India’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna recently visited Pakistan to meet with his Pakistani counterpart Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. The atmosphere was indeed relaxed during the joint press conference and fortunately there were no visible tensions between the two dignitaries as was the case in the recent past (read Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s ‘more loyal than the king’ overtures two years ago when Mr Krishna visited Pakistan).
Foreign Minister Khar managed to steal the show as some Indian journalists covering the press conference noted. Ms Khar reiterated the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP's) commitment to peace with our neighbours, especially India and Afghanistan — two nations with whom Pakistan has had a difficult relationship. Ms Khar talked about lost opportunities in case of Indo-Pak relations and gave the recent example of the Gyari tragedy in Siachen. Pakistan is sending a message that the country is willing to move ahead “without being held hostage to past positions” and want a future that is people-centric. The new visa regime and Indo-Pak trade are indeed positive steps but will they be enough to forge a new relationship? This is something that depends on short-term concessions and long-term gains for both sides.
It was noted by both the Indian and Pakistani media that Ms Khar did not mention terrorism in her speech. If Pakistan thinks that India needs to be ‘unemotional’ about 26/11 and move on, it is the most unrealistic and callous thing to expect from a victim of terrorist attack(s). No one in India will forget the Mumbai attacks and we should not forget them either. They are a grim reminder of the lengths our military establishment and jihadi networks can go to so as to sabotage the peace process led by the civilian democratic regimes (Kargil being another example).
There is no denying that peace in South Asia is linked to normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. A bitter past between the two nations has led to policies that have only harmed us. India is now in a strong position, while Pakistan is suffering the consequences of its warped security policies adopted by the military establishment.
Leading journalist Najam Sethi is of the view that India is cautious for valid reasons. “Both countries seek a peaceful relationship. But Pakistanis must not be impatient at India’s slow movement. We have to realise that we are the revisionist power and India is the status quo power. So India will have to make concessions to Pakistan in resolving all major disputes. India is in a controlling position in Siachen and Sir Creek. It has put down the insurgency in Kashmir. It is the upper riparian. Only in enhancing trade with Pakistan is it getting more in terms of exports than it is giving Pakistan in terms of imports. So it is moving ahead on this front faster than on the other fronts. Movement on these contentious fronts will be determined by the trust and interdependences built via trade and people to people contacts if these prove to be enduring. There is no way the Indian establishment will change its position if these trust-and-endurance requirements are not met.”
When we meet ordinary folks from both sides of the border, we see how stereotypes are broken. But ordinary people do not control state policies. Ms Khar noted that we have to ensure that the “narrative we build for our future generations is about peaceful coexistence.” In order to do that, certain things have to change. Pakistan must punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and guarantee that no cross-border terrorist activities take place in the future but for that to happen, Pakistan’s military establishment has to change its India-centric policies. For the past six decades, all we have managed to achieve through these policies is poverty, extremist ideology, bigotry, intolerance, international isolation and terrorism within and outside Pakistan. We don’t want to be held hostage to history when it comes to Indo-Pak relations but how can we remain hostage to our disastrous policies? It is now time for introspection and a complete paradigm shift.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org