Communication Revolution: Undeniably, communication revolution has added a new chapter to the field of diplomacy. Irrespective of whether their bilateral ties are tense or not, whether the leaders of the two countries shake hands, smile at each other and even hold talks on the sidelines of some international summit, their moves are now being observed and scrutinised more closely than they were earlier. Even though such diplomatic moves may carry little significance in the actual progress in normalisation of Indo-Pak relations, their importance cannot be ignored. Give a thought to the meeting held between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the 15th NAM Summit at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on 16 July 2009. They also issued a joint statement during which they recognised terrorism as a “chief threat” and delinked it from their composite dialogue process. The meeting took place within less than a year of the Mumbai strikes. Equally important is the fact that though the Mumbai strikes spelt diplomatic tension between India and Pakistan, they did not bring the two nuclear-powered neighbours to a warlike or near-war stage. The same period is also witness to the terrorism issue’s centre shifting from Kashmir to other parts of India.
The communication revolution has made both India and Pakistan more conscious than before about convincing the world that the two countries are seriously considering all-dialogue-related options to normalise their ties.
The communication revolution apparently prompted both Indian and Pakistani leaders to add a touch of new diplomatic finesse in their approach towards each other, viewed as an important image-building exercise for the world. This carried little relevance when they preferred going all out for war.
Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Gilani, met again this April in Bhutan on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit. They went a step further by taking a stroll together. Certainly, the “news” value of these meetings cannot be undermined. Even though objections may be raised on the ground that India and Pakistan are still nowhere near the stage of resolving differences on several issues, particularly Kashmir, it is pertinent to look at this diplomatic exercise from yet another angle. The communication revolution has made both India and Pakistan more conscious than before about convincing the world that the two countries are seriously considering all-dialogue-related options to normalise their ties. It is important to take note of the extra effort they have made, particularly in the recent past, when their ties have been fairly tense because of the Mumbai strikes.
The extra efforts include the statement in Egypt and the stroll in Bhutan. Give a thought: What would have been the impression created if the two leaders had chosen not to meet each other, had not even shaken hands and instead given each other a cold look? Of course Indo-Pak diplomacy has reached the stage when top-level leaders of the two countries are not expected to resort to displaying negative attitude towards each other, that too at multilateral gatherings. If they had given even a hint of deliberately avoiding each other, it would have certainly created some “news.” Rather, interestingly, they apparently were keen on adding greater “news value” to their meetings in Egypt as well as in Bhutan.
Pakistan being an Islamic state, in other parts of the world, Muslims of the subcontinent are usually assumed to be Pakistanis till they assert that they are Indians.
The “extra efforts” mutually made by the two leaders are an illustration of this diplomatic reality. After all, their meetings by themselves had sufficient news value. Perhaps, had the meetings not been held in a period when Indo-Pak ties were not clouded by the Mumbai strikes, additional importance may not have been given to diplomatically convincing the world that the two neighbours are not edging towards a near-war or warlike stage. In their respective perception, the extra effort was probably viewed as a diplomatic necessity for the rest of the world.
Interestingly, while communication revolution has played a major role in compelling both governments to dispel fears about their heading for war, it would be wrong to assume that it has had a positive impact only at the international level. At the domestic level, without doubt, its positive role stands out in the coverage accorded to people-to-people interaction. Also, the crossing points along the Indo-Pak border, which were earlier clouded by only war shadows, present a different image today. They now hit headlines primarily for occasions reflecting the positive turn in Indo-Pak ties. These include news on Indian and Pakistani soldiers greeting each other and eating sweets together when it is Diwali or Eid. Had communication revolution not played its role, such occasions may have probably gone unnoticed. Also, little importance would have perhaps been given to make these occasions “newsworthy.” Telecast of Indian and Pakistani soldiers celebrating festivals together certainly plays a major role in making the viewers aware and also convincing them that India and Pakistan have come a long way from the period when their troops were battling against each other. This cannot be dismissed as a minor move. It is certainly suggestive of major steps taken by India and Pakistan to change the stereotyped image still held about the two being constantly at war with each other.
India remains home to a larger number of Muslims than most Islamic states, including Pakistan. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that most Indian Muslims have relatives in Pakistan.
