July 27, 2020
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I Hope There Will Be Rethinking In Delhi: Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri

Former Pakistan foreign ­minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri says "history will rec­ord August 5 as a Black Day for Kashmir, India and Pakistan-India relations."

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I Hope There Will Be Rethinking In Delhi: Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri
Photograph by Jitender Gupta
I Hope There Will Be Rethinking In Delhi: Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was the face of peace-making all through the last decade, when Pakistan engaged the ruling Indian establishment under both the BJP and Congress...and the two sides came the closest ever to breaking the over-half-century-old Kashmir impasse. Here, the former Pakistan foreign ­minister registers his disappointment over recent events in an email interview to Preetha Nair. Excerpts:

As you look back, what have been the obvious political ramifications of the removal of Article 370? How has it impacted Indo-Pak ties?

We must understand what was achieved in the past and, thus, what has been lost by India’s action. History will record August 5 as a Black Day for Kashmir, for India (as recent events seem to indicate), as well as for Pakistan-India relations. As someone who has worked for and almost succeeded, along with my Indian counterparts, in arriving at a possible framework for a solution for Kashmir through the backchannel, I am particularly unhappy. I cannot but refer to our dealings with Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. As a result of ten war and near-war situations between Pakistan and India since 1947, both these prime ministers had come to the conclusion that there cannot be normalcy in South Asia without resolving the Kashmir dispute; that it was in India’s own interest to resolve issues with Pakistan. Vajpayee’s wisdom is reflected in the Kumarakom Musings carried by your esteemed magazine: “Two things were keeping India from achieving its potential at the international level; its problem with Pakistan over Kashmir and the demolition of Babri Masjid” (Jan 2003). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh showed equal wisdom by openly expressing his desire to turn Siachen into a ‘mountain of peace’ and working towards creating an environment where when “one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore, and dinner in Kabul”.

Also Read:  Abrogation Of Article 370 Has Strengthened Voices Of India In The Union Territory: Ram Madhav

As a result, Pakistan and India had even decided to resolve the issue of J&K, details of which are given in my 2015 book, Neither a Hawk nor a Dove; the contents of this book have not been contradicted by any Indian or Pakistani who was in the loop at that time. This is also borne out by the fact that despite advance copies of my book having been sent to the principal actors, President Pervez Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh, my book launches in Karachi and New Delhi were attended by both of them. Mr L.K. Advani had also attended my book launch. I had invited him because the peace process started during Vajpayee’s tenure, and also because Mr Advani, as BJP president in 2005, had visited Pakistan on my invitation…during which he was chief guest at the function commemorating the restoration of the famous Katas Raj temple. He was thus aware of the positive developments between two countries. They wouldn’t have attended had they not agreed with the contents of the book.

Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, India’s former National Security Advisor who had also served as Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan and was in the loop on backchannel developments, confirmed the events in his book, Choices (2016). According to him, “in 2004-07, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, we came close to setting the stage for a changed relationship between these two countries, addressing Jammu and Kashmir and other issues, with overwhelming popular support on both sides of the border.” More or less similar conclusions were reached by Dr Sanjaya Baru (particularly on Siachen), who had been media avisor to Prime Minister Singh, in his book, The Accidental Prime Minister. Mr S.K. Lambah (India’s backchannel negotiator throughout the period I’m referring to), in an interview published in Outlook magazine on September 25, 2017, agreed with the conclusions detailed in my book by saying “I would say, yes, Mr Kasuri is right in what he said.”

Also Read: An Indefinite Article, A Year of Silence: Was A Historical Blunder Corrected In Kashmir…Or Another Committed?

With this background in view, I am all the more pained at the Indian government’s action of August 5. It shows how dangerously reckless it actually was—attempting, in one go, to almost destroy the lessons derived from seven decades of war, friction, rivalry, and ultimately peace talks. I have consciously used the phrase ‘almost destroy’ since anyone dealing with Pakistan-Indiarelations needs to have an above average dose of optimism.

However, I believe, unlike many others in the subcontinent and outside, that it was a self-goal and that PM Modi has kicked the ball into his own goalpost. Previously, there were three segments of opinion in Kashmir. Those who wanted to join Pakistan under the umbrella of the Hurriyat Conference, those who wanted independence such as those in the JKLF, and those political parties like National conference and the PDP who took part in elections under the Indian constitution. Mr Modi has with one stroke united all the Kashmiris against India. My responses to your subsequent questions will make this even clearer. I cannot think of any democratic country or polity (let alone a country that prides itself on being the largest democracy in the world) keeping a people in complete lockdown for one year in utter and total violation of their human rights and to the dismay of international human rights organisations. This includes the period of Covid-19 in which a lockdown of the internet, as well as military occupation, gravely hindered access to medical facilities.

