Home > Uncategorized > Two-nation theory must give way to three-state reality: Mani Shankar Aiyar

Two-nation theory must give way to three-state reality: Mani Shankar Aiyar

Two-nation theory must give way to three-state reality: Mani Shankar Aiyar

By Urooj Zia (Pakistan Today; 09 January 2010)

KARACHI: It is high time that the two-nation theory gave way to the ‘three-state’ reality, Indian National Congress (INC) member Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Saturday during an even organized by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations.

Aiyar is a former external affairs secretary for India, and had also served as the consul-general of India to Pakistan. In his humorous and extremely well-articulated, albeit long, speech, Aiyar provided what he referred to as a personal perspective on Pakistan and Indo-Pak relations. Drawing on his three years in Karachi 33 years ago as the Indian C-G, the relationships that he formed during the time with people from Pakistan, and his several trips back here since (five times in the past year alone), he spoke about the value of providing a “more sympathetic view from India”.

He described his bewilderment at the “evocation of filthy streets” by people who had migrated to Pakistan in 1947; and his surprise at the then-Sukkur deputy commissioner’ request to allow Muslim devotees of a Hindu santh to get blessings from him. From what he had known till then, this seemed odd to Aiyar, but was later proved to be quite common. “I asked Makhdoom Amin Fahim about Hindu devotees of his father who had migrated to India,” he said. “Fahim told me that they still sought his father’s blessings. But how is the ‘nazrana’ sent then? The same way the request for blessings is sent, Fahim said – through the smugglers!”

At another time, after being dining as guests of a former prisoner of war who had spent two and a half years in Meruth after the 1971 war, Aiyar’s wife asked in bewilderment whether they really were in an “enemy country”. As such, he said, the people of Pakistan had always been incredibly hospitable, not just to him as a C-G who could issue or withdraw visas, but to every member of his staff. “Shopkeepers in Saddar offered discounts to Indians and customers from the Indian Consulate,” he said, adding that even his PA’s wife, who wore a bindi and caught a bus from right in front of the Indian consulate-general got capital treatment from everyone on the street. But when Aiyar asked his PA about improvement in relations between the two countries, the latter replied: “How, sir? Are they not all Musalmans?” This ‘communalisation of mindsets’, the former C-G said, is the central problem between the two countries. “Each is seen as the ‘enemy other’, but perhaps this was the price of Independence,” he said. “It is time, however, to also look at how our two countries share complementarities of national destinies. We share geographical and civilisational space. While history might have divided us, geography binds us. Our shared inheritance can bring us closer as much as it can keep us apart.”

Over the years, he said, several forces within the two countries had tried to render the people asunder, but are yet to “entirely succeed”. “We remain hyphenated in the eyes of the world and in the minds of our people,” he said, “Siamese twins are not free to go away from each other.”

Aiyar listed four sets of factors that hinder better relations between India and Pakistan, and divided them into the heads of generic, institutional, endemic and episodal factors.

“Generic factors are those which people use to claim that the underlying hostility between our countries is built into our genes,” he said. “I believe, however, that there is merely a lack of convergence in national interest, rather than some inbuilt hatred.” Foreign policy in the two countries vis a vis the other is formulated on the basis of ‘protection from hostility’ instead of ‘promoting friendship’. Hindus and Muslims, he said, are two communities, rather than two incompatible nations. This is proved by the success of the Muslim community in India, where almost all major icons of the youth are ‘unabashedly Muslim’. Aiyar gave the examples of several actors, singers, musicians and finally added Sania Mirza, whom, he said, “we both share”. “I’m deliberately not including politicians in this list,” he added. “All politicians are suspect.”

“The lived experience of secular India shows that there is no incompatibility between the two ‘nations’,” he maintained. Aiyar conceded, however, that the Muslims in Northern India weren’t very well off. “The elite from these regions took off for Pakistan in 1947, while lowerclass Muslims stayed put,” he explained. “Deprived of a middleclass and political leadership, these people could not move forward as much as they should have. This, however, defines the need for affirmative action, and does not, in any way, prove that Hindus and Muslims cannot live under one roof. Moreover, where there was no transfer of population, such as in the South of India, Muslims are very well off.”

National hostility between the two countries does not automatically mean there is communal hostility between Hindus and Muslims, because there isn’t, he said. Reiterating Jinnah’s pro-secularism speech, Aiyar said that it might well have been Nehru speaking. “There’s nothing within either Islam or Hinduism that would prove the incompatibility of the two communities. And in countries where immigrants from India and Pakistan live and work together, they do so largely with tolerance and compatibility,” he maintained.