The role of communication revolution, coalition politics in India, the postpartition phase and the subtle but definite improvement in Indo-Pak ties cannot be delinked from a problem that perplexed Indian Muslims till not too long ago. Their national identity was quite often linked with Pakistan in India as well as other parts of the world. Elementarily speaking, this is not surprising. With Pakistan being an Islamic state, in other parts of the world, Muslims of the subcontinent are usually assumed to be Pakistanis till they assert that they are Indians. Urdu, Punjabi and several local dialects are languages with which both north Indian Muslims and Pakistanis are fairly at ease. Besides, appearances, clothes and even their food habits are quite similar to have a third person feel fairly perturbed about the national identity of Muslims from India or Pakistan. But this is just a minor aspect of this complex issue.
The history of partition, which led to independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 from British colonial power, is also responsible for Indian Muslims being linked with Pakistan. A considerable section of Muslims living in India migrated to Pakistan because of partition, but certainly not all. India remains home to a larger number of Muslims than most Islamic states, including Pakistan. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that most Indian Muslims have relatives in Pakistan.
They had made a great sacrifice, preferring to stay here when their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and/or other relatives were moving away. How could the patriotism of these Indian Muslims be questioned?
Till recently, there prevailed the tendency among Hindu extremists with a communal mind-set, to question the patriotism of Indian Muslims simply because of the partition factor. Well, at one gathering, where this point was made by a speaker, this journalist objected to it strongly. How could he question the patriotism of the Indian Muslims when at the time of partition, they preferred the partition of their families than crossing borders to become Pakistani citizens? They had made a great sacrifice, preferring to stay here when their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and/or other relatives were moving away. How could the patriotism of these Indian Muslims be questioned? Since then, thankfully, that particular speaker and his associates have ceased to question the Indian Muslims’ patriotism and/or link them with Pakistan.
It would be unfair to hold all Indians responsible for instantly linking Indian Muslims with Pakistan. Interestingly, non-Muslim Indians have played a crucial role in recent years to enhance people-to-people interaction between Indians and Pakistanis. Howsoever cold Indo-Pak ties may be at the diplomatic level, they have practically ceased to have any negative impact on their sociocultural relations. The Pak factor earlier linked with the Indian Muslims has lost its relevance for leaders responsible for spreading this hype primarily because of the improvement in Indo-Pak ties. In addition, with the Indian political stage dominated by numerous parties, the Indian Muslim’s vote has assumed a major importance in today’s coalition drama. Politicians in both countries have ceased indulging in war-laced rhetoric, which at one time was viewed as a key note during their respective electoral campaigns. Even though most rounds of their talks may be viewed by critics as cosmetic diplomacy, India and Pakistan have certainly come a long way from literally fighting over their differences. Though Indo-Pak ties have yet to be described as “friendly,” it is a blessing that they are at least serious about resolving their differences through “cordial talks.”
Some importance must also be given to the Indo-Pak border, particularly the controversial LoC, from a new—a positive—angle. The bus service between New Delhi and Lahore was initiated by then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 20 February 1999. The resumption of this bus service, affected by the Kargil crisis, was announced by India on 26 May 2003. The then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf called for a ceasefire along the LoC at the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2003.
Subsequently, at midnight on 25–26 November 2003, India and Pakistan implemented a formal ceasefire along the international border and the Actual Ground Position Line in Jammu & Kashmir. The passenger and freight rail service between Attari and Lahore was resumed on 15 January 2004. The two countries exchanged six prisoners of war at the Wagah border post on 9 August 2004. They exchanged 55 prisoners along the Wagah border crossing on 31 August 2004. India handed over 25 Pakistani prisoners at the same place on 9 November 2004.