India maintains that by revoking special status, it has achieved overall integration, enabled development, and stopped insurgency. Does Pakistan feel India violated international norms by scrapping it?

Frankly speaking, Pakistan was never much concerned with Article 370 because its claim is based on UNSC resolutions. Article 370, although designed to guarantee Kashmir autonomy, had over a period of time become mere a ‘husk’. Why Pakistan has reacted so furiously is because it regards the action of the BJP government as an attack on the dignity and very identity of the Kashmiri people.  I would like to quote here one of India’s, rather South Asia’s most erudite and prolific scholars, A.G. Noorani, who asks, “How long can this oppressive setup last?... A different ballgame is being played today. Kashmiris are being asked to become accomplices in the murder of the political identity of their own ancient historic land with its vibrant past, rich culture and a record of revolt over centuries since Emperor Akbar extinguished Kashmir’s independence in 1586.”

Also Read:  Syed Ali Geelani’s Exit From Hurriyat Ends A Long, Defiant Sentence. What Will Kashmir (and Pakistan) Write Now?

I will deal with your questions sequentially. Insurgency first. Reports highlighting the brutal actions of security forces encountering ‘militants’ in one part of Kashmir or another are regularly carried world-wide. They describe vividly how houses of Kashmiris are blown up and attempts are made to stop the funeral processions by locals who backed those killed by security forces. That recent photograph of a 3-year-old toddler sitting on his grandfather’s dead body made headlines in every major newspaper in the world. I do not need to say anything further on this except to quote from one of India’s leading online news sites, The Print, which quoted an Indian security expert who did not wish to be named thus: “A hot summer in Kashmir, a hot LoC and a standoff at the LAC. Most people in Kashmir know where we are headed. The question is, does Delhi know that?”

How can there be integration in the current atmosphere where India is more isolated in Kashmir than it ever was. Do I need to advance arguments to prove this? When I studied law at Cambridge, I was taught a basic Latin maxim where a situation required no proof—‘Res Ipsa Loquitur’ (the thing speaks for itself). Morally, at least, this maxim applies to the situation in Kashmir. You also talk of development; development requires stability and the ability of the investors to predict a future of stable environment. Would any serious investor think of putting his hard-earned money in such an atmosphere? In fact, there are reports of increasing poverty in Kashmir.

Also Read:  One Year Ago, India Killed Mainstream Politics In Kashmir, And Nothing Else

You also asked me about the ramifications of the actions of August 5. Pakistani and international media is full of reports of such ramifications. For today’s purposes, however, I need quote only eminent Indians in this respect. I assure you, I will not quote people like Mani Shankar Aiyar who is perhaps the most courageous politician in South Asia or writers, thinkers and activists like Sudheendra Kulkarni and O.P. Shah because liberals and those advising peace with India’s neighbors are not particularly popular these days in India. I have decided, therefore, to quote people who are respected by the establishment in India.

Former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, in her interview with Karan Thapar, spoke of this as “a very dark hour.” She poignantly added that she grieved for India and emphasised the need to improve relations with Pakistan. She rightly pointed out there was a need “to build on old connections which do not just go back generations but centuries,” and “to reopen the channels for communications”. Shekhar Gupta, one of India’s best-known journalist-editors, highlighted in a well-argued article “a prescient tutorial by Dr Manmohan Singh” on how it was better for India to reach out to Pakistan for peace.

Also Read: Opinion | Dissent Is A Kashmiri Carpet Woven Over A Century: Three Instances When The Murmur Became A Roar

To conclude, let me give you my own experience regarding the activities of those whom Pakistanis and Kashmiris refer to as ‘freedom fighters’ and whom India refers to as ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’. Whatever designation you would like to append to these actors, my own experience is that their activities will only go down when there are meaningful talks between two countries, which hold hope that they are seriously conceiving of a solution to Kashmir and that the envisaged solution also meets the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, in addition to being acceptable to the governments and people of Pakistan and India. I have given figures in my book quoting Indian portals which deal with violence.  According to them, these activities came down dramatically when Pakistan and India were talking meaningfully on Kashmir during the period when I was foreign minister.

