Working Towards Pakistan-India Peace


Mubashir Hasan


The work of promotion of peace between Pakistan and India is a gigantic undertaking. The two main impediments to such a peace are ideological and political. The economic and religious arguments advanced by sections of populations in both the countries are not as relevant as they are generally assumed to be. These are used by vested interests merely to supplement the first two. However, they all come as one package and each may be separately considered for the purpose of this discussion.


In the realm of ideology, the hydra-headed monster of nationalism needs to be dethroned from its high pedestal. The irrational emotional relationship between citizens and the state, its armed might, its honour, its destiny, its unique personality, its superiority over other nations has to be replaced by a rational loyalty and patriotism which serves as a vehicle of peace and humanism. Politically, it is the permanent establishments of the states, their collaborating political forces, the beneficiaries of the present exploitative order, the intellectuals of the ideology of imperial nationalism and the domestic and foreign allies such as international arms merchants and the obscurantists which need to be confronted.


The strategy of peace comprises, first and foremost, in securing the empowerment of the allies of peace in political, economic and social fields. All platforms for securing the basic human rights of the vast majority of the population, as individuals or in groups, are platforms of peace between India and Pakistan. The allies of peace are hundreds and hundreds of millions of unorganised, hapless, poor, downtrodden masses and their supporters from the middle and upper classes who may be found all over, sometimes confused, often in disarray and generally with sights fixed on other than real objectives.


The Ideological Factor

The premises of the independence struggle were pregnant with ideas and mechanisms destined to lead to our pre-1947 history and what has followed since then. The founding fathers of the nation states of South Asia, while they were students in Britain, during the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the present century, had imbibed with great enthusiasm the ideology of nationalism as it had evolved in the imperial nations. In that era there was no way for young students from India, or for that matter from any of the colonised part of the world, but to be deeply impressed by what they came across in the countries that they had gone to for higher studies.


The younger generations from the imperial colonies found their host nations politically powerful, technologically advanced and far more prosperous than their own country. Moreover, they discovered the lands of Europe and North America were divided into nation states, each with a claim to be inhabited by a people unique as a cultural, social and political entity. The polities were structured and organised as sovereign states. The system of governance was called democracy with elected parliaments. Elections were regularly held and new governments were formed without strife or turmoil. The inhabitants of the imperial nations of the West were no longer subject to the arbitrary rule of a lord or a king. They had become citizens and as such acquired certain inalienable rights which were enforceable through courts of law.


The ruling elites depicted their system of governance as government of the people, for the people, by the people. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity was the motto bestowed to the peoples of Europe by the French Revolution. Under the social contract they had evolved, citizens owed the highest loyalty to their nation-state for which they lived and were also prepared to die. They were nationalists. The nation was sovereign and it was answerable to none. Dedication to the principles of nationalism was akin to a dedication to a political religion.


The ideology of nationalism that took root in Europe and North America emerged as a new religion in form and content. The religion of yesteryear got split into religious and, what came to be termed as, secular components. The religious component became a matter of the private faith of the individual. The newly emerged nationalist faith took over the secular domain. The nation-state replaced the church in claiming the highest loyalty and devotion on political, social, economic and cultural questions. The national constitution acquired the sanctity of a sacred text. National heroes emerged more easily than religious saints used to be recognised in earlier times. There were national causes, a national destiny, national will, national honour, national flag, national struggle, national days, national pride, national culture, national language and national dress. National armies came into being to fight national wars to claim national victories and produce national martyrs.


The nationalist faith demanded that that the nation state constituted a kind of holy unit. Each nation was sovereign. It was a law unto itself. It could do no wrong. Its superiority over all other nations of the world was a matter of faith. Each nation had a destiny. Each nation had its distinctive culture, indeed, for larger nations a distinct civilisation which was superior to all others. A nation's territory was sacred soil and to be defended at all cost with all the armed might that the national economy could possibly allow. The nations lying across the border must be considered potential enemies. Each nation must covet as much territory as possible and extend its political and economic influence over the territories that lie within other national boundaries.


This brand of nationalism permitted a nation to commit violence on another nation without any sense of guilt. Conquest through violence legitimised all. Wars, there had always been. But before the era of nationalism, wars between states were fought by kings through professional armies. The professional soldier could fight for a king today and against him the next day. The people were not expected to be a party to a war. In the era of nationalism wars became national wars. One people are supposed to be fighting another people. To kill in the name of the nation was sacred. Deaths directly caused by World War II alone and China have been estimated as 10 to 20 percent of the total population of USSR, Poland and Yugoslavia, between four to six percent of Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Japan and China, about one percent of Britain and France, and slightly more in USA. Another estimate suggests there have been 187 million deaths in this century due to wars and strife between nations.