It would be unfair to hold all Indians responsible for instantly linking Indian Muslims with Pakistan. Interestingly, non-Muslim Indians have played a crucial role in recent years to enhance people-to-people interaction between Indians and Pakistanis.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the United Progressive Alliance chairperson flagged off the first bus service from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad on 7 April 2005. The bus service from Lahore to Amritsar began on 20 January 2006. A year later, on 1 October 2007, the first overland truck route between India and Pakistan was opened at the Wagah border crossing. The Indo-Pak night bus service from Ferozepur and Fazilka to Ludhiana and Chandigarh was resumed on 7 March 2006. The Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service was flagged off on 24 March 2006. India and Pakistan agreed on 3 May 2006 to revive trade in Kashmir. 30 May 2006, they formally agreed to trade raw products between Jammu & Kashmir (India) and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers agreed on 21 May 2008 to a series of Kashmir-specific CBMs, including a triple-entry permit to facilitate crossing the LoC. The formal announcement of opening several trade routes between India and Pakistan was made on 25 September 2008. They decided to open the Wagah-Atari road link, the Khokrapur-Munnabao rail link as well as the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot roads. This was followed by a visit of a delegation of business leaders from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to Jammu & Kashmir for discussions on trade across the LoC. Trade across the LoC commenced on 21 October 2008. This may be viewed as a major diplomatic development as this trade link across the LoC was opened for the first time in six decades.
A day later, a second trade route across the LoC, connecting Rawalkot and Poonch, was opened. During the fifth round of talks between the home secretaries on 25 November 2008, India and Pakistan agreed to enhance cooperation between their civilian investigation and security agencies to deal with several cross-border issues. Following the Mumbai strikes, Indian and Pakistani director generals of military operations used their hotline to discuss troop movements along the border.
Blame Game: Undeniably, the Mumbai strikes understood by India to have been carried out by militants supported by Pakistan-based organisations led to tension between the two countries. Yet, rather than talk of going to war, taking revenge and/or indulge in any warlike conflict, the tension was expressed diplomatically, through media and other channels. In fact, this trend used frequently by both sides for terrorist strikes in their territories has begun to be labelled as “blame game.” Politically, by blaming the other side for what has happened in either India or Pakistan may be viewed as an easy way by the respective leaders of evading their own lapses—security as well as intelligence services—which failed to check the terrorist strikes.
Little importance has been given in the media to the Mumbai strikes having contributed to enhancing security checks at five-star hotels. Even the ordinary hotels across the country have started paying greater attention to scrutinising the identity of visitors checking in.
Interestingly, the two countries appear to have become fairly accustomed to indulging in this exercise. In this context, what bears greater importance is the change in people’s attitude. Notwithstanding all the hype raised over the role of Pakistan-supported elements in Mumbai strikes, the common people did not talk of going to war with Pakistan. Should this be assumed as a sign of a change in people’s attitude towards Pakistan and/or in going to war- perhaps to a degree, yes?
Changes in Attitude at Several Levels
In today’s age, Indians have accepted that going to war is not the ideal solution to all problems. With respect to the Mumbai strikes, their attention remained focused on what was happening in the country’s financial capital and how the government was tackling the situation. Little importance has been given in the media to the Mumbai strikes having contributed to enhancing security checks at five-star hotels. Even the ordinary hotels across the country have started paying greater attention to scrutinising the identity of visitors checking in. In other words, irrespective of the noise made over Pakistan-based groups’ role in Mumbai strikes, hotels started paying greater attention than before to increase security checks at their entry points. Mumbai strikes cautioned them to become more vigilant about security at their hotels. It is a subtle but well-conveyed message that the other hotels don’t wish to fall victim to any terrorist strike because of some security lapse in their own quarters.
There is no denying that increasing people-to-people interaction and cultural exchanges between the two countries have made Indians and Pakistanis fairly disinclined to the idea of engaging in war with each other. Besides, the small screen has made the common people fairly aware of what a war can really lead to. Equally pertinent is the fact that the post-partition generation does not appear to be as aggressive against the other country as is/was the one that witnessed partition. Perhaps, had the Indian/Pakistani cricketers of yesteryears—like Erapalli Prasanna, Sunil Gavaskar, B. S. Bedi, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad or Wasim Akram—ever even thought of playing for the neighbouring country, they would probably have been exiled from their own land. Commercialisation of the same game, leading to Pakistani cricketers playing for Indian teams, has earned considerable positive coverage and barely any criticism. Of course, tennis has strengthened Indo-Pak relations at the games level even further. A recent example of this is the teaming of Rohan Bopanna (Indian) with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureishi (Pakistani) in the U.S. Open finals in New York. Called the “Indo-Pak Express,” they played wearing T-shirts with the message “Stop War, Start Tennis.”
