt feudal families that treat their own people like slaves, makes political violence a chronic national problem. It is common today to see young Pakistani rural men wearing Kalishnikov rifles like a belt. Shooting, kidnapping, and torture have become everyday occurrences in Pakistan and even glitterati like Imran Khan and his English Barbie wife, are not safe behind their huge mansions.
Unlike the Soviet Union and the U.S. during the cold war, Pakistan and India are neighbors and share an extensive border. They are also culturally similar and share a history of colonialism and post-independence struggles dissimilar to the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. Indian and Pakistani intellectuals, who have been pointing to this domestic concern and regional uniqueness, are now being heard.
India and Pakistan are struggling to overcome decades of poverty and class-oppression in a global economy that is moving at lightening speed. If these countries don’t make a concerted effort to stop petty squabbles, they are never going to catch up with China, Japan, or even Singapore. Though India is doing better than Pakistan, any economic headway that has occurred in the last 10 years is very fragile and could easily plateau or regress.
It is good that the leaders of these countries have woken up from their slumber filled with old anger, painful memories, and exaggerated allegations of each other. The credit goes to journalists, policy analysts, intellectuals in these countries and to reasonable non-resident Indians and Pakistanis who have used their education and political vision to persuade the leaders of these two countries to think and act differently than in the past.
While we must celebrate this hopeful gesture for dialogue, we have to be aware of the major hurdles that these countries face. Pakistan which has agreed, after years of evidence produced by India and other countries (including the U.S.), that militant factions have been entering Indian-Kashmir must now act on its words.
Ignoring or supporting terrorism within one’s territories, even if they are targeted at foreign nationals and outside groups, will eventually turn around and bite the hand that feeds it. Pakistan, with its unstable economy and chronic coups, cannot afford to let fundamentalists and terrorists have free rein over its land. This will affect its domestic peace and security, forcing Pakistan to go the way of Afghanistan or Iraq.
India must work with the Pakistani government, irrespective of whether it is a democratic government or not. It must aid Pakistan in the capture and just treatment of terrorists and militants. India should be firm but helpful, insistent but cooperative, and clear but fair. India has been more patient and sensitive than the U.S. that orchestrated a pre-emptive strike against a country whose leader was once aided by the CIA and was not directly involved in the WTC attacks. India, on the other hand, showed a lot of restraint even when its parliament was hit by Pakistani missiles killing and injuring Indians.
If this had happened to the American White House, the U.S. would have bombed Pakistan to rubbles. India did not. This may be the disadvantage of a democracy where every policy action has to be discussed, processed, and legislatively followed while criticisms have to be accepted and integrated. Pakistan should appreciate this and not take this as a sign of weakness. Pakistan should focus on inviting foreign investments and expanding its pluralism. As Aga Khan, leader of the Bhora and Aga Khani Muslims, said while visiting India, “It is advantageous to be pluralistic in the new world.”
India also has to move beyond Kashmir. This chronic animosity over Kashmir is no longer crucial to Indian identity or dignity. Among social activists there is a saying, “A stable, violence-free, economically self-sufficient society will foster more pride, dignity, and sensible loyalties than weapons, nuclear arms, and a macho display of strength.”
Leaders of India and Pakistan are taking their first hesitant step towards reconciliation and possible collaboration. They should be supported in their effort to lay down their weapons and egos and have chai and baat cheet (discussion and debate). This will be easy as, those of us from the Indian subcontinent know, we Indians and Pakistanis have an excellent gift of the gab.