Gandhi and Jinnah, their seniors Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, Syed Ahmad Khan, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and their juniors, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Bose, Liaqat Ali, to name only a few out of a vast galaxy of leaders from two generations of freedom fighters, appreciated and embraced the ideology of nationalism. In line with ideals of nationalism they demanded self-determination for India. They really believed that once India was free from the British yoke, all the problems would be solved. India would become a strong and prosperous country and would be rid of oppression and injustice.


Half a century after the achievement of independence, the peoples of the subcontinent have become intense nationalists but they have remained poor, backward, illiterate and ill-nourished paying only lip service to the concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity. At the altar of nationalism our rulers and politicians have made sacrificial offerings of home and hearth, life and property, development and progress, the health and happiness of hundreds of millions of weak, hapless and down trodden masses.


The nationalist creed adopted by the political leaders of the subcontinent failed to make their states truly imperial after independence. In the middle of this century, the nations of South Asia were in no way the emerging technological, industrial, commercial and military powers, as the nations of Europe were in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Being too weak, the South Asians could not confront the real imperialists of the world. All they could do with their imperial nationalist ideology and ambitions was to exercise imperialism within the borders of the former Indian Empire vacated the British. Rivalries of the imperial kind took no time to emerge. The dispute over the former state of Jammu and Kashmir was the first to surface. Today, Pakistan describes it as the core issue of its dissent with India.


The confrontation between India and Pakistan is based on the conflicting aspirations, rights and claims of one country against the other, all stemming from the adherence of each to the nationalist faith. In that Pakistan and India are not alone. A distinguished Sri Lankan intellectual told this writer that Sri Lanka feels that Lord Curzon is still in action in the South Block of the Indian Secretariat. The Nepalese also complain of the similarities of the treatment given them by the British and attempted by India after 1947.


The reality of the imperial mind set of the rulers all the states of South Asia gets clearly revealed when one surveys the attitudes of New Delhi, Islamabad, Colombo, Kathmandu and Dhaka towards the states and provinces they rule. India had lost no time in annexing the princely states. Some like Junagadh and Mongrol were simultaneously claimed by Pakistan. For years, Indian leaders thought of undoing the 1947 partition of the country between Pakistan and India. Just as there were a few in India who dreamed of India exercising hegemony from Suez to the Straits of Malacca, there were also a few Pakistanis who dreamed of unfurling the flag of Pakistan over the Red Fort in Delhi.


In the tradition of the colonial rulers, the ruling elites of South Asia continue to act in a highly authoritarian manner. These states remain imperial in thought and action, ever ready to use force to fight the neighbouring state or to suppress racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups of people who demand liberty, autonomy, self-determination or independence from the clutches of our highly centralised and exploitative administrations in New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka and Colombo, ruling in the name of their nation states. But for the massive exercise of state violence the integrity of the states of South Asia would be in serious jeopardy. The burgeoning budgets of police and military, are proof, if one is needed, that the situation is getting worse year by year.


Pakistan developed a major internal colonial enterprise in its province of East Pakistan. It was therefore only natural that political and economic demands based on the doctrine of nationalism should emerge in the land of the Bengalis. Despite the use of massive military power in an environment of intense nationalist rivalry with the neighbour India, Pakistan could not prevent the establishment of Bangladesh. The elites of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have freely used the imperial apparatus of the state built by the British, to maintain 'internal security' against the dissenting populations residing in their countries. Only imperial mind sets were capable of doing that.


Unfortunately for peoples of the former colonies, there was no universally accepted basis of who constituted a nation. The problem has remained unresolved and has often resulted in large scale violence. Masses of people have been claiming to be a nation on the basis of race, religion, language, ethnicity, tribal identity or territory, among others. To further their national aspiration, they are willing to use violence to achieve their end. That is what the nationalist ideology justifies for them. They may want increased representation, increased financial allocation, autonomy, or secession, all in the name of national self-determination. The states of South Asia have faced this problem of major dimension in one form or the other.


The Political Factor

Long before 1947, the elites of India had already founded political parties catering to a limited franchise. The framework of forming political parties followed was borrowed from imperialist countries. The demands in the party manifestos almost entirely consisted of issues related to the exercise of political power by an elite minority. Social and economic issues especially the interests of the weak and downtrodden received scant attention.


Years before the Indian National Congress or the All India Muslim League had adopted resolutions of independence, sections of the elites had begun to think in nationalist and imperial terms. In 1927, Malcolm Hailey, Member Governor General's Executive Council, in a letter to Arthur Hirtzel, Permanent Secretary in the India Office, narrated the mood of the elite of the Muslim North-West in the following words:

They see that they can never have the same interests as Muslims in the provinces with large Hindu majorities and they seriously think of ... starting a Federation of their own. This will seek to embrace the Punjab, parts of the U.P., the North West Frontier, Baluchistan and Sindh; it is part of the programme to secure Sindh for Punjab and to give up to Delhi some of our Hindu districts in the South East of the province. They openly say that this in itself is only a preparation for a larger Federation which shall embrace Afghanistan and perhaps Persia... You will notice that the dream of the future to which I have alluded does not include Bengal. For the moment, the Northern India Moslem has given up his coreligionist in Bengal as hopeless and seems to expect no assistance from Bengal in the cause of Islam.


