Note: This article is response to a post by Gorki and I thought putting the whole things as another article would be a better idea.
Can India take a new initiative, a progressive initiative without being intimidated by the right wing and utterly regressive forces in Pakistan? Our Indian friend Gorki’s suggestion that India attempt to side step the military establishment in Pakistan and deal with people of Pakistan directly, imo, is a visionary and progressive approach in Pak-India relations. By now we know that Pakistan with heavy military influence over its foreign policy, is practically incapable of presenting any new initiative to improve relations with India or even Afghanistan.
So far both countries have tried government to government channels to improve the relations; they have also tried backdoor diplomacy and the people to people contact too and as far as I can tell no real progress has been made. Years of efforts are usually nullified by one incident, and it can easily derail the whole effort pushing the countries back to the square one.
In the last two days, I read about a US initiative to spend $50 million in Pakistani media to improve its image. US wants to show that some important public projects in Pakistan are being completed with the US assistance; they want to show to the people of Pakistan that the US means well in Pakistan and it is not planning to balkanize Pakistan, to counter a major rightwing propaganda line that raises the bogey that US wants to destroy Pakistan and capture its nukes. If we are not insensate, we can also assume that the US would use some of the money to induce some folks in the Pak media to not be so aggressively anti-America and entice some others to write or comment on US efforts in Pakistan in a positive manners.
I know India cannot be this aggressive and it would be hard for India to spend money so publically in Pakistan. I think India can do a few things that can make some difference in Pakistan-India relations and put some pressure on the Pak defense establishment to start thinking of changing its approach.
<b>Of course any Indian initiative in Kashmir is not part of what I think should be the Indian approach. I think bringing up Kashmir would actually be like starting on the wrong foot.</b>
Let us look at what is common in Pakistan-Indian environments that people of both countries can relate to. I am not talking about the common cultural heritage, as far as I can tell both countries have regressed beyond the cultural affinity, it is something that can be a bridge builder but just not yet.
I think terrorism is a common thread that has emerged in the last few years as the most important problem between the two countries. So far it has been used as a dividing issue but I am suggesting that the same issue can be turned in to a uniting issue too.
This would require some innovative thinking by Indians. From my perspective, I see that people of both countries are completely tired of the terrorism and the toll it has taken on general psyche of the common folks. In Pakistan the street terrorism has most profound impact on people’s mind. Obviously, people hate it. Indians have shown similar tendencies. What approach is needed to make this a common ground for improving the relations?
As I said we have tried Government to Government approach and the people to people approach but the progress in relations remains elusive. So my suggestion is that we take another approach that takes some parts of the both approaches but I think is still innovative enough to capture people’s imagination in both countries.
Based on what I said about Pakistan’s inability to be innovative, I think this initiative must come from India. I would call the new approach the “Government to People” approach. Government would be the Indian government and people would be the people of Pakistan. The question is whether it is practical. I think it is and if done correctly would bear fruits.
The primary emphasis should be on Terrorism and if nothing else, a simple narrative can be developed around terrorism. Now the diplomats can be more careful with the words but I would plainly address the Pakistani people and tell them that the people of Pakistan and India are tired of terrorism and should help each other to eliminate this curse and since most of the terrorist groups are Pakistan based and Pakistanis suffer daily from the terrorism, they should help the Indian people to end it. Indian government should emphasis that both people are victims of this curse and both can and should fight it together.
I daily read how people of Pakistan are frustrated with their government’s inability to handle the terrorism. There is persistent feeling that some Pak agencies are behind some terrorists’ acts and that makes it impossible for the government to take decisive steps against it. Terrorism has not only impacted the businesses but also the personal lives. Just to illustrate the point, in Peshawar the store keepers have reduced the hours of operations and folks feel so insecure that they stay away from the public places and have changed their daily routine just to stay safe. Empathy from India would have a profound impact on the people of Pakistan. This is something that will resonate with the people of Pakistan and I think many Pakistanis would come forward to support a united approach against terrorism. India already has groundswell of sympathy and support in the smaller provinces in Pakistan but the people of Punjab are not any different, when it comes to terrorism. They too are tired and would like someone, some government coming forward to talk about their plight instead of listening to the crazies who still brag about the strategic depth and the strategic assets, while completely ignoring the loss of life and property in Pakistan. Terrorism is not just about material loss; it profoundly impacts the psychological well being of the people.
Instead of going to the US or the Saudi Arabia to ask for help, India needs to take this initiative. It is not going to be easy; the militants and their sponsors in Pakistan would respond with counter propaganda. India would be accused of interfering in Pak’s internal affairs and we might see some threats from the militant outfits too. There are some risks inherent in a strategy like this but I am sure if India wants to eliminate the threat of terrorism, it will need help from people of Pakistan and Indian government will have to become the voice of people of both countries.
As I said it will take some vision and progressive approach to improve relations and dealing with the terrorism requires more than just the bureaucratic responses.