Move out of 'core issue' straightjacket, say Indo-Pak editors at Panos South Asia's seventh media retreat in Barcelona, Spain
The Indo-Pak peace process has to move out of the straight jacket of a single core issue to grapple with hugely challenging geo-political realities, leading editors and publishers from the region said. The seventh Panos-Himal Indo-Pak Editors Retreat in Barcelona, Spain, held on the 23rd and 24th of August 2008, touched on the complex new scenario in the region, the state of flux within both the countries and some fresh ideas of engagement.
Giving a lucid account of the current situation in Pakistan, Talat Hussain, Executive Director, Aaj TV said, Pakistanís sense of insecurity had shifted decisively from the eastern frontier to the west. The influx of streams of Jehadis and militants from Darra Khyber and U S forces literally breathing down Pakistanís neck had created what the Pakistani state perceived as a grave and present danger to its sovereignty.
At this juncture, it was opportune for both India and Pakistan to join hands in dealing with the situation since it could have a domino effect on the region, he added. India had moved into Afghanistan in a big way realizing the shifting priorities and had shown great sagacity in not commenting on Pakistanís internal affairs. Pakistanís new political establishment was also keen to enhance ties with India, making it a good opportunity for collaboration across the board on all issues, including terrorism coming in from the western frontier, he said.
Former Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Shamshad Ahmad Khan said the presence of a civilian government in Pakistan should give a fillip to ties, discounting the theory that Indo-Pak issues could only be resolved under a military regime in Pakistan and a right wing government in India.
Both Imran Aslam, President GEO TV and Mujibur Rehman Shami, Editor Daily Pakistan warned of the presence and machinations of non-state actors in the current Pakistani set up. Shami said it would be politic for India to talk to the Kashmiris and settle issues before these actors began to take advantage and forced them to negotiate instead with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Khursheed Wani, Editor Etallat, Srinagar, said he felt there had been no exercise of genuine peopleís will on both sides of the border in Kashmir. Some mechanism had to be evolved to enable people to elect genuine leaderships to hold negotiations on their behalf, he said.
The current agitation in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time polarized the state along communal lines and the government could do nothing. He said the difference between the 1990s and 2008 was the absence of the gun and the realization among Kashmiris that there would be no Pakistan to back them up. While 35 to 50 year olds were on the streets the first time around, this time 15 to 25 year olds were agitating for their rights, he said. It was time for both India and Pakistan to take cognizance of the ground situation in the state and resolve the issue for once and for all by talking to a genuine Kashmiri leadership, he added.
Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR TV said recent Indian governments comprised a conglomeration of political parties that had no real constituency in Kashmir and hence very little initiative to take difficult steps to resolve issues there. The urban Indian constituency does not have a nuanced understanding of the Kashmir issue though they might be aware of it, he said. The smaller coalition partners, on the other hand, depend on fractured rural constituencies that are indifferent to Kashmir affairs, he added. All that interests the constituents is terrorism, he said, adding that this political reality posed the most serious challenge to looking at a fair and credible response to long term issues like Kashmir.
Both Shahid Siddiqui, MP and Editor/Publisher, Nai Duniya and A S Panneerselvan, Executive Director Panos South Asia differed with this view and said it was in fact the first time that India was developing a truly federal polity and that it was not true that rural constituents were not interested in these matters. Siddiqui said there had been tremendous economic growth and movement across borders among these rural constituents and this gave them a direct stake in such issues.
Former Indian Foreign Secretary, Salman Haidar, however said he agreed that terrorism was an important factor that weighed with successive Indian governments and was also a critical issue governing ties between the two states. This needed to be addressed. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singhís formulation of not looking at borders as lines on a map was important in that it stressed that barriers should be removed and that we should affirm our common heritage and find ways to come closer, he said. This formulation is not something to gain advantage for India at the expense of anyone else, he added.
The Indian Prime Minister may have failed to follow his vision on Kashmir. So did former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who kept on taking step after step without even consulting the Kashmir committee in parliament. The Kashmiri people got disillusioned and this volcanic situation then developed which has now erupted, he added.
N Ram, Editor in Chief, The Hindu said it was a period of uncertainty and flux in India as well with elections around the corner and communalism and inflation being major poll issues. Shravan Garg, Editor Dainik Bhaskar, said the communalism in question was not that coming from Amarnath in Kashmir or from outside, but a dangerous internally generated one with Muslims being ghettoized and large-scale alienation being created. We are creating terror situations in our country deliberately, he said.
Ram said there was a rightward shift in the current Indian governmentís foreign policy with the pro-U.S. tilt being reflected in the nuclear deal signed between the two countries. All the editors agreed that energy was a key issue to be taken into consideration while discussing the political dynamics in the region. Kumar Ketkar, Editor Loksatta, said that since all energy options were going to take at least one or two decades to implement, the US presence and hegemony in the region would last at least for a decade or two.
Hameed Haroun, CEO and publisher Dawn said both India and Pakistan were being used and would continue to be used as blue collar workers to advance US interests in the region till they better understood current dynamics and came together in their own interests. Salman Haidar added that it was noteworthy that some collaboration had emerged in the old gas pipeline issue that had been put on the backburner earlier.
Kanak Mani Dixit, editor Himal South Asian and moderator of all the retreats held so far concluded by saying that the current retreat was taking place at a very critical juncture in Indo-Pak relations. Enumerating issues touched upon, he said, there was the new stream of Jehadis pouring in from the western frontiers, there was an indigenous movement in Kashmir, the changing politics in the US and the region, the focus on the western border, the presence of non state actors in Pakistan and the evolution of militancies in India. In this, the positives to emerge from the retreat were the talk of collaboration on terrorism from the western frontier, the idea of the revival of the gas pipeline and looking at just, practical and amicable ways of forward movement on Kashmir.
SYED TALAT HUSSAIN
Executive Director, News and Current Affairs,
CEO, Dawn Media Group
President Ė Geo TV
KASHIF HANEEF ABBASI
Anchor, ARY One World TV
Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu group of publications
Executive Editor, Etalaat
Editor-in-Chief, Nai Dunia/M.P. Rajya Sabha
CEO, Star TV
SHRAVAN KUMAR GARG
Group Editor, Dainik Bhaskar
Former Foreign Secretary,
Govt. of Pakistan
Former Foreign Secretary,
Govt. of India
KANAK MANI DIXIT,
Editor, Himal Southasian
A S PANNEERSELVAN,
Executive Director, Panos South Asia
Country Director/Director Programmes, PSA