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|August 4, 2001||
From Agra with Love: A Reality Check
With the media scene dominated by 24 hour television news channels on the warpath for viewership, (notice how the news bulletins begin with a drum beat and excited tones), it was to be expected that the Agra summit between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and self-styled President Pervez Musharraf was a media event, rather than a serious search for peace in the troubled Indian subcontinent. Enough has already been written about body language, 'drafting' problems and an 'invisible hand' wrecking the summit.
Unfortunately, the amateur reportage missed some crucial points. It is the purpose of this article to set the record straight.
Thanks to the media overkill, especially on the news channels, Indians had a great opportunity to hear 'liberal' and moderate Pakistani views. One was dismayed to find that the liberals, including human right activists, refused to face the truth -- that the concept of religion-based nationhood and citizenship are out of tune with the 21st century.
By their constant harping on Kashmiri separatism that is rooted in religion, these so-called moderates ignored the reality that there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. While the Indian Muslims do suffer from many disadvantages, they do enjoy freedom of religion and are equal citizens of this country. In contrast, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the residual minorities, the Ahmediyas and even the Shias do not have the freedom to practice their religion nor do they have equal rights as citizens. Seen in this light, the Pakistani case on Kashmir is extremely weak. But none of the Pakistanis seem to see the point that people following different faiths can actually live together.
If it continues on its extremist Islam path Pakistan is in danger of being isolated in this era of globalisation. There are states like Saudi Arabia that are equally irrational, but the Saudis have oil and money, so the world tolerates them. Pakistan has neither and its usefulness as a Cold War era ally is no longer operative. This is the new reality that is yet to dawn on the Pakistani elite.
This is the mindset of the moderates, and they can either not see the truth or lack the courage to accept it. Unfortunately, these Pakistani experts got away lightly in most debates with the Indians as our side was constantly on the defensive on the Kashmir issue thanks to the jihadi activities in the Valley and the vocal 'mohalla' leaders of Srinagar who go under the grandiose name of the Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference. That there are Jammu Dogras, Kashmiri Pandits and Ladakhi Buddhists in Jammu and Kashmir was never driven home. It is this aspect of Pakistani perception that ought to worry us. Unless there is a change in this, the future of Indo-Pak relations is indeed very bleak.
Kashmir is no longer a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan; it has become an ideological one between the 'two nation' theory that postulates Pakistan as a 'homeland' for the subcontinent's Muslims and Indian nationalism that believes in pluralism and tolerance.
Territorial disputes are relatively easy to resolve, but not ideological ones. Witness the 400-year-old Irish problem or the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka that is even older.
Since the Kashmir issue is not easy to resolve and the two nations have nuclear weapons, the first priority at Agra ought to have been nuclear confidence building measures. Pakistan has a military regime with an action-oriented soldier as its self-appointed president. Here a possibility of miscalculation, misadventure (like Kargil), escalation or accident can trigger a nuclear war. Should that happen, the chilling reality is half the population of Delhi and Bombay would perish while the whole of Pakistan will be reduced to radioactive rubble, Musharraf, his Pekingese and all.
Are the people of Lahore and Delhi ready to be gassed for the sake of Kashmir?
Seen in this light, Musharraf's insistence that the Kashmir issue should be 'resolved' before any confidence building measures can be taken is like putting the cart before the horse. That he got away with this speaks volumes of the naivete of the Indian establishment, media and so-called experts.
Even during the 50-year Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, there were many contentious issues like Berlin, Korea and Vietnam. But that did not stop the two sides from taking prudent measures to reduce the risk of nuclear conflagration.
In the subcontinent there is no alternative to peace. Unfortunately, the Pakistani president with a 'company commander's' mindset (narrow focus, clear definable goals and reductionist logic of military appreciation) does not seem to have understood the logic of nuclearisation.
Military men by training, inclination and habit, are action-oriented. While in a nuclear scenario, 'use' of nuclear weapons is the negation of the whole purpose of its existence, that is to prevent war. It is this logic that is deliberately being ignored by Pakistan; its 'commando' president is on a perpetual course of brinkmanship.
The real Indian failure at Agra was our inability to highlight the contradictions in the stand of Pakistani intellectuals and the absurdity of Musharraf's 'company commander' approach to nuclear danger.
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