The nationalist and imperialist thinking of the elite of the North West, Hailey knew so well, is patently clear. It was such thinking among Muslims as well Hindus, that lead to the clash between provincial and All India interests in the third decade of this century. The political battles between political parties, and within the parties themselves, were fought on the basis of nationalist and imperialist lines of thought.


Perhaps the hold of an imperial mind set among a socially and economically backward people, and the political wrangling it gave rise to, would not have sufficed for the development of the deadly confrontation between Hindus and Muslims and the Congress and the League before 1947 and between India and Pakistan after 1947. The colonial feudal culture of the ruling elites played a significant role in their political failures. An important value of this culture is loyalty. Under the bond of loyalty, a client-patron relationship permeates the entire society: wafadari ba-shartay oostuvari asl-e-iman hai.


This finds its day to expressions such as be loyal to personality; leave decisions to the leader; once an enemy always an enemy; once a friend always a friend. Be loyal to words; right or wrong, remain steadfast to what you have uttered (Patharr par lakeer). Word is more important than deed; come what may the man of honour and prestige sticks to his word; a war of words should never be lost, the spectre of real war matters little (Gardan kat sakti hai, jhuk nahin sakti). It is unmanly and humiliating to compromise. Do not forget or forgive, never allow the wound inflicted by tongue to heal. Never state your stand in concrete terms, stick to abstractions. Remain on guard, you are surrounded by enemies.


The political forces and power play necessary to maintain an iniquitous social and economic order based on violence irresistibly makes the members of the ruling elites adopt inhuman and immoral behaviour. They cannot afford to let considerations of ethics and aesthetics, environment and morality, peace and war come in their way when the stake is power or profit. The cult of pursuit of profit and power at all cost has played havoc with the peace and tranquillity within nation states. It has criminalised politics and brutalised the society. K.K.Aziz, the Pakistani historian, in a published lecture, "Are We Living in a Democratic Society" (1994), has characterised the normal behaviour of the Pakistani society in the following terms: intolerance, self-righteousness, inconsideration, selfishness, hypocrisy, irresponsibility, emotionalism, violence, and hatred.


Disagreements among the countries of South Asia after independence have continued on the pattern of the disagreements between political parties before independence. Before 1947, there was no dearth of attempts between political parties, political leaders and eminent persons to arrive at a consensus on how India was to be governed after the departure of the British; these included the Leaders Conference (1922), the Delhi Muslim Proposals (1927), The All Parties Conference (1928), The Motilal Nehru Committee's efforts (1928), Jinnah's Fourteen Points (1929), the Three Round Table Conferences in the early thirties, the Cripps Mission (1942), Gandhi-Jinnah Talks (1944), the Simla Conference (1945), the Cabinet Mission Talks (1946), and the London Conference in (1946).


Today, the seemingly unending confrontation between India and Pakistan, duly sanctified by the interplay of ideological, political and cultural factors, is the principal weapon in the hands of the ruling elites of South Asia. The clash of interests among the elites notwithstanding, the ideology of nationalism clears the way for the two to collaborate in the name of the nation state. Committed to this insidious ideology they are able to raise the fear of the other nation state in the psyche of the people and present themselves as saviours. It has permitted the predatory elites to maintain an oppressive and exploitative order.


The most profound negative impact of the collaboration between the permanent establishment of the state and the politicians is the sanctification of preparation for and perpetration of violence on massive scale for the achievement of political ends. They consider war as politics by other means and keep their nations ready to inflict mass violence not only upon the neighbouring states but also upon their own people. Ethnic group, minority communities and lower castes are victims of such violence in the name of preserving the integrity of the state. A tiny minority maintains its rule over a vast majority by violent means. In the footsteps of the former colonial masters the policy of divide and rule is unashamedly practised by the little imperialist of today.


Working Towards Peace

Given the above, there are many issues through which the cause of peace may be advanced. Campaigns on any one or more of the following are part of the peace platform: for life, liberty and security of person, against bondage and slavery, against torture and cruel punishment, for recognition and equality before the law, against arbitrary arrest and detention, for presumption of innocence unless proved guilty, for privacy of person, home and correspondence, for freedom of movement, to marry and founding a family, for freedom of thought and conscience, for freedom of opinion and expression, for freedom of assembly and association, for free and fair elections, for participating in governance, for favourable and just remuneration, for health care, for social security, for right to work, for equal pay for equal work, for the rights of minorities, for the rights of women, for the rights of child, for the right to be educated, against bureaucratic oppression, for democratic governance at lower levels of governmental organisations, for decentralisation of political, economic and social power, against bureaucratic governance, for devolution of power from salaried establishment to democratic institutions, against use of violent means to resolve political problems, for processes of negotiation, mediation and arbitration, against the ideology of imperial nationalism.