Domestic politics in both India and Pakistan cannot be delinked from their diplomatic relations. India has been headed by coalition governments for more than a decade”¦Political instability still prevails in Pakistan. Besides, regional developments have minimised the options of Pakistan considering a war with India.
Though Bopanna and Qureishi lost the finals to the United States team, the top-seeded Byran twins, Bob and Mike, in straight sets via tie breaks, 6-7, 6-7, the message conveyed by their game cannot be sidelined where Indo-Pak ties are concerned. The Indo-Pak team received substantial support from the “home” crowd, with Indians and Pakistanis turning up in good numbers to cheer them at the Arthur Ashe stadium in New York. The permanent representatives of India and Pakistan to the United Nations were for a change sitting on the same side to display their support for the team. They were Hardeep Puri (India) and Abdullah Haroon (Pakistan). After the match, Haroon told reporters: “I say let’s make the dream of these boys a reality, let them play tennis on the Wagah border with both countries watching.” Puri said: “All right, there have been differences, there have been problems (in Indo-Pak relations). I think the overall effort is to isolate those problems and live in peace and harmony. We were delighted to have Rohan and Aisam performing so well, and that helps.”
Domestic politics in both India and Pakistan cannot be delinked from their diplomatic relations. India has been headed by coalition governments for more than a decade. The last two decades have witnessed the rise of numerous state-based parties, which have contributed significantly to Congress losing the grip it earlier had when it headed single-party governments. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is heading the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for the second term. Before him, the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Bharatiya Janata Party) led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Even if the Indian coalition were to decide on a war with Pakistan, opinions of all party leaders forming the alliance need to be given importance. War, in this coalition-period, is now also viewed from the angle of political risks it carries for the parties in power. A decline in the political base of Congress, primarily because of the rise of numerous parties and the emergence of the BJP as an important national party, has considerably lessened the prospects of it taking the risk of going to war. Were it still the single largest party with substantial support to head the government, the risk of fearing criticism from rival parties for taking to war would have been minimal. But the case is no more the same. The coalition phase has also enhanced the possibility of a war spelling a stronger political threat at home than it did earlier.
Political instability still prevails in Pakistan. Besides, regional developments have minimised the options of Pakistan considering a war with India. The Afghanistan crisis has Pakistani troops fairly engaged. This has also reduced prospects of their being deployed for a war with India. In addition, the Afghanistan crisis has increased the geostrategic importance of Pakistan for the United States. India is keen on strengthening its ties with the United States. In the circumstances, even if India and Pakistan reach a warlike or near-war stage, the United States may be expected to exercise all possible pressure to restrain the countries from being engaged in a full-fledged war.
While China retains its close ties with Pakistan, it is keen on furthering economic relations with India. Amid this backdrop and the regional complications that have surfaced because of the Afghanistan crisis, neither India nor Pakistan can afford to ignore or defy external pressure and take the risk of waging a war against each other.
China may also be expected to play a similar role. India’s ties with China have improved remarkably in recent years. Pakistan has had close ties with China for a longer period. The latter is understood to have contributed considerably in Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation drive. While China retains its close ties with Pakistan, it is keen on furthering economic relations with India. Amid this backdrop and the regional complications that have surfaced because of the Afghanistan crisis, neither India nor Pakistan can afford to ignore or defy external pressure (from the United States, China and other powers) and take the risk of waging a war against each other.
