Ever the source of political sloganeering or a means to tick all the right boxes with the voter base during election season, the rhetoric of hating the neighbour is used on both sides of India and Pakistan as an easy way to garner votes and appeal to the general public.
However, as the past two governments in Pakistan at least have shown, political parties tend to change this narrative when they actually come into government and offer an olive branch to our eastern neighbour. From openly criticising Nawaz and co. of fraternising with the enemy, to speaking of regional development and cooperating with India, Imran Khan is the most recent politician to change his party’s narrative regarding relations with India.
The shift in stance makes sense for all involved after all. Both civilian governments and military regimes in Pakistan realise that having an enemy is good for keeping the nationalist feeling at an all-time high; it doesn’t hurt that protecting the country against this eternal enemy helps bring in the funds for an armament build-up as well.
Once in power however, constantly attempting to stave off attacks, responding in kind and halting progress for the sake of an uneasy stalemate is beneficial for no one involved. And this is where efforts of reconciliation come in; simple geography tells us that friendly neighbouring countries stand to offer more in terms of trade and can work together towards regional development for the benefit of all involved. Historical enmities in Europe and how they were overcome is testament to what regional powers can achieve once they work together; Germany and France are prime examples.
This particular U-turn of Imran Khan then is not a bad one; if he can be the first politician to improve ties between India and Pakistan in the long-run, he must be lauded. Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee came the closest, but it has been almost two decades since then, and both countries are still embroiled in a constant exchange of barbs on the diplomatic scene and gunfire on the Line of Control. The news of Mr Vajpayee’s death broke out at the time of writing this – may he rest in peace, and may future Indian leaders learn from the time when the NS government and the BJP government almost overcame old differences.
On the face of it, Prime Minister Modi of India has also made the right initial noises, from calling to congratulate Mr Khan to offering positive words for the situation in Kashmir; it seems that the Indian government might be ready for a thaw in relations. Prime Minister Modi’s reconciliatory words however, must be taken with a grain of salt. From offering felicitations to soon-to-be-PM Imran Khan to talking about embracing “Kashmiriat” and recognising that the problem cannot be solved with bullets has all been heard before, and things have only gotten worse.
Remember, in the last government’s tenure, in the initial stages, the news stories were replete with Mr Modi and Nawaz Sharif’s overtures to one another; gifts were exchanged, weddings were attended, and the relationship had its fair share of drama for the news cameras watching, complete with surprise visits and other headline-making moves made on both sides. Incidentally, this is what gave Mr Sharif the “Modi ka yaar” tag that has been used or implied by all rival parties, PTI included.
Kashmiri resistance is at all-time high, independent observers and Indians alike have admitted that Pakistan has little to do with this. India needs to look within and decide what it wants to do; laying the responsibility of making the region more peaceful cannot be put on to Mr Khan’s shoulders alone. Like Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan has done what he can do; take the first step towards talks with India and cessation of hostilities. The Modi government must now do its share; but whether the BJP will look past immediate gains of the internal divide-and-rule formula is anyone’s guess. With Muslim oppression on the rise in India, Hindu nationalistic ideals might not permit friendship with Pakistan.
But regional peace and cooperation goes beyond the situation in the two countries. With Afghanistan reeling from a week of rising violence – the most terrible of which was a suicide attack at a classroom which led to the deaths of at least 30 children – original counts put the number above 40 – the need for regional stability cannot be overstated. The US and its meek efforts at negotiations with the Afghan Taliban are going nowhere. Pakistan, India and China are the largest pieces of this regional puzzle – amicable ties between the three and cooperation on the terrorism front can lead to peace being established in Afghanistan as well.
Both India and China have a population count of over 1.3 billion people and Pakistan has over 200 million citizens; developing these countries together will establish a greater regional power than the world has ever seen. Choosing to stay in this constant state of undeclared war where soldiers and civilians are killed daily on the border is untenable. The lives of our people are worth more than being wasted at the border all so that politicians can continue their slogans and the higher-ups in institutions can use the status quo to their advantage. The Pakistani state has been ready for this peace for a long time now, but will rightly not give more than it gets. The people of both countries have always been open to welcoming the neighbour with open arms. The ball is now in the Indian government’s court once more. We can only hope that this time, the Modi government can look to reverse past mistakes made.
The writer is a former member of staff.