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Why Can’t India-Pakistan Be Friends?

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Pakistan’s Minister of state for foreign affairs Hina Rabbani Khar put paid to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s recent statement seeking better ties with India, even before rest of the world was able to understand its full import. Speaking at a session on South Asia at the World Economic Forum Annual meeting 2023 in Davos, Khar said her country doesn’t see a “partner” in Indian PM Narendra Modi for working towards peace between the two countries. Elaborating, she said, she did see a partner in Modi’s predecessors Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

If one reads Khar’s statement between the lines, it means her PM’s offer of friendship with India, adds to nothing. Modi’s continuation in office is not at the pleasure of either Pakistan, or any other country. Modi is in power, because of the massive public support he enjoys within his own country. So, Shehbaz’s offer is a non-starter, for Modi is going to stay as PM, howsoever, Pakistan may detest.

In a recent interview to Dubai-based Al Arabiya, Shehbaz said that Pakistan wanted “serious and sincere talks” with India, and that he had asked Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the President of the United Arab Emirates, to use his friendly ties with New Delhi to bring the two sides to the table to discuss all outstanding issues— Sharif mentioned the “human rights violations in Kashmir”, and India’s revocation of the special status of J&K. Shehbaz also added that after having fought three wars with India his country had learnt its lessons and now wanted peace with its neighbour is half desperation and half humbug.

A clarification on Sharif’s interview to Al Arabiya, issued post-haste from the Prime Minister’s Office later stressed that the reversal of India’s “illegal actions” in Kashmir was a non-negotiable pre-condition. “Without India’s revocation of this step [in Kashmir], negotiations are not possible,” the Pak PMO said in its clarification. The clarification, obviously followed, pressure from the all-powerful army.

What does one make of the two statements— one made Shehbaz, and the other by his Minister of state for foreign affairs, within a gap of few days? The timing of the remarks is also important. They come amid reports of Pakistan nearing a situation akin to that of Sri Lanka, with its dollar reserves running low and concerns rising that it might default on its debts. This column, posted on this portal on January 13, 2023 had covered this aspect of Pakistan in detail.

Sharif’s reach out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Al Arabiya interview included what sounded like an apparent condition: Pakistan wants “to live in peace with India provided we are able to solve our genuine problems” — “to resolve our burning issues like Kashmir where flagrant human rights are taking place day in and day out, and two, they (India) reversed whatever semblance of autonomy was given to the Kashmiris in their Constitution through article 370, they have revoked that, and minorities are being grossly mishandled…this must stop.

Shehbaz’s statement is full of contradictions. Were India-Pakistan relations hunky-dory when J&K enjoyed special status within Indian Union, under article 370? Pakistan’s hostility against India goes far beyond the vexed issue of Kashmir. In fact, ties between the two neighbours are tense, not because of Kashmir, it’s the other way around. There’s something fundamentally wrong between India and Pakistan relations, hence the Kashmir issue has been hanging fire for over last seven decades.

Pakistan establishment is army-centric and nothing tangible can happen in the Islamic nation, without its nod. The last time the Army made substantive remarks on relations with India was when the then chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa made a strong case for trade between the countries in a landmark speech in 2021— pitching for “geoeconomics” rather than geostrategy. The only remark that Gen Munir, who took over from Gen Bajwa on November 29, 2022, has made on India came during a tour of the LoC— if attacked, Pakistani forces would “defend every inch of our motherland”, he said.

Since its troubled birth in 1947, Pakistan has been blowing hot and cold against India – depending on its domestic conditions and exigencies of global scenario. The fact is the core of Pakistan sees residual India as a part of its unfinished agenda of Islamising the entire sub-continent. Khar may be blaming Modi for the current tense relations of her country with India and nostalgically recalling the “happy times” during Atalji’s and Dr Manmohan’s tenure. But her entire stance is a big farce, completely divorced from facts.

While Atalji was engaging Nawaz Sharif, the then Pakistan Prime Minister, in a dialogue to improve relations between the two countries, the Pak Army was busy infiltrating into Kargil. In 2008, Pakistan stuck again in Mumbai on 26/11, while Dr Manmohan Singh was busy building bridges of friendship with it. How to improve Indo-Pak Relations is a vexed question unanswered for over 75 long years.

During this period, India has seen Governments of all political shades- from Congress to Bharatiya Janata Party in office. In between there were regimes such as led by V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral, known for their soft corner for Pakistan. Since its birth, Pakistan too has witnessed rulers of all hues- from democratically elected leaders to army dictators, in control of the Islamic nation. Irrespective of the colour of regime in either country, India-Pakistan relations have hovered, in narrow bandwidth of uneasy peace, hostility and declared wars.

In fact, improving ‘Indo-Pak Relations’, is an oxymoron. Rationale for creation of Pakistan was that Hindus and Muslims are two mutually hostile nations, who could not co-exist. The Muslim League’s demand for a separate Islamic state was intellectually justified by the Communists under “right to self-determination”. The crafty departing British had their own vested interests in extending tacit support for the creation of Pakistan.

During the eventful years leading to partition, Congress, led by Gandhiji, just caved in. It failed to put up even pretence of any resistance against the vivisection of the country on religious basis. If Muslims in pre-partition India couldn’t coexist with Hindus in the country, they had shared with them for generations, is it logical to expect them to do so, after their divisive mindset has further solidified thanks to the helpful eco-system of an Islamic republic and its validation by the rest of the world?

The very psyche that forced a violent split in 1947, exists today, and has hardened further. Absence of any rancour or hostility against a pluralistic society like that of India runs counter to the very idea of an Islamic Pakistan shaped by medieval theocratic value system. If Pakistan has to exist, it has to be different from India- otherwise where is justification for a blood-soaked partition?

For proponents of ‘Two nation’ theory, any move to reduce hostilities and improve relations between India and Pakistan means conspiracy to undo the hard-earned partition. Negation of all that India stands for is what defines Pakistan’s identity. Since Pakistan was conceptualised as an Islamic nation, it obviously has little room for non-believers within, and hardly any goodwill for a neighbouring residual India, which sadly for it, continues overwhelmingly kafir.

Not surprisingly, India-Pakistan border is always live and tense— seldom peaceful. Apart from fighting intermittent wars, the two neighbours have been abusing each other in the vilest language in almost all global fora. Yet on both sides, people are ONE, in every respect. They come from a common genetic stock, enjoy the same music and delicacies, have identical aspirations for a better future, and share myriad traditions, practices and family values that define their daily lives and existence. A conflict-free border between India and Pakistan runs the risk of gradually becoming redundant, and eventually extinct—and that spells death for the idea called Pakistan.

The possibility of such a spectre, gnaws Pakistan establishment, continues to nurse its anti-India mindset, propels its acerbic rhetoric and sustains its policy of “bleeding India to death” with “a thousand cuts”. Against this bleak backdrop, isn’t the task of normalisation of relations between the two countries nearly impossible?

Balbir Punj
Balbir Punj
Balbir Punj is an eminent journalist and Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from India. For more than two and a half decades, Punj has been writing on current topics in important Hindi-English newspapers, magazines. He specializes in dealing with social, economic, and political issues.

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