Hardening of the enemy image - By Dr Moonis Ahmar Back   Home  
Another negative implication of terrorist attacks of September 11 is the worsening of Indo-Pak relations. Soon after the destruction of buildings of World Trade Centre and Pentagon, fresh tug of war between New Delhi and Islamabad on the question of combating terrorism with American involvement not only led to the cancellation of Mr Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan but also witnessed the worsening of ill-will and suspicion.

The hardening of enemy image against each other is a sad reminder of typical mindset of policy-makers and a vast segment of people of the two countries. Since 1947 till today, there are very few examples to prove a consensual approach adopted by India and Pakistan on various international and regional issues. Both countries have taken pride in contradicting each other and pursuing policies of totally different nature in moments of crisis.

During the cold war and in the post-cold war, one hardly sees any positive change in the approach and perception of New Delhi and Islamabad on issues, which at least demand the exercise of political wisdom. New Delhi had bitterly criticised Pakistan of toeing the American line during East-West confrontation and Islamabad had assailed New Delhi of supporting the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. During the Gulf crisis and war (1990-1991) the nationals of India and Pakistan had suffered but instead of taking a joint stand to deal with the situation, the two sides refused to cooperate with each other and tried to deal with the difficult situation in a totally different manner.

After the end of the cold war, one thought that the two major neighbours of South Asia would unleash the process of stability and cooperative security in their conflict-ridden relations. But, it appeared that the two countries take pleasure in degrading each other on moments of international and regional crises and miss no opportunity in putting the other side down. This is what has exactly happened as a sequel to the September 11 events in New York and Washington. Propaganda blitz of India and Pakistan against each other reached its peaked with the sole purpose to show to the world that they can do anything to exploit the weaknesses of the other party.

Numerous reasons could be found to prove why India and Pakistan are still a victim of paranoia and make a mockery before the world because of their narrow interests and petty approach on critical issues of global nature. First, as a result of unchanged mindset, it has become a psyche of the policy-makers and people of India and Pakistan to put each other in an embarrassing position. There was no need on the part of India to exploit the situation emanating from the terrorist attacks of September 11 and convince Washington that it should declare Pakistan a terrorist state. The manner in which New Delhi offered America its support to combat terrorism and the role played by the Indian media, both print and electronic in using the opportunity to bleed Pakistan because of its relations with the Taliban regime in Kabul, would remain a dark spot on Indian foreign policy.

As a consequence to Indian offensive against Pakistan, particularly on its Kashmir policy and its nuclear programme, Islamabad had to respond accordingly. Islamabad succeeded in neutralising India's pro-active approach after the events of September 11 and got an upper hand in America's confidence to combat terrorism. Unless, India and Pakistan behave in a mature manner and refrain from exploiting opportunities against each other, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to seek normalisation in their relations.

Second, it seems that it has become a state policy of India and Pakistan to engage hawkish and extremist elements in hardening the enemy image. Contrary to all decent norms of diplomacy and international relations, we have seen responsible public figures and politicians of the two countries using language of hate and anger against each other. How can enemy image in the two countries be replaced with rational and pragmatic approach unless there are people in both India and Pakistan who take pride in letting each other down and seeking external support merely to hurt each other's position?

Third, it has been proved as a result of several events that those forces who want to replace enemy image with friendly and normal relations between India and Pakistan are totally helpless vis-a-vis those who never fail in their crusade against the process of normalisation and peace in South Asia. After the debacle at Agra, another attempt was made by New Delhi and Islamabad to resume the dialogue process between the two erstwhile neighbours. It was agreed that there would be a meeting between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee on the occasion of annual session of UN General Assembly in September. It was also decided that the Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and Prime Minister Vajpayee would make a return visit to Pakistan. While the New York meeting couldn't take place because of the September 11 disaster in that city, the visits of Jaswant Singh and Vajpayee were cancelled by India as a retaliation against the "remarks" made by Pakistan's President against New Delhi. Such an approach has proved that the people in power, both in India and in Pakistan, are not serious in resolving their conflicts and both look for opportunities that could either delay the negotiation process or kill any possibility of a dialogue.

Be as it may, the hardening of enemy image between India and Pakistan can only hurt the interests of the people of the two countries. The outside world, which had earlier expressed some interest in helping out New Delhi and Islamabad in resolving their conflicts will also back out because of the attitude and approach of the two countries. The sharp rise in propaganda campaign against each other in the backdrop of September 11 events and the attempt made by the two sides to malign their image before the international community is not only sad but shameful.

Such a practice has been going on since long and it can be cited as a major reason why India and Pakistan have not been able to build trust and confidence despite several opportunities. The solution to this problem lies in developing consensus between the governments of the two countries that they will not embark on policies, which can harden the enemy image. India as a regional power and big neighbour needs to take the initiative in this regard and refrain from doing things, which provide an opportunity to extremist and hawkish elements in Pakistan to launch a hostile campaign against their eastern neighbour.
This is a modified version of an article published in Pakistan newspaper Jung. The writer is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Karachi