Entering their sixty seventh year of independence, the South Asian nuclear neighbors, still seek thrill in cross border fireworks, that not only claim precious military lives, destroy the livelihood of people residing in close proximity, but additionally make excellent media fodder for both to bicker and ponder over for weeks. It is generally believed that such cross border firing incidents and imprisoning of fishermen alongside southern border is one way of checking which direction the bilateral relations are moving. Interestingly, at the height of tensions, there is an increase in the intensity of such incidents and whenever the two neighbors are forced to once again restart a peace process; a certain number of fishermen are bilaterally released in order to show progress.
Firing incidents across the Line of Control have gained an alarming intensity since January this year, a clear and blatant breach of the mutually agreed ceasefire agreement of 2003. Whenever there are any such violations, both India and Pakistan levy charges against each other, which definitely ensure a media stirred hype and hysteria that dashes any hopes towards restoring peace or normalcy. In the seventh decade of their mutual coexistence, the two neighbors may lag behind many things, but certainly not on opportunities to ruin bilateral relations and add to the numbers of hardliners and spoilers than peacemakers. Would such instances and attitudes imply that India and Pakistan are not capable of working towards peace or simply do not aspire for normalcy and prosperity. Ironically the two South Asian neighbors love to move contrary to global trends. As the world moves beyond regional integration for gaining meaningful economic benefits, the sole regional forum SAARC remained dysfunctional and non-performer, truly reflective of its member sates’ outlook.
The cross LoC and border firing has now become a new regular irritant, with all kinds of credible and incredible news bytes claiming beheadings, decapitating, random killings, it has led to a war hysteria and jingoism which certainly appeases the war mongers and leaves little space for rational thinking. The recent round of firing has certainly diverted the Indian public’s focus from the very heated media debate over corruption and governmental incompetence, as one Indian friend laughingly put it. So shall we look at such situations as a diversionary tactic? If so, then given the governance matrix of our countries, we are in for a very troubled future, which will definitely continue till May 2014 when the incumbent Lok Sabha completes its five years’ stint.
The real problem is not these occasional lethal firing rounds, or catching fishermen in the un-demarcated waterways and marshy lands. The main fault lies in the very architecture of the fractured relations. The cost of war is far more suitable to the vested interest groups than the dividends of peace. Despite a number of multi-track diplomacy fora as well as governments’ holding direct negotiations, even the most solvable issues remain pending. There is no desire to build better relations and bring sustained relief for the people. If at one time, the military and intelligence outfits in Pakistan were considered to be responsible for impasse, over the last two decades, the Indian military has managed to outdo its counterpart in sabotaging any peace overture. As the world powers court India, for its shine and attraction and its possible role against China, the Kashmiri population languishes and faces daily tyranny at the hands of security forces. Ironically, the resentment and festering anger can no longer be blamed on Pakistan and its Jihadis, the new generation of Kashmiris have made their own rational assessments, about how democratically the long hand of Indian occupation stands. There would always be issues old and new, simple or complex over which the two will disagree and fight, regardless of the impact, this will have on their common future. Using the clichéd term that South Asia is home to one fourth of world population, it seems this population is destined to remain under privileged and disconnected from one another.
The issues are many, starting from Kashmir, river water sharing, unresolved land and maritime borders, Siachen, Sir Creek, terrorism, nuclear and conventional arms racing, deep seated mistrust and disconnect, ideological differences, and added to this, cross border firings. Yet all of them can be looked into, resolved, managed or transformed. Given the deep seated mistrust, there is a promise for more problems to sprout than to get resolved. The conflict relation can both be positively as well as negatively transformed, the trend is more towards the latter. Secondly, India and Pakistan have never despite the mantra of bilateralism post Simla Accords (1972) entered negotiations without external pressure. Resolution of Kashmir is important not as a victory for Pakistan, but for the life and livelihood of the Kashmiris. With time, the number of spoilers are increasing, with a “Rating” driven media (more so on Indian side) screaming for murder and carrying out a full scale war from the television studios. However, in case of Kashmir, the positive external push remains missing, much to India’s advantage. But as mentioned before, it does not suit external actors to convince India to negotiate or dialogue about genuinely contentious issues. Realizing this advantageous position, there is a seeping arrogance, dismissal and disregard for peace overtures as well as factual accuracy by Indian policy makers, which is far more dangerous than the previously laid out open hostility. So long as the genuine will to negotiate, deliberate on and settle contentious issues is missing, problems old and new will persist and give birth to more complications. The need of the hour for the common, sustainable, secure and healthy future, on the eve of their sixty seventh birthdays is to indulge in result oriented dialogue than lay time delaying tactics and ignite lethal fireworks and invest in constituencies of peace rather than war.