Earlier, Pakistan PM Imran Khan always called for resumption of dialogue…he once even said there may be a better chance of Indo-Pak peace if the BJP came back to power. However, after August 5, 2019, Khan has been batting for international intervention on Kashmir. Is this the end of all prospects of dialogue? Do you think traditional diplomacy won’t work anymore?

Prime Minister Imran Khan has many friends in India, some of whom studied with him at Oxford; additionally, as an international cricket star and later as a cricket analyst who also appeared on Indian channels, he made many more friends in India. I know he was sincerely hopeful of making a contribution towards Pakistan-India peace. There was a general feeling in Pakistan and India that his assumption of office as PM will help resume dialogue. PM Khan personally asked me to provide him the details of the framework agreement on Kashmir we had been working on during my tenure as foreign minister. He was interested in knowing from me first-hand the contours of that proposed settlement. In fact, when he visited New Delhi in 2015, “he told the Indian premier that at one point of time Pakistan and India had reached very close to resolving the Kashmir issue and additionally” and mentioned the framework detailed in my book (Dec 13, 2015). Khan is now batting for ‘international intervention’ because India itself ended the prospects of dialogue by its unilateral actions of August 5. How is Imran Khan expected to talk to PM Modi, and about what, in these circumstances? As long as New Delhi doesn’t realise the colossal blunder it has committed and/or retraces some of the steps it has taken, how can there be dialogue? Effectively, India has itself killed the Simla Agreement and also violated the UNSC resolutions.

Also Read:  'Thrones For Murderers, The Oppressed Await The Gallows' -- Why Kashmiri Poets Are Feeling Helpless And Choked

‘The action of August 5, 2019, attempted in one go to almost destroy the lessons from seven decades of war, rivalry and peace talks.’

About the role of traditional diplomacy, as former foreign minister, I have great faith in diplomacy, but diplomats are not magicians. There needs to be a basic environment in which diplomats of the two countries can engage with each other sensibly and with dignity. Talking of times when things were much better, Natwar Singh, one of my Indian counterparts who is also a friend, said that the “diplomacy provides hope, not salvation”.

Do you think Pakistan’s non-state actors have played a role in influencing the government’s decision on Kashmir’s special status?

No, I believe in no such thing. The BJP, influenced by its RSS roots, has always had the abrogation of Article 370 on its manifesto. The decision had little to do with Pakistan or the situation in J&K. Although it is generally believed that PM Modi’s action should be read as an attempt to further please and strengthen his hardline Hindutva base, in my opinion perhaps the real reasons lie elsewhere; definitely the timing was determined by these other factors. I say this because as someone interested in reaching honorable peace with India, I follow the Indian media very closely.

Firstly, the government wanted to divert attention from the poor state of Indian economy. Indian media at the time carried regular reports of suicide by farmers. Manufacturing had suffered immensely; auto manufacturers had decided to function three to four days a week because of slow demand. According to reports then, India’s economy was on a nosedive (admittedly with bright spots like the IT sector). The Indian auto market was hit by a large drop of 31% in July 2019 and the media was predicting large-scale unemployment. India’s former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian had contradicted government figures on GDP growth and said India’s GDP had grown at only 4.5% per year, contrary to claims of 7% per year. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan had in fact left office, inter alia, also perhaps because he could not support the rosy picture being painted by official figures--parroted by the political leadership. I remember watching an interview on NDTV where Mr Rajan was asked if he agreed with the official figures given by the Indian government; he smiled very meaningfully and preferred to remain silent.

Also Read: It’s Not Just Kashmir, But India That Needs A Solution: Sanjay Kak

Secondly, the BJP government was upset at the emerging situation in Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s role in helping talks between the US and the Taliban had resulted in a major breakthrough. Critics of the government in India highlighted the fact that India had not been invited to a conference between the US, Russia, China and Pakistan held in Moscow, regarding the future of Afghanistan, despite the fact that it had spent about $3 billion in different sectors in Afghanistan.

Thirdly, the BJP was very upset at the warmth shown by President Trump to PM Imran Khan during his visit to the White House, as well as his repeated offers to mediate between Pakistan and India on Kashmir. This was like a bolt from the blue for the BJP government, because it had invested heavily in cultivating President Trump. India did not think that it was a one-off statement by Trump (a la Trump) but part of his efforts to win over Imran Khan’s government and the Pakistan army because of his need for cooperation in Afghanistan.

I must compliment PM Modi for his masterly handling of his public relations exercise. He succeeded in diverting attention from these real issues by his August 5 actions. These actions have, however, had very negative consequences for regional peace.