When Pakistan was formed, its national identity was formulated primarily on the negation of Indianism. “They defined their national identity by asserting that they were not Indians. As such, the national building blocks were based on negativity,” he said. “At the moment, however, 90 percent of the populations of India and Pakistan are not from that generation. They have known only their Indian or Pakistani nationality, and thus, there is no need for the negation of any other previous identity. There is no longer a need for the nationhood of Pakistan to be built with anti-India or anti-Hindu cement.”

Moving on to ‘institutional’ factors, Aiyar said, it is thought that the overwhelming role of the military in Pakistan is a major stumbling block to better Indo-Pak relations. This view took hold in India with Ayub Khan’s coup in 1958. At the time, many higher-ups in the Indian army were Khan’s contemporaries or batchmates from their time, pre-Partitition, in the British army. India did not want this ‘Bonapartism’ to extend across the border, and thus arose a paranoid belief. History, however, negates these claims, which are akin to ‘the wish fathering the thought’. Most favourable moves in Indo-Pak relations have been made while Pakistan was under military dictatorships, Aiyar said, adding that many unfavourable chapters were opened under civilian governments. Composite dialogue via the Lamba-Tariq backchannel made the most progress under then-president Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh between 2004 and March 2007, Aiyar said, adding that he hoped that talks would resume from the same point rather than from zero. During an informal discussion, former foreign minister Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri told Aiyar that the talks had reached very advanced stages. “See, if Pakistan cannot get itself out of military power, what is India to do? We have to deal with whoever is in power,” Aiyar maintained. “We can’t delay talks until Pakistan some day gets a democratically-elected government that keeps its military in check. Peace is an imperative now. It cannot be delayed anymore.”

Moreover, he said, the fear that Pakistan already is or is on its way to being a failed state is unrealistic. “Any country which is deeply anchored in ideology, has a vibrant media and civil society etc, can never be a pushover,” he said. “Pakistan is no wartime Afghanistan which fell prey to religious oscurantists on account of chaos and a political vacuum. Pakistan is here to stay, and it would be best to deal with it on those terms.”

“While it is the duty of intelligence officers to construct farfetched scenarios, statesmen should deal with the here and now,” Aiyar maintained. “No one in India wants ‘Akhund Bharat’. That generation is largely dead, and the nostalgia for a return to united India exists only in the fading memories of 80- or 90-year-olds. India has nothing to gain by dividing Pakistan.”

Kashmir, the water dispute, and cross-border terrorism based on Pakistani soil count as endemic factors which sour relations. “There is no readymade answer to that, but this is not cause enough to despair,” he said. “We need to sit down and talk and resolve issues amicably. Military action is not the solution and subversion will not work. Just like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Sindh will have to sit together and resolve the water issue with 21st Century technology, rather than 20th Century polemics. Water is a common problem for both countries, and is one of the most important universal challenges at the moment. Israel is experimenting with drip and sprinkler irrigation. Maybe we should learn from that. There is no denying water deprivation or the politics flowing from it, but the solution lies in the Indus Water Treaty.”

People in India also need to appreciate the fact that no state has suffered as much from terrorism as Pakistan itself; and it is only the “steely will of the people of Pakistan” which has not enabled the terrorists to take over yet. On the Pakistan side, the realisation that all three networks of terrorism – those bred to target India and the West, and those which target Pakistan itself – are interconnected cam through in President Asif Ali Zardari’s initial reaction to the incidents of 27 November 2008. “We need to work together to formulate a joint strategy against this menace, instead of languishing in confrontation, thus giving an edge to terrorists who pose a threat to both countries,” Aiyar said. “We need to convert sporadic contact between the two countries into uninterrupted dialogue. To date, there is no Pakistani consulate-general in Mumbai; while the Indian consulate-general in Karachi shut down 17 years ago. No one has gained from this; and ordinary people in both countries have suffered.”

Aiyar then presented a list of possible solutions in order to maintain and sustain political dialogue between India and Pakistan. Many of these were things that he has spoken and written about earlier, but which needed to be reiterated nonetheless because, as he put it, “if there are no talks, the status quo will continue on all issues.”

His talk was followed by a question-and-answer session during which he was besieged with hyper-nationalist rhetoric from retired military men who seemed to comprise a majority in the audience. Aiyar’s diplomatic abilities shone through, however, as he fielded answers and allegations alike with the same humour and articulation that have come to characterise him.

  1. January 9, 2011 at 22:41

    Sir ,Mani shankar aiyar is not the former foreign secretary ,he is the former perloium minister and panchayat raj minister of govt of India .Panchayati raj was his brain child and accepted by Rajiv gandhi .He is the most brilliant politician of INdia .

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