There are not many political parties in Pakistan or India which sincerely subscribe to a substantial number of the campaigns mentioned in the preceding paragraph, although lip service is generally paid by quite a few in their election manifestos. However, a very large number of non-governmental organisations, which are non-political, assiduously pursue one or more of the causes enumerated above. The exchange of views among them needs to be expanded and there may be a need to create a new organisation for this specific purpose. Any degree of co-operation achieved will contribute towards the goal of peace among nations. However, since the ultimate goal is the emancipation of the oppressed and the exploited, the nature of the endeavour is essentially political. The need to create awareness of this fact among activists in social fields is supreme.


The concept of empowerment of the people needs to be spread. In principle, the empowerment of the people should mean that big government i.e. one that exercises power from a distant capital through a manipulatable bureaucracy, primarily interested in its salary and promotions and serving the cause of an oppressive political order; be replaced. The need is for democratic institutions exercising jurisdiction over relatively much smaller territories, and which ensure:

(a) protection of life and property,


(b) prompt and fair trial of criminal cases,


(c) transparent system of land record and of settlement of revenue

and civil disputes,


(d) economic and efficient running of local health and educational



(e) maintenance and operation of local communications,


(f) ownership and management of state owned lands and natural



(g) supervisory powers over the operations of national and state

service systems such as electrical power, irrigation,



Decentralisation implies that wherever possible executive, and judicial matters should be resolved at the local level. Transfer of power on a vast scale, including that of tax collection, is required from the central to the state/provincial level and further to the levels of divisions, districts, cities, towns, villages. However, the detailed mechanism of the decentralisation of the coercive power of the state has to be such that when the executive, judicial and some tax collecting power does not constitute a leap for the people from the frying pan of the present elite into the fire of the local strongmen. The task of re-educating and re-training political and social cadres able to take over from the salaried officers created by the former imperial rulers is of prime importance.


There can be no genuine peace between India and Pakistan unless there is peace within each country. The peoples of both countries need basic changes in their structure of governance. Both need an atmosphere of freedom from restraints which stand in the way of creative activity. The role of the depredatory conservative elites has to be reined in. These objectives are worth pursuing not only for the cause of internal peace but also to move towards peace between the two countries.


Those of us who have been actively engaged in promoting peace between the two countries have been much encouraged by the response among the people in favour of peace moves. The objective of promoting peace requires mobilising the people on both sides to a degree that leaders may feel free to take the right steps to normalise their relations. However, that is only a part, undoubtedly an important part, of what is required to be done. The objective of mobilising the people is indeed worth pursuing. However, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition. There are two other paramount considerations besides persuading the governments to come to some agreement.


During the last seven years a large number of political leaders and intellectuals in India as well as Pakistan have been kind enough to receive me to discuss the problems in the way of improving relations between the two countries. I have been regularly calling upon prime ministers, foreign ministers, secretaries to government and High Commissioners. The present and the former Presidents of Pakistan have generously spared time to listen to whatever I had to say or suggest. Besides leaders in government, I have called upon all the well known leaders of opposition in both the countries. I have also had occasions to meet a large number of retired generals and foreign secretaries. The result of these meeting over this considerable period has been a source of encouragement. Except for one leader of an opposition party in India (not BJP), I have not met any leader in India who, in private, has not favoured the cause of promoting peace between the two countries. The position of Pakistani leaders has been similar. However, when it comes to expressing their views in public they speak differently. This is quite understandable in the case of political leaders who can publicly only speak what they believe in when it is acceptable to their political followers.


It may sound strange to many Indians and some Pakistanis who are working for peace that the nature of the opposition to the moves towards peace in Pakistan is not as rigid as it is in India. The Pakistanis who are believed to be strongly opposed to talks with India are always able to put forward a strong case. It is difficult to refute the facts they are able to muster in support of their argument. That, however, not withstanding, I have often found them willing to consider a different point of view.


Second, as we attempt to influence political leaders of Pakistan and India, a lasting resolution of the Kashmir dispute needs to be found. Even if the leaders of India and Pakistan agree to a particular solution of the question of Jammu and Kashmir which is contrary to the march of historical process, it shall not be the right solution. History is replete with countries and group of countries enforcing unworkable solutions to the problems that happen to fall in the sphere of their physical power. No government dedicated to govern through a highly centralised centre is likely to succeed to bring peace not only to the state of Jammu and Kashmir but to other provinces and states. The question of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir has become a central problem. It can only be resolved through a wisely pursued course taking into account the basic aspirations of its peoples.