After the Pulwama attack and the Balakot airstrike last year, and later the scrapping of special status to J&K, Indo-Pak ties have hit a stone wall. The countries have had no talks since 2015—from downgrading missions to severing off trade ties, both sides have ceased most diplomatic activities. Where do you see the relationship going?

I am glad you talk of Pulwama and Balakot; you should have also added the ‘surgical strikes’ claimed by the government of India. This is where the real problem lies. One reason why India has taken reckless decisions in recent times is a prevailing atmosphere of self-delusion, in which the Indian government or at least some sections of it feel that they can “fight two and a half wars” simultaneously, with China, Pakistan and also the people of Kashmir. This always occurs in an environment where media is tightly controlled and contrary opinions are muzzled. Forget Pakistani media, even the international media did not accept the official Indian version regarding the ‘surgical strikes’ inside Pakistan or the damage allegedly perpetrated by the Balakot airstrike. The New York Times reported that India did not shoot down any F-16 as claimed by official Indian sources and that Pakistan Air Force’s F-16s were fully accounted for and not a single aircraft was missing. The international media also contradicted official Indian claims of hundreds of people being killed in the Balakot strike and showed the building in question was very much intact; thus, there was no question of any killings.

Also Read:Kashmir 370 Degrees: Year To The Ground

Prime Minister Modi was happy with his media management in this respect also, and rightly felt that he was able to convince a large section of the Indian public regarding his claims. In fact, he went on to win the next election making the people of India believe they had had the better of Pakistan in the aerial skirmish. It has happened many times in history; leaders and governments start believing their own propaganda when nobody is allowed to contradict their version in any meaningful manner. In fact, I remember the Congress, which questioned official versions, was labelled as a traitor. In such an atmosphere, governments often take wrong decisions on erroneous assumptions. Ironically, when you build up hype, it reduces the government’s own manoeuvrability and it is thus unable to rectify its own mistakes.

I am glad Pakistani media management regarding Balakot and the air combat the next day was very sophisticated and to the point. In fact, efforts were made to restrain the emerging anger against India and this is what enabled the Pakistan government to release pilot Abhinandan Varthaman after he was captured. Instead of being condemned by the people of Pakistan, the Pakistan government was praised for its statesmanship in preventing further escalation and also won applause from the international community. This would have been impossible if the Pakistan army and government had built the same anti-India hype as the BJP government tried to build against Pakistan. It amazes me that in every general election in India, Pakistan appears very prominently, whereas India is hardly a subject in any election campaign in Pakistan. There seems to be no obsession with India in Pakistan. An enlightened and independent media in Pakistan and India can play a positive in reducing tensions between the two countries, enabling them to restart a dialogue. The cessation of diplomatic activities is a dangerous situation and must be reversed.  Otherwise, the situation could well take a turn for the worse. Let us hope sanity will prevail, because a war between two countries having strong conventional armies and nuclear weapons is unthinkable.

Many strategic experts cite the Article 370 as one of the main reasons behind India’s current standoff between India and China. They say China is a third party to the Kashmir dispute. Your comments.

I agree. Indian actions have effectively made China a third party to the Kashmir dispute. China criticised India for “unilaterally” changing the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir and asked both Pakistan and India to resolve the issue “based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements”. The Security Council meeting on ‘the situation in Kashmir’ held on August 16 was a closed-door meeting. However, the Chinese ambassador briefed the press soon after, leaving no doubt that Kashmir was discussed at great length. Additionally, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was brutally frank on Ladakh and told India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar that it “has posed a challenge to China's sovereignty and violated the two countries' agreement on maintaining peace and stability in the border region”.

What has India gained with respect to China? Earlier we were being told about an improved India-China relationship in accordance with the ‘Wuhan Spirit.’ (I was one of those who was happy…I see an improved Sino-Indian relationship as beneficial to Pakistan-India relations.)

It is because of reckless statements issued by the top Indian leadership—to the effect that India will capture Azad J&K, Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai Chin—that India is confronted with this dangerous situation. It is clear that India has itself provoked China. It is noteworthy that India has been building infrastructure right next to the LAC for quite some time. China had in the past not publicly objected to this. It is the recent actions and statements by the top Indian leadership in their meeting with the leadership of the QUAD (US, Japan, Australia, India), along with others, that gave the clear impression that India would be a willing party in the attempt to ‘contain’ China. Also, certain recent defence agreements with the US and statements and actions following the 2+2 talks between India and the US. It was all these, followed by the action in J&K and the publication of a political map, that undoubtedly upset the leadership in Beijing. They thus now started regarding the development of Indian infrastructure right up to the LAC and Karakoram Pass as part of a grand plan to threaten China, Pakistan and CPEC. 

