July 11, 2001


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Admiral (retd) J G Nadkarni

The voices of reason

With less than seven days to go for the start of the historic summit between the leaders of two beleaguered countries, the rhetoric is becoming really shrill. Those who oppose any accommodation with Pakistan are leaving no stone unturned to issue warnings about the dangers that lie in the path of the negotiators, invoking history in the bargain.

They appear to be convinced that India has been the wronged party in the past, that Pakistan cannot be trusted and that if we steel ourselves and just hold on a little longer in Kashmir, our neighbour will be forced to sue for peace at our cost. Ranged on the other side are the voices of reason, who would like both countries to make at least a start to end 50 years of hatred, mistrust and animosity.

Fortunately, the voices of reason appear to be winning, judging from the initial moves of both governments. India announced a series of measures recently to set the ball rolling. These included the most practical solution to the long-festering problem of fishermen who stray across maritime borders and are then locked up in jail for many years. What better way of resolving the issue than a simple instruction to the Coast Guard not to capture them in future, but to let them off with a warning. It is for Pakistan now to reciprocate in kind. General Musharraf also ordered the release of Indian cyclist Vikas Singh, who had been languishing in a Pakistani jail for months.

With such gestures of give and take, a great deal is being expected from the summit. It is, of course, too much to ask for 50 years of rivalry, bitterness and distrust to evaporate overnight. Obviously all problems cannot be solved in one meeting. But at least some beginnings can be made and steps taken on the road to reconciliation and good neighbourliness.

Historically, longstanding and bitter conflicts have been resolved when leaders have shown statesmanship accompanied by magnanimity, a spirit of accommodation and the ability to put behind the past for the sake of a happy future.

In the 15th century, Yorkshire, represented by a white rose, and Lancashire, represented by a red rose, fought the famous War of the Roses. Ultimately, Henry of Lancaster defeated Richard III of York at the Battle of Bosworth Field to become Henry VII and found the House of Tudor. Henry promptly married Princess Elizabeth of York, in an act of reconciliation, uniting England. Rivalry has existed between Lancashire and Yorkshire ever since, although it is mainly on the cricket field, although Yorkshiremen still say that the only good thing to come out of Lancashire is the road to Yorkshire!

Both England and France, which fought each other for hundreds of years from the 14th to the 19th centuries, are today co-members of the European Union. The English still call the French "frogs' and the French ridicule English cooking, but that has not stopped them from joining the two countries with the help of the 'Chunnel', a tunnel under the English Channel.

Where would we be today if world affairs were carried out in a primitive and schoolboyish he-pinched-me-first manner. Would Britain and the United States still be smarting from the American War of Independence? Would the American North and South still be wanting revenge on each other following the four-year Civil War in which over a million people died. In fact, one of the first acts of Abraham Lincoln was to set in motion the process of reconciliation.

Learning from history, the West has realised that a policy of forgive and forget yields far better results than vengeance and reparation. Allied leaders showed little statesmanship after the First World War, when they imposed extreme conditions on a defeated Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, creating an environment which gave rise to Hitler. The five-year Second World War resulted in millions of casualties, but this time victory also brought in its wake generosity, resulting in the establishment of the United Nations and the introduction of the Marshal Plan to revive a war-torn Europe.

No country suffered more in the Second World War than the Soviet Union, which lost 20 million people, one-tenth of its population. Yet today Russia wants to join the European Union and NATO. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the country gave back to Poland the part it had usurped after the War. It also gave the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania their freedom.

In the east also, a Japan which had carried out the attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour and which became the only country to receive an atom bomb became the staunchest ally of the US.

Nearer present times, the United States lost nearly 65,000 men in their fifteen-year war in Vietnam. The US bombed Hanoi and mined Haiphong harbour during that war. Yet just a few years after the Americans departed from the top of the US embassy in 1974, the two countries are on friendlier grounds. A US president has made the first official visit to Vietnam and Vietnamese are flocking into the US.

India's much maligned first prime minister displayed great statesmanship during the early years of Independence. In a masterstroke of astuteness, India invited Lord Mountbatten to be its first governor general. In that one gesture, all the acrimony of 200 years of colonial rule was forgotten. Later, when India became a republic, Nehru devised a formula whereby India continued to remain in the British Commonwealth. There is dire need for such statesmanship in the higher echelons of our leadership today.

Lack of such foresight and leadership has cost both India and Pakistan dearly in the past. They may not be economic basket cases, but both still languish in the bottom one-third of the ranking for quality of life. Both still face enormous problems of poverty, illiteracy and exploding populations.

Both countries could do with an era of peace, not an impossible goal really, given the will and ability of their leaders. They have two images to choose from. One is an image of confrontation, a perpetual arms race with both Bombay and Karachi targeted by submarines carrying nuclear weapons, gun battles across the border, aircraft being hijacked or shot down and eventually economic disasters. The other is the vision of reconciliation, a visa-less open border, arms capping and reduction, cultural exchanges, rivalry on the sports field, removal of poverty and economic uplift.

A majority of citizens of the two countries are hoping that the voice of reason will prevail over the rhetoric of hatred. The voice of reason is not appeasement; it is an acknowledgment of reality. It is more pragmatism, less romanticism. The battle cry for the meeting should be 'Remember our children', not 'Remember Kargil'.

Today, on the eve of the historic summit, both India and Pakistan stand at the crossroads. Will the leaders of the two countries, on whom the aspirations of their people rest, show the statesmanship expected of them to break out of the vicious circle or will they succumb to petty and partisan politics? Will they hand over to the next generation a future of peace and prosperity or will they succumb to petty squabbles and be happy with nations where every citizen is in fear of being wiped out in a nuclear holocaust? The world will be watching.

Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)

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