South Asia Calls for Action

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Recently, Pakistan celebrated the golden jubilee of Defence Day with great fervour as it claims the September 6, 1965 to be of its victory over India. On the other hand, BBC reported on 28th August that, “India has begun more than three weeks of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of what it claims was victory in the 1965 war with Pakistan.”

On such occasion national songs are sung and prayers are held for the martyrs of each side. A resolve for unity and strength of respective motherlands is also displayed with zealous overtones. Moreover, the present fanfare is celebrated in the background of extremely volatile situation due to the recent escalation of tensions on the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan claims that India has violated LoC many times since the Simla Agreement of 1972. While the Indian government is emphatic that the well entrenched intruders have sponsorship of the Pakistani establishment.

Ideally, governments of both the countries should have promoted an environment which ushers in long-term peace. But both have remained archenemies on account of contentious issues which have amply shadowed the political scenario of South Asia. Several rounds of talks have hitherto failed to produce a semblance of harmony as well as an agreed formula to come to terms with the Kashmir solution.

The subcontinent is a volatile region where four wars have already been fought and the threat of a nuclear war must not be underestimated as it could be a catastrophe beyond imagination. The current scenario of the South Asian regional politics is fast approaching a parallelism to the Europe of 1914. Keeping in view the current situation, Kashmir issue automatically should be on the front burner seeking international community’s full attention.

Times have considerably changed and today’s geo-political factors are prone to affect the overall international politics. The interdependence of today’s globalised world necessitates setting up of necessary groundwork for the implementation of long-term peace. It must also be patently evident to the world leaders that a war in a nuclearised region will be at a significantly greater cost both in the human and material terms. Besides, the past wars have failed to resolve any outstanding issue between the neighbouring states. Thus, the need to initiate a third party mediation is becoming all the more crucial for defusing the prevalent tensions and ensuring lasting peace in this part of the world.

However, the tragedy of South Asia is that for long it has been looked through the prism of Cold War. During the days of US-Soviet rivalry, India was close to Moscow while Pakistan was a critical base and partner of Washington. But today what needs to be done is for the West to understand the delicate balance of power within a nuclear South Asia. There is a need both on the part of European Union and the United States for a more robust engagement in South Asia.

Diplomatic efforts are required which should not only take account of the feelings of the indigenous populace but also seek to remove the misapprehensions through a mediatory role played by the international community. The United Nations must overture as a peace broker for its mandated interference remains direly awaited. It is precisely the same approach of shuttle diplomacy that has successfully worked in other troubled spots of the world including Kosovo, East Timor, and Darfur.

Another dimension for the insurance of peace is the revival of Track II diplomacy which can bring the two states closer. Such an initiative should be partly sponsored by the respective governments of India and Pakistan and partly by the civilised world. The frequent contact between businessmen, professionals, lawyers, journalists, trade union workers, artists and intellectuals is of utmost importance. The purpose of such an exercise would be the unofficial dialogue representing diverse cross-sections of society from both the countries to suggest means and ways of outgrowing the perpetual confrontation syndrome.

Sadly, SAARC could not emerge as a powerful economic bloc like EU, ASEAN and NAFTA. There was a tremendous scope of its becoming one of the largest economic blocs in the world. But the unresolved dispute of Kashmir soon led to the waning of euphoria that marked its establishment. Today the intra-regional trade among the SAARC countries is not only small but the region’s share in the world trade is just about one percent. There is however still hope that the Track II approach can prove instrumental in shifting the favour towards a more liberalised trade between the two countries. In fact, the need for the socio-economic uplift should become a recurring theme, particularly in a region where poverty alleviation of the teeming millions remains a massive challenge.

Furthermore, what is significant is the role played by the media. The importance of an unbiased press both in the print and electronic media cannot be underestimated. The need is to have a peace-promoting and not a peace-threatening approach on the part of mass media. In a marked contrast, it is presently sowing the seeds of hatred and terror in the minds of each side. But only an unprejudiced media can lead to the emergence of a broad base public opinion which could serve as the foundation of mutual tolerance and understanding.

Since their inception both Pakistan and India are on the horns of dilemma and their successive leaderships are miserably failing to realise what all this portends for their people and the overall region. In times of nuclear prowess the hawkish stance will go by the board to each side’s detriment. Therein lies the imperative for both the countries to reassess their priorities and carefully weigh their options and adopt policies which best suit their developmental goals.

On the contrary, without taking any lesson from the modern history, both the states are relying on military build-up and deadly nuclear weaponry to bully each other. This is happening at a time when one and a half billion people of the region continue to suffer from poverty and disease and where for most prosperity remains a long cherished dream. There is a lesson which both the developing countries ought to learn from the dismemberment of the Soviet Union which was an erstwhile superpower and an industrial giant in its own right. But all its striking nuclear power and industrial might and its entire prowess in science and technology could not curtail its withering away due to the failure of feeding the teeming millions.

Both the states should therefore discard their rigid contention and take a fresh look to solve the problems not merely by means of geographical skirmishes but purely from a human point of view in the large interest of the many millions inhibiting the subcontinent. The need is to shift the paradigm away from a military-centric approach to a cooperative one. At the same time, it is vital for peace in South Asia that LoC be respected by both the parties in accordance with the Simla Pact.

It is hoped that the West also realises gravity of the situation and would do well to initiate pacifist moves towards attaining the goal of peace. Let the West and UN get seriously involved for a solution of the old, blood-letting Kashmir dispute which is not without the dangers of engulfing the whole world into a nuclear warfare. Like Palestine, Kashmir remains an unfinished legacy of colonialism. The tragedy of Kashmir is that the South Asian leaders are driven more by status quo fixations and unable to explore the bold and imaginative steps which could benefit almost a quarter of humanity. It is a high time that both the neighbours as well as the international community should rise and help in resolving the dispute.

The fact that India and Pakistan are now nuclear powers must be a source of deep concern not only for people of the region but throughout the Western world which in the form of two World Wars has already witnessed the devastation wrought by man’s unwillingness to compromise and stave off the war which leaves no winners or losers. It is a high time to heed to the sagacious words of great historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee. While delivering the Maulana Azad Memorial Lecture in February 1960 in New Delhi the farsighted sage admonished, “If we do not now abolish war, war is going to abolish us.”

Writer: Inayat Atta

The writer is a civil servant and researcher, works as a columnist with THE PASHTUN TIMES. He has an M.Phil Degree in history from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He can be reached at

Inayat_atta@yahoo.com

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITH THE PASHTUN TIMES

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