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February 21, 2018 Wednesday 02:49:04 PM IST


Expert Counsel

The future of India-Pakistan relations lies in the past,” K. Natwar Singh, former Minister for External Affairs and diplomat, had written when he had taken charge as High Commissioner at Islamabad in 1980. During the seven decades since the two nations came into existence in August 1947, the past has often dictated the terms of engagement and it is in attempting to undo the real and perceived wrongs of yore that fresh issues, which further threaten the tenuous balance between the two countries, have arisen.

One keeps hearing stories about how the common people of the two countries yearn for a normal relationship which would enable them to lead a peaceful life, but are prevented from doing so on account of the machinations of their leaders and the politico-military elite, little realising the fact that it is the self-same elite who tap the underlying fears and apprehensions and reap the dividends of the strategic instability between the two countries.


The decade since the end of World War II saw many countries of Asia emerge independent throwing off the yoke of the Great Imperial Powers. The manipulations of the colonial rulers, however, ensured that in none of the cases the transition was a smooth affair, resulting in political balkanisation and the birth of new nations.


Colonial legacies also created easy grounds for wars between the newly independent states as well as civil wars in some others. With the wisdom of hindsight, one can say that most of the trouble spots in the world during the period since the second half of the 20th century are the products of manipulative colonial policies.


Thus one witnessed war between the Koreas during the 1950s, while the armed conflicts between Israel and many other countries of the Middle East on many occasions continue to cast its shadow over international peace even today. However, the most serious of all these disputes is the one between India and Pakistan, making South Asia the most sensitive spot in the world map presently.


Four wars fought over a period of seventy years — two full-fledged ones in 1965 and 1971, and two localised ones in 1947-48 (over the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union) and 1998 (when Indian forces sent back Pakistani soldiers who had occupied Kargil Heights seeking to cut off Kashmir valley) — demonstrate the extent of the rivalry between the two nations.




Superimposed on all these conflicts are the numerous instances of terrorist activities targeting various Indian cities, with the attacks on the Indian Parliament in December  2001 and on the city of Mumbai in November 2008, being seen as the ones that inflicted the maximum damage on bilateral relations. Deepening the complexity of the relationship is the broader weave of strategic regional factors, in particular the role played by China, who has been tactically a staunch friend of Pakistan’s since the early 1960s. Add to the mix the events taking place in Afghanistan, which has been in a state of near perpetual turmoil ever since 1980, the picture is one of a state of perpetual disequilibrium.


During the Cold War years, Pakistan was regarded by the United States and the Western Bloc as a frontline ally in the fight against the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Communist states, a position that made them the recipient of substantial financial support  and sophisticated weaponry. Though this scenario has changed considerably since the breakup of USSR during the 1990s and the fall of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe, it is only of late that the Donald Trump-led US has started talking in terms of stopping aid and supply of arms to Pakistan on account of their support to terrorist forces.


However, despite the shadow caused by suspicions and apprehensions, there have been many bright spots in the India-Pakistan relationship. Unfortunately, they have not received adequate attention in the public space. The Indus Water Sharing Treaty, which has stood the test of time, stands out as a shining example of what pragmatic statesmen could achieve even in an atmosphere vitiated by mutual mistrust.


The closely fought cricket and hockey matches, the popularity of  Bollywood movies and heroes in Pakistan, ghazals, and other schools of music, dance, and the performing arts point to what closer cooperation can achieve for the people of the two countries.


The emasculated form of governance in Pakistan with the military sharing power with the elected government and both, in turn, yielding space to the ‘big elephant in room’ — the fundamentalist and militant forces — make the task of negotiations with the country a tricky affair.




Indian Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh, who sincerely attempted a breakthrough, were foiled by the actions of Pakistan’snon- State, yet powerful forces, who acted independently, defying the goals of the political leadership. These aspects beyond the pale of formal diplomacy and international relations will continue to challenge succeeding generations of diplomats and interlocutors who are given the unenviable task of engaging with their counterparts in Pakistan.


Any analysis of the relationship between the two countries is bound to be a fascinating one, but most of the books brought out on the subject suffer on account of offering a partisan view, to the exclusion of the other. It was, therefore, refreshing to come across a study on the subject matter, which presents the viewpoints and fears of both sides in a balanced, even-handed, and comprehensive manner. The book The People Next Door: The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations (Harper Collins), written by T.C.A. Raghavan, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, will find acceptance not only amongst diplomats and policy makers in international relations but also with lay readers keen to learn more about the subject.


The author, in addition to his credentials as a diplomat who spent two tenures in Pakistan besides heading the Pakistan desk at the Ministry of External Affairs, is also a historian, with a keen eye for detail. It is to his credit that he has jettisoned the personal biases and prejudices that form part of the baggage of any Indian diplomat who handles Pakistanand put together an excellent narrative.


Written in elegant prose, this book is a must-read for all students of India-Pakistan relations and can only be a valuable addition to any library and, indeed, to scholarship on the history of conflict between two nuclear-powered states in South Asia.

Dr. K N Raghavan

The writer is Chairman and Executive Director Of Rubber Board. 
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