By Dr. Haider Mehdi

In an age when physical distances have shrunk, global and interstate communication has expanded, human contacts have increased across continents, multi-cultural communities have developed all over the world, and humanity’s interests have become common, the need for global peace is far more important now than ever before in human history. The universality of human civilization’s “common interests” in the context of material-socio-cultural-spiritual advancement ought to be the defining and fundamental premise of inter-state relations.

And yet, as we know, India and Pakistan, two close neighbors who have a shared history, who gave birth to marvelous architectural splendor and were partners in the genius era of poetry, literature, and arts and crafts development unmatched in the annuals of human history, and who fought long and difficult battles for independence together, remain today, in the post-independence era, at logger-heads, confined indefinitely in military and diplomatic conflicts.

The obvious question is: why is it so? The simple answer is: it is the flawed foreign-policy management approach, on both sides of the divide, that has generated hostilely, repeated wars, threats of war, diplomatic rows and a long drawn-out mutually distrusting environment for over six decades. At its best, both countries have worked on the foreign-policy doctrine of “conflict-avoidance” rather than developing a sustainable and lasting convergence of interest in the promotion of peace: the political discourse for an engagement together in defining mutual interests of the populace in both countries and working towards that goal exclusively. Promoting peace and defining a common strategy of a “social-welfare state” in both countries is the need of the hour. Indo-Pak conflicts on a state-level and institutional positions on strategic management between the two countries are rooted in the backward precepts of “status quo” politics in inter-state relations and do not help in breaking out of the “box” approach to foreign policy administration. New ground needs to be broken and fresh diplomatic initiatives, practical and visionary, are required to break the decades-old impasse between the two neighboring countries.

In the conflict-management strategy in inter-state relations, a pre-requisite is to recognize the psychological fears, emotional dramas, legitimate threats, historical experiences and common public perceptions (whether accurate or not) of the adversary. Comprehending the origins and causes of a conflict, in fact, helps in finding its solution. The institutional establishments in both India and Pakistan, locked in the traditional “balance-of-power” approach to inter-state relations, have completely neglected to appreciate the need to understand public perceptions and realize their fundamental importance in developing paradigms of peace. Instead, rhetoric on both sides has reinforced the commonality of hidden “hatreds” – still further dividing the two-nations without an attempt for a constructive engagement at base levels of respective societies.

Let us look at some basic facts: the majority of Pakistanis are hostile to India and so is Hindu India hostile to the creation and existence of Pakistan. Let us accept it as a fact and work toward an analysis and understanding of the causes of the problem: historical experiences, psychological fears, national rivalries (common to nations with a combined historical past), religious-socio-cultural self-perceptions and antagonisms, national world-view and so on and so forth.

Let me inject my personal experience, as an example, to illustrate the point that is being made: Personally, I had never met a Hindu Indian national until my student days in London. At the International Students House in London, my first encounter was a disaster: A young Hindu student, an ardent believer in “Akand Bharat” (a combined India under Hindu religious domination) refused to admit even the existence of Pakistan as a legitimate state and predicted an “Akhand Bharat” in the near future as a consequence of natural historical forces.

Two decades later, I met Guru Ji and his wife in the Gulf States. The extremely kind and hospitable middle-aged couple were born much earlier than the1947 partition. They had seen the combined Hindu-Muslim India. They offered to take care of our young children voluntarily and without any compensation. One day, at a lunch invitation at their house, I dashed into the kitchen for some bread. I felt dark shades coming on the faces of my host and hostess. An hour later when I went back to pick up my kids, they were washing the kitchen and told me not to step in their kitchen again. On my inquiry as to why, Guru Ji told me that it was a Brahman’s religious duty to wash their kitchen if a “Parishth” (Urdu meaning “na-pak”-unclean, dirty, polluted) person entered their place of cooking and worship (and since I was “Parishth” the kitchen had to be washed).

I have no problem with Hindu faithfuls washing their dwellings if a Muslim enters (after all, Muslims believe in the concept of “kafirs”). But my point is altogether different: the aforementioned personal experiences made me understand the idea and ideology of the Two-Nation theory – and I adherently subscribed to it and will continue to do so. This is because it is obvious that Hindus and Muslims are two different kinds of entities: our cultures are different, our views on life and faith are different, we build our worship places differently, we construct our houses in different ways, our values are quite contrary to each other and we have marked differences in culinary habits and preferences (what we eat and how we prepare it). What else could justify a Two-Nation theory?

Living in a multi-cultural environment now, I have several close Hindu Indian friends. They are fine, remarkable people.  I have a collection of slim Indian watches – a marvel in time-instrument technology.  I have purchased Indian silk, eaten at South Indian vegetarian restaurants, and I may do anything possible to promote goodwill and trade between the two nations. But majority Hindu India will have to come to terms with the existence of Pakistan as a historical necessity and an existential reality. That is the crux of conflict resolution and the way forward to peaceful relations.

Peaceful co-existence between the two nations ought to be the accepted foreign-policy doctrine for the 21st century. India and Pakistan should enter into a “No War” agreement. Both countries should reduce their defense budgets. They should withdraw their military forces from borders and disputed areas. India should demilitarize occupied Kashmir and prepare for a plebiscite there. Water disputes should be settled by arbitration in the International Court of Justice. Bilateral trade agreements for equal mutual interests should be made. Barter trade should be encouraged and commercial transactions should be done in local currency, and so on and so forth.

India’s new love-affair with the US, its capitalism and its corporate culture, will surely draw it into a socio-economic-political disequilibrium domestically. And India’s attempt as a regional hegemonic power is most likely to fail in view of new global political realities unleashed by the recent American-West European  adventurism for a New World Order being carried out by military interventions all over the world. As a consequence, a multi-polar global political system is emerging with an increasingly expanding role being played by China and Russia.

India would be much better off with helping to create a regional power-house of nations, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Burma and other nations, and defining its national interests with neighboring nations rather than opting for a controversial and difficult role in this US-driven containment-of-China policy.

After all, visions are born in dreams. India too can have a dream! A dream of regional prosperity, a powerful regional leadership, and peaceful co-existence with its immediate neighbors.

And why not?