Tragedy of the subcontinent

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Tragedy of the subcontinent | Najam sethi Latest column in Friday Times | 29 July 2016

India-Pak relations have hit rock bottom again. Who is responsible and why?

The record shows that Nawaz Sharif has tried to bury the past and move forward in a pragmatic manner. But Narendra Modi hasn’t reciprocated in the same spirit. Domestic compulsions have now compelled both leaders to adopt hostile positions.

Mr Sharif went to the “inauguration” of Mr Modi in 2014 because he wanted to start an unconditional new chapter in good relations. But the Indian Foreign Secretary muddied the waters by an unprovoked statement on Kashmir. Undaunted, Mr Sharif proposed foreign office talks on all issues without preconditions on “core” issues. But Mr Modi clutched at a feeble excuse – a proposed meeting between the leaders of Kashmir and the Pakistani delegation — to back out at the last minute. Mr Sharif tried a third time in 2015 when he agreed in Ufa to send a delegation to Delhi to talk about the way forward on common issues, including terrorism. But the Indians again balked at any reference to Kashmir and the meeting was called off. It seems that any mention of the K word by Pakistan – even as a fig leaf for public consumption at home — is anathema to India. In 2014, Mr Modi was canvassing in J&K and didn’t want to dilute his message to his hard line electoral constituency by seeming to be talking to Pakistan on Kashmir or allowing Pakistan to talk to the Hurriyet leaders. Now he is waging a brutal repression in Kashmir and doesn’t want the K word in headlines again. But for precisely the same sort of domestic reasons, Mr Sharif has been compelled to thunder about the mass human rights violations in Kashmir during his own election campaign in AJK.

In between, win-win opportunities for both sides have been wilfully squandered. A revival of cricketing ties at neutral venues was agreed upon between the PCB and BCCI in 2015. But Mr Modi didn’t allow this to go ahead. More significantly, a far-reaching trade agreement has been on the anvil since 2013 but Mr Modi has studiously refused to get on with it despite India’s long time insistence on precisely such an agreement as a building block for peace.

Meanwhile, vested interests on both sides continue to thwart the road to peace. Despite the military establishment’s lid on them, fringe non-state jihadi elements in Pakistan are occasionally able to slip across the border and terrorise India, as happened in Pathankot recently. Instead of accepting this as an inevitable hiccup, and despite concrete reassurances by Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, India has ratcheted up such incidents as “deliberate provocations”. On Pakistan’s side, evidence has piled up of the “offensive-defence” doctrine of India’s NSA in sponsoring terrorism in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan. This has provided ammunition to the chest thumping, war-mongering lobby in the country.

The situation in Kashmir is dire. A new intifada has risen. There is no foreign hand in it as many Indian observers accept. It comprises the angry alienated youth of a new generation of Kashmiris who have grown up in the shadow of brutal occupation by the Indian army. There is not a single family in Kashmir that has not lost a son or brother or father in the struggle for freedom and democratic rights. There isn’t a single family in Kashmir whose mother or daughter or sister hasn’t been violated in one way or another by the soldiers of occupation. In the old days, when the occupation forces shot on protestors, the demonstration would break up because people would run away from the hail of bullets. Today people rush out of their homes and run toward the site of conflict to rain stones on their oppressors. Yesterday, their heroes were “freedom fighters” in exile in Pakistan. Today, they are hailing their very own Gurus and Wanis. Yesterday, some of them wanted to be autonomous within India and some of them wanted to be part of Pakistan. Today they all want “Azaadi” from both India and Pakistan. Yesterday, there was no one in India who was ready to listen to their cry of anguish. Today, Arundhati Roy isn’t the only one who is pleading their cause. Yesterday, there was a conspiracy of silence in the Indian media against the atrocities committed by the occupation forces in Kashmir. Today, stories of mass graves and videos of beautiful Kashmiri faces pocked with pellet wounds are going viral on the internet.

Before long, however, it will be business-as-usual again between India and Pakistan. This week a high level BSF delegation came to Pakistan to talk border management with the Pakistan Rangers and we can be sure that there will be talk of talks between the two before the year is out but nothing concrete will come of it. Before long, too, the repression will take its toll in Kashmir and a sullen and angry silence will descend on the valley, until the next time round.

This is the painful tragedy of the subcontinent.