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Not At Peace in South Asia

The militaries must become one of the secondary necessities of any state

by M B Naqvi, 28 January 2009

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The Daily Star

Shouldn’t we pause to think?

South Asians remain divided in multiple ways. Each member of the Saarc has internal divisions. India has internal insurgencies going on, and India and Pakistan are immersed in communal hatred.

Pakistan is threatened by an intolerant and violent Islam that may be its nemesis. Ethnic nationalisms are also permanent divisions. Islamic extremism is a threat that Bangladesh also faces.

Afghanistan is under foreign occupation, and a war is going on in the name of the same new Islam represented by al-Qaeda. Sri Lanka is torn by a war that is internal and near formal.

The most hopeful and peaceful country is Bangladesh, though it faces a threat from the new Islam and a fractured polity. But it might just escape the mayhems in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

India and Pakistan have had their politics deformed that began with the British colonial masters specifying religion as the main distinguishing feature. Once communal rivalry started, it grew into a monster that divided the British Indian Empire and has kept the two states on an inimical course, until the Muslims demanded a separate state.

The policies of the two states remain frozen into a hideous shape of trying to down each other. Pakistan fought three wars with India until Pakistan itself was partitioned: having promoted hatred against the "other."

Despite the riots on the horizon, Indo-Bangladesh relations remain peaceful. Will the Indians recruit at least Bangladesh as their cooperative partner for a joint endeavour in the economic sphere?

Pakistan-India relations remain dangerously fraught. Both wish to rush at each other’s throats and the rest of the world rushes in to mediate. Superficially, the leaderships of both sides appear to be mature to the demands of statecraft and diplomacy. But what have they achieved by this seeming maturity?

Pakistan signed the Shimla Agreement in 1972 (with India) after losing the third war. But the man who had signed it was frightened by his rightwing parties and did not implement all the obligations of the agreement, particularly with regard to Kashmir. Instead of talking, Indian and Pakistani leaderships started building up even bigger military machines.

Pakistan caught up with India’s nuclear power status, and both have been engaged in building up conventional and nuclear forces. There was no effort to normalise relations. They later agreed on an eight subject Composite Dialogue.

These talks lasted for some time and more or less broke down in the competitive testing of nuclear weapons. India made one more effort to talk peace with Pakistan in February 1999. But it was quickly replied to by Kargil’s semi-war, leading back to square one.

Musharraf tried to start talks at Agra and drew a blank. The attacks on Delhi Red Fort and the Indian Parliament brought the countries to the verge of another war. India acted as if it would invade Pakistan. Pakistan repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons. The Anglo-American powers got busy in managing the near-combatants into staying in the trenches rather than making actual peace.

The cost of such mediation is high, and Islamabad and Delhi looked like playing into the hands of supposedly more mature and more peaceable powers, although the US’s record of military aggressions speaks volumes. Diplomats of the two countries were manipulated by Anglo-American powers and have been separately recruited as their junior partners. The hard fact of both being junior partners of the US and the rest of the Nato powers cannot be ignored.

Political leaderships of South Asian states should care more for their own people rather than for their hate-based ambitions of defeating their opponents. Saarc was a worthy Bangladeshi initiative and it was hoped that South Asians would work for economic integration of their region.

The west Europeans decided that they did not want more war glories! They would rather go for plain non-military benefits of economic nature.

The newly independent South Asians couldn’t resist the temptation of giving priority to their hate-based actions. Which is why South Asia is where it is: each state well below the standards of living it could have attained if it had given priority to economic development. Each state is not at peace, except probably only Bangladesh in part and Maldives. It looks as if South Asians will remain set on their present courses.

After the Mumbai attacks, the reactions of India’s rightwing parties and media show that this sort of thing is likely to erupt every now and then vis-à-vis Pakistan. Resumption of serious dialogue is unlikely soon, despite its aim for normalising relations.

Each Saarc state needs to reorient itself to mainly achieving economic development. These states should democratise their purpose also; it is not enough to have formal democracy alone. The militaries must become one of the secondary necessities of any state. Democracy must become the means as well as the end. Will they do that?

M.B. Naqvi is a leading Pakistani columnist.