Daily Times exclusive: Taking the peace process forward —Dr Akmal Hussain
States engage in dialogue within the discourse of power. Such power play is often informed by a collective ego, which the interlocutors wield within mindsets of conflict, fear and suspicion. The peace process must be nurtured by a different consciousness, drawn from the shared civilisational heritage of the people on both sides
That the peace process between India and Pakistan is driven by the aspirations of civil society and the imperatives of state power is well recognised. What is not, however, is the critical role of mental attitudes in the dynamics of the peace dialogue. On the eve of the meeting in New York between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh it may be useful to assess where we are in the peace process and to locate the issue of consciousness in its dynamics.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh alluded to the role of consciousness in the material forces of history when he graciously invited some of us in the South Asia Centre for Policy Studies for a chat over tea at his house on August 30, 2004. I suggested how great the gains of peace were for both India and Pakistan and how history had placed him and the Pakistani leadership in a position to make history by actualising these potential gains for the people of both countries. He responded with an incisive remark: “The gains from peace are immense. However, old attitudes of strife, mistrust and suspicion could lead us to a sub-optimal solution.” He went on to say that he is however, willing to make a “new beginning” and any ideas for peace would have his fullest support. This remark signifies a refreshingly new attitude, which jibes well with President Musharraf’s statement in New York that he wishes to carry forward the peace process through “courage and boldness”. Yet while the Musharraf-Manmohan attitudes may be in harmony, there is dissonance within their respective power structures. It is this dialectic that will determine the pace and trajectory of the peace process.
How then are we to understand this moment in the peace process? It can be argued that three main features condition the present conjuncture and the future possibilities of the peace process:
We are at a watershed moment, because the majority of the people in both Pakistan and India now feel strongly that their security and material welfare lies in establishing a lasting peace between the two countries. The voices from the ground are beginning to influence those who wield state power. Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who has conducted Pakistan’s foreign policy with courage and consummate skill, in a statement on arrival in New Delhi on September 4, said, “It is better that governments of the two countries be guided by what people want. People want peace.”
The governments in both India and Pakistan have grasped that rapid economic growth is essential as much for nation building as it is for strengthening the state. Consider. India with its high GDP growth rate, aspires to become a major global economic power in the foreseeable future. This was explicitly stated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his first press conference on September 4 at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, “….I had then suggested to the Lok Sabha that the emergence of India as a major global power happens to be one such idea whose time has come and I do believe that I have a vision, in which we will all work together to realise that ambitious goal”. An examination of India’s growth process shows that there are two necessary conditions for sustaining its present high GDP growth and fulfilling the prime minister’s vision: (a) India’s import requirements for oil and industrial raw materials will increase rapidly in the years ahead. It is clear that India will need to import oil, gas and industrial raw materials from Central and West Asia across Pakistan. (b) India’s economic growth which has so far been based predominantly on the domestic market, will have to rely increasingly on exports to the large South Asian market. Thus peace with Pakistan is a strategic imperative for India.
In the case of Pakistan a high GDP growth is necessary to combat poverty, which at its present high level is undermining the social fabric and fuelling extremist tendencies that threaten both the nation and the state. As President Musharraf pointed out recently the principal threat to Pakistan’s national security is not external but internal. It is apparent that the process of domestic and foreign investment for high GDP growth in Pakistan requires peace and economic cooperation with India. Thus for the first time in Pakistan peace with India has become essential for both national integrity and national security.
Sustaining democracy in India and achieving it in Pakistan requires the nurturing of a pluralistic society where the institutions of both civil society and state, cultivate tolerance and broad based participation in governance. In the past, conflict between the two states has been sustained by a mutual demonisation, which has fuelled tendencies in each country towards religious extremism, ethnicity and social violence. It is only through experiencing the shared human identity, that the more specific denominations of language, culture and religion can be sustained without fratricidal conflict.
We have argued that the economic logic of peace is integrated with the nurturing of a humane consciousness for building stable pluralistic democracies within the independent states of Pakistan and India. It is within this context that the initiation of a composite dialogue for peace acquires meaning. The nature of this dialogue is that the process of resolving political disputes (primarily Kashmir) is to be conducted simultaneously with the process of economic cooperation. The sense in which this composite dialogue is a break from the past is that the conclusion of one process has not been made conditional on the other. Because of their different nature and internal dynamics the pace of the two processes will be necessarily different. Indeed rapid progress on the economic front and the associated building of trust and economic stakes in each other’s countries would generate synergy for resolving the political disputes. Three conditions may therefore be necessary for sustaining the peace process: (a) Concern about the differing pace of the political and economic elements of the composite dialogue should not translate into placing pre-conditions on the continuation of the dialogue itself. (b) Both sides should address each other’s core concerns — for Pakistan, Kashmir, for India, cross-border terrorism — in the political dimension, simultaneously and with due flexibility. (c) Mechanisms should be put into place for ensuring not only that the dialogue is uninterrupted but also that it is uninterruptible.
Finally, the question of attitudes. States engage in dialogue within the discourse of power. Such power play is often informed by a collective ego, which the interlocutors wield within mindsets of conflict, fear and suspicion. That is why the peace process must be nurtured by a different consciousness, drawn from the shared civilisational heritage of the people on both sides. Let us hope that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets with President Musharraf both will make a new beginning and add a fresh momentum to the peace process through their personal chemistry. To recall a refrain from Shah Hussain, the great Sufi poet of the Punjab:
“Buss kar ji, buss kar ji
Hunn baat asaan naal huss kar ji”
[Let bygones be bygones,
Talk to me now with good cheer]
Dr Hussain is a leading economist and author and co-author of several books