Peace with India

On August 13 at a seminar, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif made some rather interesting remarks vis-à-vis peace between India and Pakistan. He said, “I was ready to write a new story, but I did not know that General Pervez Musharraf was writing another story, a rather conflicting one.” Mr Sharif was obviously referring to his moves to restore peace in the subcontinent as prime minister of Pakistan through ‘bus diplomacy’, which brought Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore in February 1999. Nawaz Sharif stressed how our obsession with India led to an arms race, due to which Pakistan has suffered immensely. “We should have an economic race instead of getting into an arms race. It is a tragedy that Pakistan’s social sectors, health services, education, economic development, infrastructure have all suffered because our focus was to build up our defence sector.” Mian sahib’s views on peace with India are not new. Normalisation between India and Pakistan seemed to be making progress on his last watch but the Kargil misadventure sabotaged the effort.

It seems that Mr Sharif has had time to reflect and introspect on many things during his time in exile, including his decision to openly make Pakistan a nuclear state. His regret at conducting those tests was visible in his remarks. “I am ‘thankful’ to India for playing a role in making us an atomic power; it would have been better had that not been done.” In 1998 when India conducted nuclear tests again (the first one in 1974), there was a debate in Pakistan whether we should respond with our own tests or stick to nuclear ambiguity. The latter school of thought was of the view that far from making Pakistan more secure, these tests would increase our problems. The other school argued that if we do not respond, the Indian side would not only fulfil its desire to be recognised as an emerging world power, its belligerence vis-à-vis Pakistan could only increase. In the end, Mr Sharif chose to conduct the nuclear tests under pressure from the military and the right wing. Pakistan paid the price for this in the form of international sanctions and increased scrutiny. We have never quite recovered from the virtual economic meltdown since. One consequence of going nuclear was that despite the Kargil war, it became obvious that an all-out war between India and Pakistan had been rendered impossible. The use of nuclear weapons is unthinkable as they are weapons of mass murder. But the downside is that it has focused so much world attention on our nuclear weapons (and the alarmist scenarios of them falling into the wrong hands) that if anything, far from the nuclear weapons safeguarding us, we are charged with guarding them from covetous eyes. Mr Sharif’s remarks should thus serve as food for thought for the military establishment as well as the people of Pakistan.

The logic of history and geography suggests that Pak-India disputes notwithstanding, there is no escape from civilised relations, economic exchange and dialogue. Mr Sharif emphasised that “we need to get out of our 60-year-old stated positions”. Our shared history, culture, heritage and the layered complexity of both societies require rulers with the wisdom to rise above narrow religious views and inculcate tolerance for all faiths and creeds. History moves in strange ways, particularly in the case of Pakistan. Politicians reared, created and promoted by the military establishment get caught up in the dynamics of power and turn on their mentors. The establishment and the right wing that backed Nawaz Sharif are now greatly perturbed by his revisionist views. But the truth is, their ideas are yesterday’s while Mian sahib’s newfound ideas are tomorrow’s. Despite the army’s continued dominance, it seems as if change is in the air in the light of its self-inflicted difficulties vis-à-vis Afghanistan, India and the international community. It is hoped that those in power pay attention to what Mr Sharif uttered. It is time for Pakistan to get over its India-centric obsession and move towards a more sensible set of policies in conformity with today’s world in the hope of a better future.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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