Signs of improving times

Two incidents that took place recently provide hope, underlining that the India-Pakistan peace process must indeed be on track. One incident was related to the UN and the other to Kashmir, if you can believe it.

On Oct 21, Pakistan won a hotly-contested seat to the UN Security Council, joining India as a two-year non-permanent member on the body. The votes that won India the seat last year included Pakistan’s; India recently returned the favour. Pakistan’s two-year term will run from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013, overlapping with India for one year.

Given the nature of their perennially tense relations, India and Pakistan are expected to fight with each other at whatever level possible, from the cricket field to the UNSC. However, the two sides have made common cause on many issues at the UN except for Kashmir. In fact, only a few days ago Pakistan had irked India by again raising the Kashmir issue at the UN.

But the recent example of mutual co-operation at the UNSC provides hope for more. There are so many avenues at which India and Pakistan can complement each other at international fora, from international trade bodies to climate change summits, avenues where the ‘third world’ often finds itself at loggerheads with the ‘first’.

Instead of appreciating the positive development, nationalist cynics on both sides found ways to play it down. Some contended that given that the United Nations Security Council is itself such a problematic institution, because of the way it is structured and what it does, it’s only apt that India and Pakistan are there together!

On that town hall called twitter, Indian hawks contended that India only returned the favour. They asked, would India return other favours (read ‘terrorism’) from Pakistan? Those who played down signs of thaw and bonhomie and raked up the Mumbai attacks of 2008 forget that the Samjhauta bomb blast killed Indians and Pakistanis alike, that those being tried in court for that attack are Indians.

On the Pakistani side, some accused the Pakistani media of playing down the Indian vote – although it was crucial given that Pakistan won the requisite two-third votes by just one vote. Others said it was no favour because India was only returning what was due. Some said, now that both are at UNSC, shall we bring up the UN resolutions on Kashmir?

To my mind, when hawks on both sides play down an event like this, something right must be happening.

But consider this: would India and Pakistan supported each other at the United Nations if they were going to war, which is where they seem to be headed every few years and where the media sometimes seems to be pushing them?

Goodwill symbolic gestures emerge from a peace process, and can in turn only strengthen the momentum towards peace. Something more edgy happened on Oct 23: an Indian helicopter mistakenly crossed Line of Control into the Pakistani mountains. The great Himalayas must be amused at the games we play at that height. The helicopter almost reached Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan (how I’d love to go there!). It was a tense few hours. Four Indian army officials, including three senior officers, were detained as the helicopter was grounded 25 kilometres into Pakistani territory. This is the sort of situation that can ‘escalate’.

Yet within a few hours the helicopter and its occupants were back on the Indian side, just a few valleys away. But again the hawkish chatterati drew borders of the mind on the Internet. How could the Pakistanis have ‘forced’ the helicopter to land, some Indians asked – they must have had to land because of the bad weather! A Pakistani jokingly wondered whether India would send Sunny Deol to the rescue.

This was no easy situation. Had relations between the countries been tense such a helicopter may not have been able to return so easily, so fast. It may have been termed as a reconnaissance aircraft and the men detained, or worse, shot down. It is again clearly the desire on both sides to not derail the peace process that ensured that a mountain was not made out of a molehill across the LoC.

These two events are examples of Pakistan and India behaving like responsible 63 year olds who have learnt from the mistakes of their youth, and now have the maturity to bury the hatchet and move on. They have already initiated talks to improve and strengthen economic ties. There are great hopes vested in the recently proposed relaxation of visa regimes. Since this is in proposal stage we should keep our fingers crossed. The most exciting idea in the new visa plan is tourist visa.

To think Indians and Pakistanis can be tourists, able to visit the other country just to see the sights, roam the streets, eat the food, make new friends and buy clothes and see for themselves who grows better mangoes! Such great ideas will never materialise if we continue to fight over territory and UN seats. Our world is here, let’s enjoy the kebabs and be sab-changa-no-panga.

Those who rubbish this vision as romantic are welcome to their views. Those of us who believe in peace remain steadfast in our vision and our goal of better ties and more people-to-people and trade contacts. Incidents and steps that give rise to hope for better relations between the two countries are encouraging – and must be further encouraged.

(First published in The News, Pakistan.)

4 thoughts on “Signs of improving times”

  1. Yes, good sense seems to be prevailing. However, a more important and meaningful measure would be for both India and Pakistan to vacate the Siachen Glacier. Occupying posts at heights ranging between sixteen thousand and twenty two thousand feet on the Saltoro Ridge is affecting the health of soldiers and also the fragile environment not to mention the million-dollars-a-day cost to the exchequer. It is in this context that clubbing Siachen with other CBMs like visa norms, trade and even Sir Creek seems highly insensitive. Soldiers have been dying almost every day for a quarter of a century on account of the altitude, avalanches, crevasses and extreme cold. There is no tactical activity since a cease-fire has been in effect since 2003. Thousand of soldiers on both sides have been permanently maimed in body and mind. It is high time that civil societies on both sides prevail on their governments to get a move on on this issue. Unfortunately, intransigence from the Indian side seems to be holding up the process. Talks have been going on since 1989, probably the longest lasting talks in history! Surely, bureaucrats on both sides along with their generals can sort out whether the ‘authenticated’ line will form part of the main agreement or an annexure. That seems to be the only hold up.

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  2. great article .An action against JUD and Syed Salahudeen (Hizbul Mujahideen) will help to keep the momentum

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  3. What a lovely piece! And I don’t think the Indian govt. should be irked by its Pakistani counterpart raising the Kashmir issue at the UN at all. This is good for India, Pakistan, hopefully Kashmir, and the world. The only folks it hurts is the global military establishment and terrorist groups, Hindu and Muslim alike : ).

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