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India-Pakistan: stop the '56 inch' talk; give peace a chance

Mahmud Durrani | Updated on: 17 June 2015, 17:32 IST

The escalation

  • A few months back India and Pakistan seemed ready for dialogue. Today they are sabre-rattling.
  • Diplomatic engagements are badly affected. Both countries have become stingy in granting visas.
  • Pakistan Army and government have responded in the same coin.

The viewpoint

  • India can attack Pakistan on the pretext that it\'s a haven for terrorists.
  • Yes, Pakistan is teeming with terrorists, but that\'s despite the security establishment\'s efforts.
  • Today security forces in Pakistan are busy fighting terrorists, not nurturing them.

The solution

  • The two prime ministers need to talk, with a commitment to reduce tensions. Set up a secret back channel.
  • Foreign ministers must set up an agenda for regular talks.
  • Exchange of visits by 10-20 parliamentarians from each side to give recommendations on how normalise relations.
  • Announce a liberal visa policy; increase interaction between citizens.

In the first week of February I visited New Delhi and got the distinct impression that India was ready to resume dialogue with Pakistan.

Of course a couple of preconditions were thrown in for good measure but the essential message that I received was, 'lets talk'.

However, four months down the road, apparently for no good reason, it seems we are fast moving towards a serious confrontation. It is amazing how fast our two countries can climb up the escalatory ladder.

Are we headed for a confrontation?

Now all we need is a spark, a spark that will quickly move us from the verbal to the area of action and a counter reaction. And there are many spoilers on both sides to provide such a spark.

In case of a physical confrontation and a possible short term war, Pakistan will certainly be the bigger loser but not without giving India a bloody nose. There is enough evidence of that.

What possible reasoning could India use to strike Pakistan? Pakistan is a safe haven of terrorists? Yes, Pakistan is teeming with all kinds of terrorists, not because of the establishment but in spite of the establishment.

Threats and loud rhetoric is stuff for Punjabi and Hindi movies, not India-Pakistan diplomacy

In the past, the establishment's relationship with some jihadi groups was suspect but today I see no sympathy of the establishment with any jihadi group.

Presently, the major portion of the Pakistani military, para-military and intelligence agencies are actively engaged in fighting terrorists. In fact, India should offer to help Pakistan in this war.

The current atmosphere has pushed political and diplomatic engagements between India and Pakistan to the back burner. Visas to all and sundry are being denied; in one case even a diplomat has been denied a visa. But this time round, the brinkmanship is a bit scary and certainly devoid of any reason.

Pointless threats

Forget the possibility of a nuclear holocaust; can these two developing nations afford such blatant brinkmanship? I am surprised even a seasoned political leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi is exposing the wounds of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and that too without any serious advantage.

The Indian role in the breakaway of East Pakistan is already well known and documented.

The Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar went a step further and threatened to strike Pakistan. My friend, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who was once part of the world of espionage, also added to the variety of threats from New Delhi.

Why this coercion? Does the Indian establish seriously feel Pakistan will lie belly-up and wag its tail. Such thinking would be a serious error of judgment. I am almost certain India can achieve far more in fulfilling its strategic interests through the big brother approach and dialogue.

Does the Indian establishment seriously feel Pakistan will lie belly-up and wag its tail?

Of course we in Pakistan hate to be outdone in rhetoric, after all we are from the same stock with massive pride and inflated egos. Our defence and interior minister promptly hit back and warned India of dire consequences if India was indeed planning any kind of offensive against the Pakistan.

Not to be left behind, the Pakistan Army also warned of a befitting response if anyone cast an evil eye in the direction of the land of the pure.

I believe a one liner from a spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have been a more dignified and appropriate way to respond. What kind of message are we giving to the hawks in India? Are we rattled?

What's the way out?

The problems that divide India and Pakistan are tricky but I am convinced they are eminently resolvable, even the Kashmir issue. All that is needed is some flexibility, lots of patience and, above all, a wise leadership. Threats and loud rhetoric is the stuff for Punjabi and Hindi movies, please let us not bring this into our real life.

To overcome the current impasse I have three recommendations:

  • A sooner than later telephonic exchange between the two prime ministers with a commitment to immediately control the escalating tensions. In addition, a decision to set up a secret back channel concurrently with meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries, ASAP. The foreign ministers need to set up an agenda for regular and routine talks.
  • Exchange of visits by ten to twenty selected parliamentarians from each side to focus on developing collective recommendations for both governments on how best to normalise relations between the two countries.
  • Without further delay announce a liberal visa policy on which considerable work has already been done. The essence of the visa policy should be to increase interaction between the common citizens of both the countries.

Senior citizens like me (over 70 years of age) should be given visas at the point of entry, without any questions. The demeaning and useless practice of city specific and police reporting visas should be done away with.

Our two countries have wasted immense time and resources in battling each other and what do we have to show for it? Nothing, even our region suffers. Let us turn a new leaf and give peace a chance.

The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.

First published: 15 June 2015, 20:06 IST
Mahmud Durrani @CatchNews

Major General Mahmud Ali Durrani served as Pakistan's National Security Adviser and ambassador to the US. He is popularly referred to as 'General Shanti' in his country for advocating peaceful relations between India and Pakistan.