How crucial is the CPEC (China–Pakistan Economic Corridor) there? Also, do you foresee a situation where India will have to fight on two fronts?

It is no secret that One Belt One Road (OBOR), also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is one of China’s important initiatives to increase development and connectivity, not only in its neighborhood but also right up to Europe. China has never made it a secret that it regards CPEC as its flagship project in the BRI, because it provides them easy access to the Gulf, the Middle East and Africa. The benefits of CPEC for Pakistan are expected to be multiple. Its elaborate infrastructure would be highly beneficial, opening up new avenues for trade and commerce. A developed Gwadar port would be linked to Xinjiang province and also give a major boost to the economy of western China. The stakes for both China and Pakistan are thus very high in CPEC, and they cannot afford to ignore any threat to it. Naturally, China will be very upset if it felt any threat to CEPEC projects or to the tens of thousands Chinese citizens working on those—a number so big that the Pakistan army has provided them a Special Security Division (SSD) of 15,000-20,000 soldiers as security. Under this situation, how can you expect China and Pakistan to ignore open threats from the top Indian leadership?

‘How can there be integration when India is more isolated in Kashmir than ever before?... Would any investor think of putting his money in such an atmosphere?’

You ask whether India will have to fight on two fronts. I hope this never happens. Although some irresponsible people in India have said India is prepared for a ‘two-and-a-half-front war’, it’s not just impractical, a sloppy diversion from our real imperatives of socio-economic development and tackling poverty, but a matter of self-delusion that could lead to huge blunders. How can these people speak sanguinely about a war between Pakistan, India and China? It is not just India that will have to pay for such blunders. This will be extremely dangerous for the region and our entire planet. I sincerely hope it does not happen.

What could be the geostrategic implications of heightened tensions on an already tenuous regional security environment?

Many Western and Indian analysts see in the developments in South China Sea, Hong Kong and Taiwan the contours of an emerging Cold War between the US and China. Some analysts in India regard recent clash in Ladakh as part of that. I do not, however, feel it is in China’s interest to have India as its enemy. It would rather have normal and business-like relations with India even if there are continuing disagreements over the LAC. Some of these Indian analysts also link to this the situation in Chabahar, in which Iran has distanced itself from India and is getting closer to China. From the Pakistani perspective, Iran had reached its own conclusion that India was more interested in driving a wedge between Iran and Pakistan than in developing Chabahar per se.  Furthermore, Iran had few options in view of the squeeze resulting from the US sanctions. If the reports of a possible long-term strategic cooperation where China will invest $400 billion in Iran are correct, it well may be due to the fact that both countries are facing immense US pressure. It is, however, too early to say anything definitely regarding this development.

Some Indian analysts suggest India should throw its lot entirely with the US and, in the process, even dump Russia in view of the assumed Sino-American Cold War and of India’s interest lying, in their view, with the US. If a Cold War between these two countries (who have been Pakistan’s friends and allies for a long time) does really emerge, it will, of course, pose challenges to Pakistani diplomacy. We have, however, so far managed to have good relations with both China and the US at the same time and I hope we shall be able to do so in the future also. Pakistan and the US have close convergence in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. There is a realisation in the US that Pakistan plays a key role in this. Surely, the US would not like all its sacrifices, including thousands of allied forces dead and wounded and trillions of dollars, to go down the tube. The Pakistan army, which used to come in for criticism from some circles in the West, is now praised for its positive role over a sustained period in encouraging and ultimately succeeding in bringing the Taliban to the table for a dialogue.

Do you think Pakistan’s diplomatic moves to internationalise Kashmir yielded the desired results? Is Imran Khan facing criticism within the country for not pushing the issue successfully in international forums?

Prime Minister Khan’s speech at the UNGA was widely hailed in Pakistan and J&K. In response to his speech, leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif declared that the government and opposition were “united like a rock” and Bilawal Bhutto Zadari, leader of PPP, offered his ‘unconditional support’. Despite the fact that in any democratic polity, the opposition will never spare the ruling party for presumed faults, it is fair to say Prime Minister Khan has not faced any major criticism on this issue. Also, the international media gave a lot of coverage to the Prime Minister’s speech. Conversely, you just need to look at the negative coverage in international media on the role of security forces in J&K to realise how far Pakistan had succeeded in internationalising the Kashmir issue.

