|Ten years after prime minister Manmohan Singh and former
president general Pervez Musharraf made a principled agreement to carry forward the peace process and make the borders between India and Pakistan irrelevant with the historic beginning of limited re-opening of two routes between Indian and Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir on the Line of Control, the BSF is building the ‘great wall of defence’ – 135 feet wide and 10 meter high – on the international border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Border Security Force last week confirmed this project expected to be completed in 5 years, at an unspecified cost, that would lead to relocation of 122 villages and dispossession of its villagers. The BSF would wall the entire 179 kilometre stretch of the international border, right from Kathua to Akhnoor. The proposalis said to have been approved by the union government some years back for creating better defences against “enemy fire and shelling”. Whether or not that would be the ultimate result, there is something grossly erroneous about the project – conceptually, financially, feasibility wise and priority wise.
There can be no better substitute for defence mechanisms in the world than building a meaningful peace process and allowing greater mobility. Building iron walls and segregating people into compartments does not translate into long term security as it further pushes the peace lobbies and constituencies of mutual trust building to the margins, fortified and eased out by divisive walls. These always have a limitedeven as far as defence is concerned. History bears testimony to fertile minds finding ways to scale these walls in quest of conquer and war, like Troy’s Trojan horse, brought in effortlessly through the fortified walls of the city. Much more recent page from history from Germany demonstrates that such walls have little utility. It took just 28 years for the East and West Germans, divided by the wall of Berlin to yearn with the desire to bridge the distance between each other and to demolish the great barrier that was created in the name of ‘defence’. At a time when the world is becoming a global village and the need for interdependence and mutual co-operation is being greatly understood, despite all its pitfalls, and when Europe has taken the lead in disabling its physical border defences, it is an irony that in this sub-continent we’d be hinging on outdated and archaic methods of security. The Great Wall of China, conceptualized and built first in 7th century, as a border defence today exists only in parts, is not being strengthened as a major fortification by the mighty dragon but simply being promoted as a major tourism destination. So are the Belfast ‘peace walls’, that sought to divide Christians and Protestants with a graffiti of hatred for years.
Such walls have outlived their utility. Already the massive fencing of the borders, costing hundreds of crores of rupees and causing excessive dislocation of the people living on the borders, has not yielded the desired results. The fencing is neither tamper proof nor has been able to effectively seal the borders. Would a wall made of brick and mortar manage to do the same as it zig zags its ways through ravines, rivers, ditches and slices away people’s homes from their fields forever? And, at what cost is this going to be achieved? Crores of rupees that could have been spent on providing basic amenities andfor the marginalized including people living on the borders, dislocation and dispossession of border people with atleast 122 villages facing threat of being partially or fully dislocated. Experience in the past has shown how such major projects, legitimized in the name of national security, have failed also because of excessive corruption and the denial of adequate compensation mechanisms for the dispossessed.
Narratives of the border people also reveal that the best period of respite and security they ever witnessed in the last six decades of hostility between India and Pakistan has been the time when the ceasefire violation agreement was in place, minimizing their dislocation and making them inclusive to some extent of economic development. It is this ceasefire violation that should be strengthened, not fortified walls, for a genuine peace process to be built on its edifices, so that mutual trust, co-operation and confidence can ensure long lasting peace and security. This is no easy road but all it takes is anof political will, patience, commitment and concerted as well as consistent efforts. The onus of this cannot lie on one side alone. Both sides need to shed their rigidity and evasiveness to set peace process on rails without allowing their respective hawks, intelligence forces and militaries to put stumbling blocks. The superficial physical walls need not be erected. They can be more detrimental than helpful. Rather, there is need for bringing down the psychological walls of hatred, hostility and suspicions.