PUCL Bulletin, February 2002

Let respected international, Indian and Pakistani persons mediate
By M.B. Naqvi

Following the Wednesday terrorist attack on the Parliament in New Delhi, India and Pakistan seem set to slide into war - now or a little later. Their governments can scarcely rise above the futility of angry mutual accusations and making hostile propaganda attain ever-greater intensity. Far too much poison has been injected into the public discourse vis-à-vis the other within each country and between them.

At any rate, the two governments can not be trusted to keep peace between themselves because their politics --- Pakistan demands serious negotiations on Kashmir and India feels unable to talk on the subject --- brings them into conflict at every step. Indian government, with inflamed nationalistic opinion behind it, has barred all foreign mediation. And yet without some outside help, the two can neither arrest the powerful undertow towards all out hostilities nor begin talking in a civilised way to defuse the situation.

They obviously need help, if not of a government, then non-official for resuming a serious civilised dialogue.

Both sides make a case that is strong enough. Secular framework of Indian politics and polity not only needs to be preserved but strengthened. On the other hand, the present insurgency in Kashmir cannot be allowed to go on; it is killing young men on a large-scale; wealth is not only being destroyed but its new creation is being preempted; and horrible violations of human rights are being perpetrated by 'both' sides. A solution of some sort for the Kashmir problem is unavoidable if a ruinous war is to be avoided.

An India-Pakistan war now has more than one dimension of terror for common people on either side. It will not be like US' war on Iraq or even Afghanistan.
Here religious passions of well over a billion persons, men and women, are being steadily roused by hardliners on both sides. Indeed, the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad are culpable: they keep stoking the fires of what is religious intolerance through their work-a-day Hindu and Muslim politics that is based on communal sentiments with much dissembling rhetoric. They have a bad history of communal hostility of over a century behind them. Evidence of religious intolerance is everywhere in both countries.

Today's rulers are legatees of those who carried out world's largest ethnic cleansing and widespread genocide, not to mention trampling of human decencies and rights underfoot in the days of 1947 partition of British Indian Empire. Communal riots have been frequent in both countries wherever they could since. Should a war break out in the present surcharged atmosphere, religious minorities stand to suffer horribly. Ferocity of the war can set off a prairie fire of religiously motivated strife --- a prospect that should not be allowed to materialise.

Then, the two countries are nuclear powers. Should a war erupt, there will be strong temptation to use nuclear weapons to --- quickly crush the losing side and by the weaker party to avoid being defeated. A nuclear exchange on the populous Subcontinent will cause horrible death and destruction. India no doubt talks of no-first-use but is now said to have evolved a doctrine that permits a conventional war -- for which India is better prepared --- and thinks there will not be a nuclear exchange.

There is no reason to ignore the repeated Pakistani threat of using the atomic weapons first if it looks like losing the war. Moreover, in a war between two nuclear powers, no one can possibly wait for the other side to obliterate a city or two before using one's own nuclear weapon; both may in fact race to be the first to use it. A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would otherwise be unthinkable because, all said and one, the human material in the leadership on both sides is aware enough and human enough not to inflict nuclear destruction even on the 'enemy' country. But the roused passions on both sides that are strongly tinged with religious hatred and, in conjunction with the profound mistrust that the mere existence of nuclear weapons on the 'other' side inevitably generate, can cloud judgement, especially of the kind of political decision-makers there are.

What is needed therefore is some wise people with high statures to intercede with both to move back from forward deployments --- from high alerts and hair-trigger readiness --- and to begin negotiations. Now, it should be widely known that left to themselves neither the two governmental leaders --- after the kind of exchanges they have indulged in --- nor their bureaucracies will find it easy to sustain a meaningful dialogue. Ruling classes in both countries have boxed themselves in formulations that leaves no meeting point and which would drive each other away. The intervention from outside cannot however be too intrusive. It can only initiate the process. The help for sustaining the inter-state dialogue will have to be by leading members of the intelligentsia in both countries acting both nationally as well as jointly for coordinated efforts to find principles and formulations that the two governments can accept and which would eventually make the negotiations fruitful.

We have thus to find individuals of wisdom as well as high stature who can be persuaded to undertake this difficult task. Who can such persons of goodwill be? Well, if a hundred persons were to find five to 10 persons from around the world, a few names that are repeatedly by most of these 100 can surely be agreed upon. Here is a suggestion. Let there be an international seminar of prominent persons on the subject. Let it suggest a committee of five, seven or ten. This would, after studying the problems at issue exhaustively, make the two governments begin the dialogue at appropriate levels. They can then retire after popularising their common approach, if any.

But the task of sustaining this official dialogue will then devolve on prominent intellectuals of India and Pakistan. They have to jointly and separately find formulations and principles on which hopes can be pinned that they can be usefully and productively accepted by the two governments, on the one hand, and popular consensus can be created among the two people, on the other. Let me set the ball rolling about selections.

For the international committee, one should look for men and women who have experience of national affairs, have conducted international talks, possess high integrity as well as stature, not to say wisdom. One can throw in a few names for a start. How about persuading Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela from South Africa, Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl from Germany, Jimmy Carter and Michael Gorbachev, leaders of international peace movement and anti-nuclear campaigns and a few Nobel Laureates. Persons noted for their human rights struggles such as Wali Khan, Justices V.M. Tarkunde and Sachar to name only two and a few noted Gandhians, with a few literatures thrown in. Out of such a lot volunteers must be sought and a few like Mandela and Tutu press-ganged, in a manner of speaking.

The Subcontinent itself is not devoid of persons of goodwill and stature. Similar national committees and an Indo Pakistani steering committee can be created not only to help sustain the inter-governmental negotiations but to arrange brainstorming sessions at suitable intervals of Indian and Pakistani intelligentsia at nationally and jointly.

Can some such thing be done?

(M.B. Naqvi is a senior Pakistani journalist and Peace activist - Ch. Ed.)

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