Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is the middle path the way to peace with Pakistan?

The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are meeting today in New York to carry forward the peace dialogue begun at Sharm-el-Sheikh. India’s decision to meet has been prompted by Pakistan’s arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks. Many Indians feel cynical, however, about today’s meeting, especially after the disappointment at Sharm-el-Sheikh. Negotiating with a nation whose secret service might be plotting the next terrorist attack on you seems bizarre, but is there an alternative to the slow, maddening grind towards peace with our neighbour?

All of us dream of waking up one day to discover that the border between India and Pakistan had become as peaceful as the one between Canada and United States. It seems hopelessly romantic, but this is precisely what happened to France and Germany who were in perpetual conflict for 75 years. Now one cannot imagine these two European enemies ever going to war. If India and Pakistan could pull this off, we might even realize the vision of C. Rajagopalchari, who wanted the sub-continent to become re-unified into a peaceful confederation of nations like the European Union.

After the terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11, Indians were divided over how to respond. The hawks wanted to make a precision attack on the camps of Lashkar-e-Toiba. They modelled their strategy on Israel’s retaliation for the attack of its athletes in Munich. (You can watch it in the thriller, Munich, available on DVD.) The doves, on the other hand, advocated ahimsa, preferring to take the high moral ground and turn the other cheek. The third position was more circumspect and lay between these extremes. It is the policy which the Indian government has patiently pursued--providing dossiers of evidence to Pakistan, hoping that world pressure would force it to act against the terrorists. Will this frustratingly slow middle path reward us with lasting peace?

The Mahabharata seems to think so. Unique in engaging with the world of politics, the epic also had to wrestle with the same three positions. The first was the ‘amoral realism’ of Duryodhana, who believed that ‘might is right’ and when in doubt strike your enemy. At the other extreme was the idealistic position of the early Yudhishthira, who refused to follow Draupadi’s sensible advice, which was to gather an army and win back their kingdom stolen by the Kauravas in a rigged game of dice. The epic also adopted a pragmatic, middle path of negotiation, but when Duryodhana refused to part with the Pandavas’ rightful share, Yudhishthira had to declare war.

Mahabharata would thus reject the hawkish idea of a retaliatory strike against the terrorist camps in Pakistan--not for ideological reasons, but because it would only escalate the conflict. Israel’s many retaliatory strikes against Palestine have failed to ‘teach them a lesson’. It would also reject the dovish high moral ground of ahimsa because ‘turning the other cheek’ sends wrong signals to terrorists and the ISI. It would commend upright Manmohan Singh’s middle path of negotiation. But if negotiations fail, the Indian PM must be prepared to wield danda, ‘the rod of force’, just as Yudhishthira had to.

This pragmatic middle path is akin to the evolutionary principle of reciprocal altruism, which socio-biologists have made popular in recent decades--smile at the world but do not allow yourself to be exploited. Your first move should be of goodness, but if you are slapped, then you have to reciprocate and slap back. Many Indians believe that our government is not following this sensible advice. We are either too conciliatory or too scared of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Hence, Pakistan thinks us weak, and its secret service has no qualms in planning its next terrorist strike.

This is not entirely true. We may be unwilling to play ‘tit-for-tat’ but we have never compromised on our basic principles. Take Kashmir. Pakistan believes that peace with India depends on settling the Kashmir dispute, which is a doubtful proposition. India has held firmly that the answer to Kashmir lies in getting everyone to accept the line of control as the permanent border. It is true we have lost many historic opportunities to achieve this. Our best chance was after the Bangladesh War when we should have made it a condition at the Simla Conference for the exchange of Pakistani officers and soldiers.

As the bigger and more powerful nation India has to be more conciliatory. As the world’s second fastest growing economy, we cannot afford to be distracted by interminable ‘tit for tats’. Yes, Pakistan does drag us into a pit of identity politics, hobbles us at every step, and sidetracks us from our real destiny. This is all the more reason to accept the slow, hard and frustrating grind towards a negotiated peace. In the meantime, the best medicine is to try and ignore Pakistan.


JB Singh said...

It is actually an issue of realpolitik. You do what suits you best at that precise point of time. At any other time something else will suit better and that will be done. We might not be being either extremist in our response or idealistic, because it does not suit us to do so now. It might be different at some other time.

B Shantanu said...

But if negotiations fail, the Indian PM must be prepared to wield danda, ‘the rod of force’, just as Yudhishthira had to.

How long before we collectively agree that negotiations have failed?

