India, Pakistan need peace but old narratives won`t do

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 5: Indian Lok Sabha member Dr Shashi Tharoor had a hard time convincing an audience here on Thursday that “India is genuinely committed to peaceful relations with Pakistan”.

Though a distinguished former diplomat, who served as UN Under-Secretary General from 1996 to 2007, Dr Tharoor chose to speak as a politician and did so charmingly, but without mincing words, at the Jinnah Institute`s policy discussion on “India and Pakistan: Cooperation or Conflict”.

It was only his third day in Pakistan, yet it was surprising for him and his wife to see “how much we have in common and how much we differ”. He is visiting on the invitation of Jinnah Institute (JI) to be the first in its Distinguished Speakers series, which is part of the Track-II engagement between the civil societies of the two countries.

Dr Tharoor started by saying that as a member of Lok Sabha he sees the foreign policy in the perspective of improving the life of the poor and the marginalised – for which peace is essential.

“Peace is indivisible and so is freedom and prosperity,” he said.

In the age of globalisation it has become more so and that was why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to resume the dialogue process that India had halted after the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai.

Since the technological tools that benign forces used to bring the world together are used by the malign forces to disrupt the process, nations need to cooperate to fight terrorism, he said, bluntly charging the ISI and Pakistan army with using terrorism as a strategy.

“Pakistan defines itself in opposition to Indiaand the “previously benign forces of religion and culture have become causes of conflict”, he said and decried its `Kashmir solution first` policy.

While other states have army, Pakistan army is said to have a state to itself.

As a consequence the civilian governments live in awe of the army and the few steps they took to improve relations with India were torpedoed by the military, he surmised.

But he welcomed the present government`s decision to grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India because it reflected how important it was for Pakistan to normalise relations with India after ignoring India`s grant of Most Favoured Nation to Pakistan for 16 years.

Dr Tharoor forcefully rejected “the notion that India is a threat to Pakistan and dismissed the Indian military action in support of Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan in 1971 that created Bangladesh as “a very special case”.

Otherwise, according to him, India had been magnanimous to Pakistan, like when it returned the strategic Hajipir Pass in Kashmir after 1965 war and had given up “first strike” in a nuclear conflict.

His discourse seem to hold Pakistan polity responsible for all the troubles and invited riposte from the panelists Nasim Zehra and Ejaz Haider and sharp questions from the audience comprising Pakistani diplomats, academia and some commoners.

“I am disappointed,” blurted out Nasim Zehra, a current affairs presenter on a private TV channel. “Whether it is fact or fiction depends on the narratives. The distinguished speaker has been selective.”

“I too believe India-Pakistan is a must. Here we have been pushing for a new vision. You have to change the narrative,” she said to applause from the audience.

Ejaz Haider, executive director of Jinnah Institute, was more subtle.

“I agree with your poetry but what about the prose,” he told Dr Shashi Tharoor, who is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books. How India has behaved and been doing in the last 60 years should be kept in mind also.

India`s military intervention in East Pakistan is a special case because stronger states use humanitarian and other international laws for their real politik, he said.

As for Hajipir Pass, he noted that post-1965 India had to chose between that pass and Kargil and “chose correctly”.

Dr Tharoor replied to the points raised and questions that followed on the same lines, more as a diplomat than a politician.

“Once trust is built, everything would be solved,” he said.

Interestingly, replying to a question from former ISI chief Gen Asad Durrani regarding his claim that India`s $2 billion aid to Afghanistan was absolutely altruistic, he admitted to Indian military presence there by saying Indian workers carrying out the humanitarian work there “needed security”.

India, Pakistan need peace but old narratives won`t do
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