India-Pak: Should we trust that deficit?

By Ramananda Sengupta | Last Updated: Nov 24, 2011, 15:05 PM IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s rather plaintive plea that ‘the era of accusations and counter accusations’ between India and Pakistan must come to an end cannot be faulted.
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But it is easier said than done.
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Suspicion, cynicism, enmity, even hatred and war have seeped into our respective DNAs for over 60 years, and is now politely described as a massive ‘trust deficit.’
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That deficit, according to the foreign ministers of both nations, is now ‘shrinking.’
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Perhaps our External Affairs Minister SM Krishna bases his belief on the friendly overtures made by our troubled –and troublesome- neighbour recently.
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Like the quick release of the Indian Army helicopter and crew which had been forced down in October after straying into Pakistani occupied Kashmir near Kargil.
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(Yes, the same Kargil where Squadron leader Rajiv Pundhir, Flight Lt Subramanian Mulihan, Gunner Sergeant PVNR Prasad and Sergeant and Flight Engineer Raj Kishor Sahu died after their Mi-17 helicopter was hit by a Pakistani surface to air missile on May 28, 1999.)
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Like Islamabad’s decision –in principle so far --to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India, more than 15 years after India had granted that status to Pakistan.
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Like Pakistan’s reported (so far unofficial) support for a visa free regime for the SAARC nations (which the cynics believe will only make things easier for terrorists).
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Like the recent release of 27 Indian fishermen arrested and jailed for fishing in Pakistani waters.
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I’m sure our foreign minister has many other reasons to believe his gorgeous Pakistani counterpart, foreign minister Hina Rabbani’s assertion that the two nations are embarking on a “new era of cooperation”.
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Perhaps we are.
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But what sparked off this sudden bonhomie and goodwill?
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What has changed since the Mumbai terrorist strike of 26/11?
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In his book <i>‘The Future of Pakistan’</i>, South Asia analyst Stephen P. Cohen argues that <i>‘Pakistan carries with it an enormous burden of the past. Its overarching narrative is that of victimhood when it comes to its relations with its most important neighbor and its most important international ally. The Pakistani self-perception as the victim of Hindu domination led to the mother of all “trust deficits,” a deficit that can never be eliminated because it stems from the very identity of Indians as dominating, insincere, and untrustworthy; in this view, there is nothing that Pakistan can do to normalize the relationship because Indians/Hindus are believed to be essentially untrustworthy and have proven this time and time again.</i>
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<i>‘My view,’</i> says Cohen, <i>‘ is that if trust is a component of the problem, it is an eternal one – there can never be enough “trust” between sovereign states, but they might think of both trusting and verifying, which in Urdu can be translated as aitemaad aur tasdeeq</i>.’
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Add to that a recent report which says 80 percent of Pakistani public school teachers viewed non-Muslims as "enemies of Islam" in one way or another, and that Pakistan school textbooks reinforced this thinking.
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I personally experienced this many years ago during a SAARC summit in Islamabad, when a young lad vehemently insisted that I could not be a “Hindustani” because I was not fat, red-eyed, and lacked fangs. His father, who ran a roadside eatery, apologized and explained that his son was taught this at his local madrasa.
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In other words, we have a nation where children are taught to hate and demonize “Hindus” and by default, “Hindustan” as India is popularly referred to by Pakistanis.
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So what really led to this sudden olive branch being proffered to India?
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For one, the sudden rupture with Pakistan’s most important – and most hated – international ally, the United States. Given Pakistan’s brazen long-term perfidy in Afghanistan, it’s been coming for a while.
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The curious case of Raymond Davis, an American who shot two men in Lahore before being arrested in January was perhaps the first sign of this widening crack. After a tense standoff, Davis, accused by Pakistan of being a CIA operative, was finally released in exchange for at least $ 2.3 million in blood money, paid to the relatives of the victims.
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The May 2 killing of Al Qaeda chieftain Osama bin Laden by US commandos in Abottabad, near Islamabad, and the continuing US drone strikes on terrorist targets in the tribal areas of west Pakistan have turned this crack into a major fault line, which continues to deepen each day.
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Strategically, this leaves Pakistan with far less room to maneuver, both regionally and internationally.
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Economically, any disruption of the generous American aid puts severe pressure on a nation already reeling from terrorism, the recent floods and rampant mismanagement of resources.
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Politically, cosying up to India sends out the right signals to an international community increasingly suspicious about Pakistan’s intentions.
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Increased India-Pakistan trade will certainly help build economic and hence powerful people to people relations. But it is important to keep in mind that most of Pakistan’s economy is run by former military men, who are not known for their pro-India position.
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According to Hina Rabbani Khar, the trust deficit between India and Pakistan "does not exist, or has been reduced and shrunk to a large extent" after the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, in the Maldives recently.
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Yet the so called ‘core issues’ - Terrorism for India and Kashmir for Pakistan – remain unresolved.
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Despite India’s constant assertion that it would not let terror disrupt the peace process, another major attack like the one on Mumbai could put all this bonhomie into a tailspin.
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As for Kashmir, both sides have too much blood, sweat and tears invested in to ever walk away without a fight.
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So while we must applaud and encourage the efforts being made to normalize relations, it is important to keep two things in mind.
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One, neither side should expect an overnight miracle.
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And two: those who do not learn from their history are condemned to repeat it.
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(The author is the Editor-in-Chief of India.com)