18/12/2015 8:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why Peace With Pakistan Should Be An Indian Priority In 2016

India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi, left, shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, as Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, right, watches during Modi’s inauguration in New Delhi, India, Monday, May 26, 2014. Modi took the oath of office as India's new prime minister at the sprawling presidential palace on Monday, a moment made more historic by the presence of the leader of archival Pakistan. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)


A year has passed since the massacre in the Army Public School in Peshawar, where the murderous Taliban stole the lives of close to 150 schoolchildren. The pain that day was not restricted to Pakistan, and transcended the border as Indians wept with their neighbours in a spectacle of resilience and support that can only be called human.

A meagre two weeks later, on 31 December 2014, one BSF soldier and two Pakistani rangers lost their lives as firing resumed across the Kashmir border.

The nature of Indo-Pak relations is very similar to what transpired during that cold December -- a symphony highlighted by crescendos of immense humanity, only to be restored to the ear-splitting shells along the Line of Control, and the soft crying of widows and mothers.

[A]s India, under the leadership of Modi, enters the second half of this decade, should the conflict with Pakistan come with us?

As 2015 reaches its end, however, and as the season of charity and peace falls upon us (a season that once put pause to a World War), it is time to ask ourselves an important question -- as India, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, enters the second half of this decade, should the conflict with Pakistan come with us?

When the Indian mind grasps at the question of peace with Pakistan, two basic questions arise, regardless of ideological proclivities.

1. Is peace with Pakistan even possible?

In his brilliantly written 1945 work Pakistan, or, The Partition of India, Dr B R Ambedkar -- the great Indian founding father and Columbia University educated lawyer -- sought to delve into the rationale, plausibility, and, ultimately, roots of the imminent independence of India and Pakistan. Dr Ambedkar used an intellectually sanitised approach free of any bias or patriotism to understand the question of Indo-Pakistan separation, and arrived at a striking conclusion:

"[T]he unity between Pakistan and Hindustan is a myth. Indeed, there is more spiritual unity between Hindustan and Burma (Myanmar) than there is between Pakistan and Hindustan. And if the Hindus did not object to the severance of Burma from India, it is difficult to understand how the Hindus can object to the severance of an area like Pakistan, which, to repeat, is politically detachable from, socially hostile and spiritually alien to, the rest of India [emphasis added]."

In his honest polemic, Ambedkar realised years before Partition that politicians were wasting their time trying to save a union that did not exist. Ambedkar's purpose was not to denigrate Pakistan but highlight that India and Pakistan's differences were too great to be smeared with the paint of patriotic sentiment. Given the circumstances of his day and age, the father of India's Constitution could not have been more accurate.

Rupees -- both Indian and Pakistani -- spent on the construction of schools and hospitals save far more innocent lives than rupees spent on the erection of border fences....

But the circumstances have changed. India and Pakistan may be two separate nations, but as time has passed, our interests have been aligned like never before. Both India and Pakistan are developing economies with massive infrastructural, energy, and investment appetites, and both nations live in a day and age where poverty and disease are no longer maladies that only affect the third world. Terrorism affects both Indians and Pakistanis with very little discrimination and mustn't be bickered over.

If India and Pakistan cannot be convinced to find common ground based on the richness of our collective history, perhaps it is prudent to find common ground based on the uncertainty of our collective future. In the coming decades, as our populations careen to ever greater heights, it is the wise Indian who will support actions that reduce the budgetary pressures of an unnecessary conflict.

Don't mistake my words for a lack of patriotism. I'm deeply proud of the Indians in uniform who lay their lives on the line in the frigid reaches of Kashmir every single day. But I believe that instead of merely being proud of their sacrifice through Facebook posts that test your patriotism by asking you to like and share, we must endeavour to nip in the bud the very conflict that requires their sacrifice in the first place. Rupees -- both Indian and Pakistani -- spent on the construction of schools and hospitals save far more innocent lives than rupees spent on the erection of border fences in the middle of the Himalayas.

The incentives for peace have never been stronger. All it will take is a meaningful first step. That's where India comes in.


2. Why is peace with Pakistan an Indian priority? Why doesn't the process start from across the border?

This is perhaps the question that has stung the peace process on both sides equally. In India as well as in Pakistan there exists a "patriotic" fringe that considers positive engagement with the other side an affront to national dignity.

That is balderdash of the highest order. Constructive dialogue has to be initiated somehow, and being the democracy that starts the peace process should be an honour for India. Premier Modi seems to advertise our democracy as a major feature of the Indian experience. Perhaps it is time to exercise that democracy to make mature decisions about the peace process that supersede political showmanship, theatricality, and hateful rhetoric. The common person -- whose mandate Modi proudly calls his own -- is far more concerned about the price of onions than a marginal loss of "national dignity" because India acted as a wiser democracy.

The common person... is far more concerned about the price of onions than a marginal loss of "national dignity" because India acted as a wiser democracy.

But a better reason is because India has an almost elder-brotherly responsibility to keep the peace.

Since the war of 1971, India has been the regional hegemon. With the largest population, the largest economy, and the largest military in the subcontinent, India has the most to lose from a subcontinent that does not find the path to lasting peace. A subcontinent embroiled in conflict is one that inhibits trade, causes massive refugee crises and unparalleled political chaos.

It is the responsibility of India, as a regional hegemon and a global power, to responsibly and maturely guide the peace process. By spearheading diplomatic dialogue and working to accelerate the peace process, India will not be seen as weak -- as most nationalists would want you to believe. Such an outlook on diplomacy is childish. Reasonable, hard-nosed diplomacy will earn India respect among both allies and foes, while military intimidation serves no purpose but to breed the need for more costly military intimidation. After all, guns are only scary till your opponent has nuclear warheads.

As Ambedkar wrote in Pakistan, or, The Partition of India:

"There are two sides to the question of Pakistan... Unfortunately, however, the attitude of both is far from rational. Both are deeply embedded in sentiment. The layers of this sentiment are so thick that reason at present finds it extremely difficult to penetrate. Whether these opposing sentiments will wither away or they will thicken, time and circumstances alone can tell."

The time is now and the circumstances are right. It is indeed time for the snow to melt, and for rationality to govern the future of South Asia as we enter the second half of this decade. The greatest service to the memory of all Indians who have died as a result of this meaningless conflict should not be a candlelight vigil or even a politician's speech, but meaningful actions that work toward lasting peace among the two great peoples of the subcontinent.

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