The Muslims of India (and Bihar) with their countrymen will heave a sigh of relief if normalcy returns in relationship with Pakistan. The Hindustani Muslims are often unjustifiably looked upon as siding with the hostile neighbor country just for the reason of religion.
Encouraged by the UAE, a flurry of diplomatic efforts are reportedly on the way to bring India and Pakistan back on friendly terms. Much meaning has been attached to the speeches of the Pakistani Defense chief, General Bajwa who basically proposed to “bury the past and move on.”
Many observers and experts are, however, cautiously optimists. If Pakistan is showing willingness to have a thaw in the relationship, it’s more because of Pakistan's domestic compulsions: Its economy, now dependent heavily on extortionist China, is in terrible shape; the nationalist and independence movements are getting stronger in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Even Punjab is restless.
The challenges to a peaceful coexistence seem to be insurmountable.
Like in the several past rounds, “non-interference in the internal affairs” will be proposed as the important hallmark of a peaceful understanding between the two neighbors. Unfortunately, this basic condition was aborted even before the process of peace started.
The army chief, in his speeches, emphasised that peace with India couldn’t be at the cost of Jammu and Kashmir. He demanded Pakistan and India must resolve the longstanding issue of J&K “in a dignified and peaceful manner as per the aspirations of the people of J&K and bring this human tragedy to its logical conclusion.” India insists J&K as its internal matter.
Furthermore, India, on its part, couldn't be at peace with a theocratic Islamist neighbor that forces its minorities to conversion and/or flee the country. Pakistanis are also suspected of helping their people to cross over to India to ease the population pressure.
Between India and Pakistan, Afghanistan will remain a hotbed of rivalry where the geo-strategic interests of both would collide. Ever since the talk of near total US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan, in collaboration with the Taliban, has intensified its effort to dominate the Afghans. On the other hand, the people of Afghanistan, except for the Talibani Pathans, look upon Pakistan as enemies and expect help from India. Indian involvement in the geo-political life of Afghanistan, therefore, becomes irresistible.
Within Pakistan, the coalition between the mullahs and the hardline Islamist military leaders would never welcome a rapprochement between the two countries, because then their very raison d'etre would disappear. The military corners a sizable share of the budget in the name of national defense. The Pak military would never accept real civilian oversight upon themselves, as they, in league with the mullahs, control all aspects of Pakistani socio-economic and political life.
In the regional geo-political context, the Pakistani military backed by the civilian governments have allowed the Chinese to make deep economic and military inroads into their country. It will not be in the strategic interest of China -- backed by Turkey, Iran and possibly Russia -- to let Pakistan make bridges of friendship with India. In retaliation, it would be prudent for India to extend support and hopefully secure independence for the restive regions of Pakistan.
Then there is the trust deficit. Pakistan can't be trusted because of its history of back stabbing. According to a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, India had in good faith invited Field Marshal Ayub Khan to its Republic Day in January 1965. "He sent his agriculture minister instead because he was busy preparing for the war, which broke out a few months later."
The trust deficit is there within Pakistan also. Just to mention a few, General Pervez Musharraf didn't trust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and undermined his understanding with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He launched his 1999 misadventure in Kargil. When in absolute power, Musharraf himself pursued a double-faced policy that kept the jihadi groups active in India while engaging in back-channel diplomacy. However, before Musharraf could conclude his own version of a comprehensive India-Pakistan peace agreement through his negotiator, Tariq Aziz, he was removed from the office.
General Musharraf survived at least two assassination attempts allegedly by “the rogue” elements within the Pak military. All such past protagonists of peace with India as Zulfiqar/Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif or Pervez Musharraf were either assassinated or banished from Pakistan.
Therefore, the positive words of the Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa might eventually turn out to be the flavor of the month. It should at best reinstate the two absent High Commissioners.
To conclude, I have an additional take on General Bajwa: A Jat Muslim, coming close to the end of his career (with extension, he can go until Nov 2024), finds his heart changing. He’s said to be neither a Jihadi General nor in the mold of Ayyub or Yahya Khan. Looking at the common heritage of his fellow Jat (Hindu) Generals on the other side of the border, he must be realizing the futility of hostility and war between the two very similar people. He must be aspiring genuinely to leave a legacy of peace and goodwill.
Regardless of a cruel or inhuman past, in the last phase of life, a person is often taken over by spirituality or humanity. Muhammad Ali Jinnah also had a change of heart towards the end of his life and expressed his regret to his personal physician, a Gujarati Hindu: Why did he cause the division of the country and creation of Pakistan that led to so much blood bath on both sides?
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.