You worked extensively with former PM Vajpayee to open Track II diplomacy and the countries nearly reached an agreement, according to your book. Do you still believe backchannel negotiations can work?  Can the two governments show the political will?

Yes, currently when the situation is very bad indeed, a backchannel could prove useful. It’s not uncommon for foes that are fighting actual battles, engaged in active warfare, to talk to each other secretly. For example, when the US was bombing Vietnam, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, North Vietnam’s chief negotiator, would meet every Tuesday at Hotel Majestic in Paris. More recently, the US and Taliban talked to each other for years despite the fact that they were fighting each other very fiercely on the battlefield.

Let me tell how backchannel was useful to us during our tenure. While Kashmir remained an important issue on the Composite Dialogue, over a period of time both sides realised that, in view of its sensitivity, it needed to be discussed in the initial stages in a confidential manner. The fact is that all meetings of foreign ministers and foreign secretaries are preceded and followed by extensive media coverage and, worse, intense speculation. Both Pakistan and India realised this enabled the opponents of the peace process to put a negative spin on the whole process. That reasoning would be truer today. The question is whether the political leadership has the will to pursue this process openly or secretly.

What made the backchannel on Kashmir even more useful was the fact that both parties were forced to revisit their positions in the light of the proposals coming from the other side. This can happen even now but only if the talks are secret and on the backchannel. Currently, I feel there is a strong need for backchannel talks for preventing further deterioration in the Pak-India relationship. It should consist of two individuals who have direct access to their respective prime ministers.

Is Pakistan apprehensive of direct intervention by India in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan? Can either country afford escalating tensions on the border?

No sensible person or even an Indian defense expert worth his salt would advise the government of India to such a dangerous course of action. Of course India is a very large country and the size of its army and its economy is much larger than Pakistan’s, but the scope for adventurism by either party is very limited. Moreover, the Pakistan army is a battle-hardened force, because of the situation on our western borders for last 40 years. It has had to fight against entrenched militants in Swat, North Waziristan, South Waziristan and other tribal areas. They drove terrorists out of the territory; in this type of warfare they performed much better than the American and allied forces in Afghanistan who were similarly engaged with the Taliban on the other side of the border…. Sometimes mistakes can be committed by political leaderships to score brownie points. No political party in Pakistan is interested in goading the government to resort to this type of action. I hope enlightened opinion in India acts as a restraint on a possible reckless action by its government.

On the basis of my experience, I can say one needs to have a good deal of optimism if one is dealing with Pakistan-India relations.  Luckily, I am by nature an optimist; this helped me with continuing the peace process despite many ups and downs. Am I still optimistic? Currently, there is very little ground for optimism but I do remember PM Modi visiting Lahore which caused consternation in both Pakistan and India. The visit failed because mistakes were committed by both sides; that is, however, not the subject today. I do not know if it possible for PM Modi to retrace the steps that he has taken. He may not find it politically possible to do so. Be that as it may, as a student of history, I know that nobody can fight ground realities. What are the ground realities? The ground reality is that India has lost the hearts and minds of people of Kashmir; that neither Pakistan, nor India can expect to gain an inch in a future war; and that China has been brought in as a third party in the dispute. I hope that there will be rethinking in New Delhi either by the current government or its successor.

The only way out is for both countries to get out of this zero sum game approach and start a dialogue with an open, positive mind. Even public opinion can be changed; we had managed to do so during our tenure.

We could see it during the India-Pakistan cricket matches, in the reaction of crowds towards the visiting team. In the past, cricket matches were a substitute for a battlefield. We had the opportunity to witness the last one-day match in Delhi in 2005. When we arrived at the Ferozeshah Kotla Ground, Mrs Sonia Gandhi and foreign minister Natwar Singh were already present. I discovered no tension or hostility in the atmosphere, which one normally expects in a Pakistan-India cricket match. Instead a carnival atmosphere prevailed in the stadium, with a fair Pakistani presence loudly cheering Shahid Afridi in full swing. I had the odd feeling that his shots were aimed in our direction. Natwar Singh commented light-heartedly, ‘Aap Afridi ko bhi apne saath hi le jaayein’ (Take Afridi back home with you). I also remember the match in Lahore where Pakistan lost. Imagine a cricket match being played in Lahore, heart of the Punjab, and Pakistan losing to India. Instead of hostility towards the visiting team, the young men and women of Lahore applauded the winning team and ran across the stadium carrying the flags of Pakistan and India.... Given the right political direction, sky is the limit!

A shorter, edited version of this appears in print

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