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‘1979 was the tipping point in Indo-Pak relations’

TCA Raghavan at the Kala Ghoda Festival.— Photo: Vijay Bate  

“Cultural and academic exchanges between India and Pakistan are fine, but they do not have a far-reaching impact,” said TCA Raghavan, said former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, who was in Mumbai earlier this week for the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. He spoke to The Hindu on the sidelines of a panel discussion on ‘Renegotiating our Neighbourhood: the Modi doctrine’.

Mr Raghavan said, “If you look at India-Pakistan relations from the perspective of what is happening between North Korea and South Korea, we are not doing badly at all. Ten years ago, people were talking about how to exchange cultural products, how to allow magazines and newspapers from both countries to travel to each other. Now, that debate is obsolete. Technology functions as a great force for change. Even if phones do not work, WhatsApp does. People are connected.”

Mr Raghavan retired from the Indian Foreign Service at the end of 2015, after serving in Islamabad since July 2013. He earlier served as Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan from 2003 to 2007. He now lives in Delhi and looks back at his time as the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan as an exciting one. He said he now finds a good “working understanding” between the two governments. “To my mind, both sides are conscious of the need to move forward,” he said.

Speaking on academic and cultural exchanges, religious tourism and lit fests as tools to counter the hostility between the two nations, Mr Raghavan said: “They do help, to some extent. It is important, however, to be conscious of the limited impact each of these initiatives have. Their impact is largely within their own circles. It is not a far-reaching impact.”

He, however, did point out that visa regulations were more liberal now. “Given the history of India-Pakistan relations, it is not surprising that we have a restrictive visa regime. I think that the Indian government’s policy on visas for Pakistan nationals is far more liberalised today than it used to be 10 years ago. Is it perfect? No,” he said, but noted that the Indian government was more liberal in issuing visas than the Pakistan government. “If you observe carefully, you will notice that there is much more elite travel from Pakistan to India than in the other direction. Many people in India are deterred from going to Pakistan due to security issues.”

He noted that India also has a liberal system in place for Pakistan nationals to seek medical treatment in India.

“The real opportunity lies in the field of youth exchanges, involving school and college students. We must get them to interact in large numbers,” he said. Mr Raghavan also said that Pakistan is working on the way it is perceived. “The Government of Pakistan is making a sincere effort to improve the conditions of temples and gurudwaras so that more Hindu and Sikh pilgrims can come in. They see this effort as important in terms of projecting a soft image of Pakistan,” he said. But at the same time, he noted, that the condition of Hindus in many parts of Sindh is quite disturbing.

The strained equation of India and Pakistan are often traced to the bitterness of the Partition, but Mr Raghavan said he did not think today’s issues were immediately related to 1947. “If you want to explain contemporary events through the lens of history, then I would say that the year 1979 is the most significant for the whole of South Asia.

That year, in many ways, was the tipping point. It was the year of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the year of the Iranian Revolution, and also the year in which democratic forces in Pakistan suffered a setback when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed.

Of course, I would not deny that the Partition did unleash forces that have resonance even today. However, 1979 is more significant if you look at issues like terrorism, and the civil-military equation.”

Mr Raghavan said while Pakistan is a difficult neighbour, there was a certain onus on India, being the larger of the two, to take initiatives.

He listed a few initiatives that India recently had taken: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the swearing-in ceremony, PM Modi’s visit to Lahore, the resolution passed in both houses of Parliament after the terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar. “These have not been an easy set of steps. You know what happened in Pathankot, soon after Prime Minister Modi’s visit. When innocent people are killed, there will be public outrage. Yet, I think it is important to be positive. Let us remember that our interests will be secured only if our neighbours feel like they have a stake in those interests,” he said.

The author is a freelance writer

Cultural and academic exchanges are fine, but

they do not have a

far-reaching impact

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 2:49:58 AM |

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