Yes, India and Pakistan still retain differences over several issues. But nuclear diplomacy takes the lead, followed by changes in the post-partition phase, including communication revolution and regional developments in keeping the old “permanent enemies” away from the battle field. Had perhaps the two countries not decided to go nuclear and subsequently reach an understanding based on a deterrence pact, they may have still been involved frequently in wars or warlike skirmishes. They are not. The Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy, put to test several times, has defied apprehensions raised earlier of their nuclear prowess heading for MAD. Indo-Pak tension stands fairly much lower in the scale of tensions in the region, with the Afghanistan crisis taking the lead. The Afghanistan crisis, initiated by the then Soviet Union’s intervention and aggravated by the United States’ moves, also casts a shadow on the diplomacy displayed by the countries. After all, war and/or aggressive designs by any power against another are also a sign of failure of its diplomacy. Where the Afghanistan crisis is concerned, it certainly reflects the failure of nuclear diplomacy of both the then Soviet Union and the United States. In contrast, the Indo-Pak nuclear diplomacy stands as a symbol of having succeeded in deterring the two from rushing towards a war with each other.
Realistically speaking, the fact that they have not yet exploited their economic interaction totally is a minor reflection of their being still a long way from entertaining friendly ties with each other. If Indo-Pak trade is increased, the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) gravity model shows that it “could expand from its current level of US$2.1 billion to as much US$42 billion.” The trade potential has not yet been substantially exploited with “high tariff and nontariff barriers, inadequate infrastructure, bureaucratic inertia, excessive red tape, and direct political opposition” acting as constraints. In addition, “Pakistan has not yet reciprocated most favored nation (MFN) status for India and maintains a fairly narrow positive list (of about 1400 items) on goods that India may export to Pakistan.” “Trade will of course not solve all the problems between the two countries, but it could be an important catalyst in the lowering of tensions, which certainly has to be in the interest of both India and Pakistan.”5
Certainly, it is as yet too early to regard India and Pakistan as “friendly neighbours,” but at least their ties are heading towards improvement, with the word “war” apparently erased for quite some time. Nevertheless, India remains on guard where its defence is concerned. While addressing the inaugural session of the two-day Combined Commanders’ Conference in the capital city, Prime Minister Singh asserted: “No country can make progress without ensuring its security and territorial integrity.” In this direction, he pointed out: “As our economy grows and our technological capabilities expand we must set higher standards for the modernization of our defence forces. It is not enough for us to keep pace with change. When it comes to defence capability, we must be ahead of the technology curve. Defence modernization, however, is a complex task. If it is to be effective it must involve the full chain starting with updating our war fighting doctrines to meet new threats to our security, preparation of appropriate staff quality requirements and creating a broad-based production and delivery infrastructure on the ground.” “The other integral part of our defence preparedness is border infrastructure. This involves not just our land borders but also ensuring appropriate coastal security. Several measures have been taken and are underway but it is important that all Ministries and Departments work in close coordination to ensure timely implementation of existing plans. It is necessary to approach this task with a sense of urgency,” he said.
The prime minister categorically stated: “Some of our toughest challenges lie in our immediate neighbourhood.” This line was followed by his stating emphatically, “The fact is that we cannot realize our growth ambitions unless we ensure peace and stability in South Asia.” In other words, he strongly ruled out options of India considering engagement in war with Pakistan.6
Despite their tensions over issues such as Kashmir being a long way off from being resolved, the two countries don’t fail to use opportunities to let the world know that they are moving towards normalising their ties. The same is suggested by the “mango-diplomacy” being engaged in by the two countries. It has become a “diplomatic” must during the mango season. This year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dispatched 20 kilograms of mangoes to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani in May. The latter responded by gifting five crates of mangoes to the former in August.
Notes and References
- For some letters on Kargil, refer to <http://ww2.wpunj.edu/cohss/polisci/faculty/chadda/mcKargil.htm>; Global Security. “1999 Kargil Conflict.” <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/kargil-99.htm> (accessed 4 October 2010).
- Robert M. Hathaway. “Confrontation and Retrweat: The U.S. Congress and the South Asian Nuclear Tests.” Arms Control Today, January/February 2000. <http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_01-02/rhchart> (accessed 4 October 2010).
- Mohsin S. Khan. “Improving India-Pakistan relations through trade.” 19 April 2010. <http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2010/04/19/improving-india-pakistan-relations-through-trade/> (accessed 4 October 2010).
- PIB, Government of India. Excerpts of Address by the Prime Minister at the Combined Commanders’ Conference. 13 September 2010. <http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=65696> (accessed 4 October 2010). In addition, referred to several journals, official documents and websites.