Ideas and solutions

A FEW years back a study group from Russian and American think tanks, said in a report on our region that Pakistanis and Indians had failed to propound solutions to the disputes that divided their countries.

A distinguished Pakistani publicist, a regular on the seminar circuit, wrote that Indian and Pakistani participants performed like government representatives.

The jamborees of do-gooders are little better. A lot of goodwill is exuded amidst the airing of fanciful solutions. They are not alone to blame. On Dec 10, Justice A.K. Ganguly, a judge of India`s Supreme Court, said in the course of an address on Human Rights Day that India should take the lead in establishing a South Asian Human Rights Commission to deal with cases of violation of human rights in the region.

It never occurred to the judge that India`s initiative will itself make the idea stillborn. That apart, have we reached the stage when a citizen or government of a state in South Asia will accept an adverse ruling by a member of the commission belonging to a state with which its relations are not particularly cordial? Who will appoint the members of that commission? The states will take good care to see that they send `reliable` (pliable?) members to the commission.

One is reminded about the debate in Britain in 1950 before the ratification of the European convention on human rights. Lord chancellor Jowitt consulted the lord chief justice and the law lords and opined: “We are not prepared to encourage our European friends to jeopardise our whole system of law, which we have laboriously built up over the centuries, in favour of some half-baked scheme to be administered by some unknown court.”

During the latter phase of the Cold War, Track Two contributed many a good idea which the United States and the Soviet Union could accept. What passes for Track Two in South Asia is an expensive joke. Not one sensible idea of significance has been contributed in the two decades since it was initiated, initially under American sponsorship.

This has been the bane of the relationship between Pakistan and India. Members of our civil societies cannot bring themselves to make the intellectual effort to initiate joint studies and to propound realistic solutions acceptable to both sides. The fare they provide is, at best, of marginal significance.

Sadly, things are no better in Kashmir as a group of visiting Pakistani journalists discovered a few years ago. That academics face daunting problems is readily admitted. But extremism is another name for escapism. And escapism has seized the discourse in South Asia. Proposals are mooted which do not reckon with the `other side`s` interests. There is a strange fascination for the `pie in the sky` solution to Kashmir.

It is sheer escapism to propound partition plans based on lines that catch one`s fancy. The late Niaz Naik, Nawaz Sharif`s interlocutor after the Lahore summit in February 1999, was enchanted with the Chenab Line and demonstrated it to his counterpart R.K. Mishra on a map helpfully provided by a tourist kiosk at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. Incidentally, the council of the All India Muslim League met under Quaid-i-Azam`s chairmanship to accept the partition plan at this hotel.

The Chenab Line, as Naik himself conceded, was a euphemism for the partition of Kashmir on a religious basis — a non-starter. Equally absurd are suggestions for a condominium or a confederation. Archival material which this writer found recently showed that at Sheikh Abdullah`s prodding, in 1964 India`s Ministry of External Affairs seriously conducted a study on an India-Pakistan-Kashmir confederation. India loses little; Kashmir gains a lot; Pakistan loses everything. Kashmir is `solved` by Pakistan ceding its sovereignty in a confederation with a larger state.

Foreign Secretary Y.D. Gundevia wrote to the advocate general of Madras V.K.T. Chari on May 13, 1964 to seek his legal opinion. “The question is: must Kashmir be by itself a separate sovereign entity? The confederation, ordinarily, would, probably, involve the sovereign states of India and Pakistan, having uniform laws and policies on certain subjects, e.g. defence, external affairs and communications, at least.”

At president Ayub Khan`s invitation Sheikh Sahib came to Pakistan and received a deserved rebuff from the president for his idea of a confederation.

There is surely another and more promising course in the realm of exchange of ideas. Let us deal with matters on which dialogue holds promise. India and Pakistan have similar constitutional, legal and administrative systems. Why not arrange for the two chief election commissioners to meet, exchange notes and make recommendations on electoral reform?

South Asia is, perhaps, the only region which has laws to deal with defections. A good law must meet two tests — it must adequately cover defection without curbing freedom of speech and it must provide a truly independent tribunal to decide disputes when a lota in Pakistan or an aya Ram , gaya Ram in India changes sides. Laws in both countries are defective. Lawyers and academics can put their heads together to suggest a model law.

The river waters problem may be politically changed but non-governmental experts, former civil servants and others can deliberate quietly and at length their reports, even if differing, will contribute to an informed discussion.

Another useful topic is the efficacy of parliamentary committees. One can think of many such matters. It is for the civil societies to demand liberalisation of the visa system so that they can meet and talk. This is hard work but it is far more helpful than the narcissistic comforts of escapism.

The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.