Commentary | Hyde Park: Focusing our energies on another two-state conflict

From the SSMU General Assembly to Israeli Apartheid Week, campus life has been consumed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the past few weeks. Can we change topics? We South Asians on campus are feeling a little left out; we have our own enduring, ancient conflict that ought to be discussed.

The Indian-Pakistani conflict began in 1947 with the partition of British India into two nations. Pakistan was conceived of as a homeland for the Muslims, while India was founded as a secular but Hindu-majority nation. Upon their independence, a mass exodus – marked by incidents of violence – took place as Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India and Muslims migrated to Pakistan, sowing distrust for decades to come. And India and Pakistan soon went to war over the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, a princely state to which both lay claim.

Recently, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf told an audience in New Delhi that “We should try for peace now.” But with such heavy historical baggage, is peace possible between these two nuclear-armed rivals? Pakistan is at war with itself, battling an insurgency in its North West Frontier Province while its deeply unpopular yet democratic government crumbles. It could use another ally and divert its military resources away from its border with India to its frontier with Afghanistan. India, as the heinous Mumbai terror attacks revealed, has an interest in building a strong relationship with Pakistan to defeat terrorism. Their interests are surely aligned, but what is impeding the peace process?

Jammu and Kashmir have been the focal points of the Indian-Pakistani conflict, spawning official wars in 1948 and 1965 as well as several border skirmishes. The territory is important to India and Pakistan not only because of its beauty and key water resources, but also because it represents to each nation its raison d’être. For India, the existence of a Muslim-majority Indian state furthers its claim that it is a true secular, plural democracy.

Pakistan, on the other hand, sees in Kashmir the ideological basis for its existence: if Pakistan was created out of India’s Muslim-majority areas, then Kashmir must be part of Muslim Pakistan. So the two nations continue to amass a considerable nuclear arsenal and build up conventional arms, with the consequence that needed resources are diverted away from poverty alleviation, health, etc.

In their desire for power, Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies have also been engaged in a covert war, trying to destabilize each other’s countries by supporting separatist movements. The attacks in Mumbai, which were carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, were the direct consequence of a decades-old, misguided Pakistani policy.

At the risk of sounding Bush-esque, I think we can all agree that terrorists do not respect national boundaries. Although the status of Kashmir is without a doubt an intractable issue, the two nations can no longer let it define their relations as they confront extremism and underdevelopment. Indians, Pakistanis, and members of the international community must convince the two governments to strengthen their intelligence cooperation and to build trade and cultural relations.

It’s time the leaders and citizens of both countries recognize the dangers of terrorism and rebuke decades of irresponsible foreign policy, and for students to get involved with the process.

Now, a cheer for peace: Jai Ho!

Faiz Lalani is a U3 History and Economics student, and a member of the Indo-Pak initiative. He can be reached at faiz.lalani@mail.mcgill.ca.

The Indo-Pak Peace Conference, featuring leading thinkers from India and Pakistan discussing these issues, will be held on campus on March 27 and 28. More info can be found at indopakinitiative.org.


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