DIFFERENCE of opinion is natural in any democratic society. Indeed this is the sign of a free people who have the right to express their views on any issue under discussion. But this must not lead to acrimonious debate, bitter divisions, and a cacophony of opinion that give the impression of a divided nation. This is where at times we go wrong in Pakistan. In the heat of the argument, we can lose a sense of balance, and emotions often tend to override sensible opinion. We start questioning even the patriotism of our political opponents. In our chequered political history, there were times when Nawaz Sharif used to say that Benazir Bhutto was a security risk or that she and Pakistan could not go together. The wheel has now turned full circle and at present some political opponents are condemning Nawaz Sharif as a traitor and an Indian agent.
This is quite preposterous and unworthy of serious consideration. Similar accusations have been made against ex-President Pervez Musharraf and many others and should be eschewed. In fact, an objective analysis would show that most of our rulers had sought to act in the best interests of Pakistan. Their judgement might have been defective in some cases, and mistakes were made, but their patriotic intentions should not be doubted. The common tendency to denigrate former rulers and political opponents often leads to national demoralisation. Some of us never seem to find any good in our past rulers, reinforcing an impression that we have made a mess of our country. But the reality is that Pakistan has come a long way since its independence and is one of the most important countries in the world. We have often occupied central stage in world issues and our international importance has been recognised by friends and foes.
In any mature nation, there are some unwritten red lines. People may disagree with each other strongly, but must not give the impression of a divided nation or allow an opportunity to foreign enemies to fish in troubled waters. There is another red line viz. that we must close ranks when it comes to any matter of national interest. In other words, we may quarrel with ourselves internally but when it comes to foreign relations, particularly issues with unfriendly countries, we must speak with a common voice. Some people pretend that they do not know what constitutes national interests. These may be described as the vital interests of a state. The foremost national interest is survival of the state and its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. If the state itself is gone, no other national interest survives. Economic welfare i.e. trade, aid and investment are also important national interests.
Protection/promotion of values constitute another national interest.
Clearly, the most important part of our foreign policy relates to relations with India. We would like to see a friendly, stable relationship with our largest neighbour. However, this is possible only if India also has a similar vision. But it is a fact that India has all along posed an existential threat to Pakistan. The Hindu majority had bitterly opposed the creation of Pakistan but finally accepted partition of the South Asian sub-continent as a short-time expedient in order to secure the end of British colonial rule. The Indian leadership was confident that Pakistan was an impractical idea and could not last and it did all in its power to expedite Pakistan’s collapse.
The fact that this did not happen is a lasting tribute to the patriotism of the Pakistani people. The Kashmir issue became the litmus test of the ideological divide: with India denying the validity of the two-nation theory that had led to the division of India. Seventy years have passed and India continues to use brute force to suppress the Kashmiris’ aspiration for self-determination. Peace in the sub-continent has become hostage of the Kashmir dispute. It is arguable, however, that Kashmir is perhaps a symptom of the deeper malaise viz. India’s continued unwillingness to accept the sovereign existence of Pakistan. On Pakistan’s part also, there has to be a recognition that the Kashmir dispute cannot be solved by military means or through the use of non-state actors. In fact, the latter’s activities play right into India’s hands by providing credibility to its allegations that there is cross-border terrorism or that Islamist terrorism is at play here, a charge that finds ready acceptance in the West. The best hope for solution of Kashmir issue lies in the unflinching freedom struggle being carried on by the Kashmiri people. It will sooner or later bring a change of thinking in India, as happened in the case of Algeria, Vietnam and South Africa.
Moreover, there are other pragmatic reasons why India and Pakistan will finally have to find a modus vivendi for peaceful coexistence. Both are nuclear powers with missile capability. War would destroy both of them and must, therefore, be ruled out as a viable option. Jingoists on both sides have to be overruled by sensible opinion. There is no doubt that peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan would open the door to fruitful economic cooperation and allow both countries to concentrate on fighting the real enemy: poverty, disease and ignorance. The immense resources being spent wastefully by both countries on war preparations and military expenditure could be diverted to raise the standard of living. In fact, the millions of poor who constitute the majority in both countries have been the biggest losers due to their unending military confrontation.
Now that there are prospects of a peace breakthrough in Korea, where the north and south have been acting like mortal enemies since 1945, there should be incentive for a similar progress in South Asia. The two Koreas have followed opposite paths, both internally and externally. They fought a three-year war in 1950-53 and have had any number of military crises. If they can still find a peaceful solution to their problems, why can this not be done in the sub-continent? There are so many things that India and Pakistan have in common and peace would usher in exchange of cultural ties, no less than commercial interchanges.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.