There is a long (and I mean very long) list of demands/requests made by India towards Pakistan for the past many many years...

Is it not time to say enough?

Unknown said...

gurcharanjee, what good will come of these meetings when the venue has "sharm" in its name? while we are to follow the idealistic path of correct behaviour (mahabharat), our neighbour is also following the dictat of their holy book(jihad). as a bigger nation we have to be reconciliatory, but it was the irritating little ant which brought down the mighty elephant. and we have been isolated and surrounded by enemies who are steadily whittling away at our borders. the cancer has spread to every part of this nation, even an amputation (like the one in 1947) will not halt this slow and painful death.

Anonymous said...


Interpreting native concepts from a western perspective is not a crime. But usually the spirit of the work is better carried and reflected when the perspective is inside out; Paul Brunton, Edwin Arnold et al. worked from the inside-out perspective and delivered useful outputs. The outside in perspective from the likes of Stuart Mill, Macaulay, Nehru introduced Vishama into the native soceity. It makes me think you could have saved yourself and the reader time, and delivered superior output by investing a bit of your time by learning what makes Dharma from native Indian sources. While skepticism on assertions by natives is not necessarily an error, bypassing them possibly is a serious mistake considering the nature of subject - Dharma. Tendency to interpret native texts for non natives usually necessitates confirming to one sine qua non in the first place – thorough understanding of native traditions on the text.

Check out the outcome of an effort which strikes the heart of matter and articulates What is Dharma as per native accounts.

Your amateurish effort articulating Dharma can be a stepping stone for interested readers towards understanding Dharma. You/reveiwers should desist from presenting your work on Dharma from an authoritative perspective. It can at best be a kindergarten's source for learning about Dharma - work in progress understanding Dharma. Your penchant to articulate "Mahabharata/Bhisham Pitamaha says do that" best avoided on account of your clear inadequate acquaintance on the subject, lack of subject matter expertise. There in lie concerns about your book,its narrative.

This is not to denigrate your amateur's effort. ZIM believes that while there are serious shortcomings in your narration, by affirming the current relevance of native Indian tradition and alluding to its superiority over dogmatic totalitarian ones, and by connecting your corporate experience to Yudhishtra's challenges, you seem to have made your book relevant.

Your narration seems to suffer from certain shortcomings. For a more elaborate reality check on your work, you can check out Dharma Cola and Gurcharan Das


Food for thought on your blog post: Just as Hastinapur/Indraprasth/Gandhar shenanigans was fixed by someone from Dwaraka, should Indians again need to look at Gujarat for solution as Ratan Tata, many nationalist Indians assert?

Meee said...

I liked the way you linked the Indo-Pak issue with incidents from the Mahabharata. Keep posting more, like your blog!

Meee said...

I liked the way you linked the Indo-Pak issue with incidents from the Mahabharata. Keep posting more, like your blog!

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Rohit kumar said...

Hi Gurucharan,

I have read India Unbound and found it a logical and authentic account of pre-post independent India.It is truly a revitting experience as i went through each and every page religiously.

I am yet to read the difficulty in being good,but surly will do.

As far PAKISTAN goes,an ignorant would also recognise the STATE being a failed one and i believe the formation of PAKISTAN sowed the seed of it's consequent and natural disintegration and painful distruction (that the world is witnessing day in and day out),as it's institution was based on the shared prejudice aganist HINDU community at large by the proponents of MUSLIM LEGUE.

The point under consideration for INDIA is that,it's ECONOMY is growing pretty decent and the overall socio-economic-politico landscape is on a transforming trend for a better toomorw.

On the other hand PAKISTAN is in decedence and on the nadir of SELF INFLICTED DEVASTATION AND MASS DISTRUCTION and i do not see any coming back to normalcy as the country is in wrong hands and the resources are being used in fomenting violence and there is no sign that PAK will abjure VIOLENCE against it's own people as well as on neighbouring INDIA.


In today's environment India needs to be very proactive in terms of handelling pakistan and also give them a sense that we do not atach too much importance to the fraud and fake pakistani leaders,who does nothing and know nothing except ''PUBLIC POSTURING''AND PAKISTAN - THE FAILED STATE...

Now when OBAMA has been given NOBLE now at least we indian should expect that the billion dollar aid to pakistan that ultimately goes in wrong hand would stop,or the utilisation will be closly monitored''....MR.Obama and his ADMINISTRATION ....


mithun gudipati said...

My question to Gurucharanjee:

why do i get the feeling that China is pushing for a war in this economy to become a super power????

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