IPCS Discussion

The People Next Door: The Curious History of India's Relations With Pakistan

25 Sep, 2017    ·   5368

Report on 'The People Next Door: The Curious History of India's Relations With Pakistan', a book reading and discussion held on 14 September 2017

Report on 'The People Next Door: The Curious History of India's Relations With Pakistan', a book reading and discussion held on 14th September 2017.

The interaction was chaired by Ambassador (Retd) Salman Haidar, Patron, IPCS, and former Foreign Secretary, Government of India.

The Chair described Dr TCA Raghavan's People Next Door: The Curious History of India's Relations With Pakistan as a tightly packed master narrative on India-Pakistan relations. The book provides great insight into feelings on both sides, does not draw conclusions and instead leaves space for the readers to arrive at their understanding.

The author, Dr TCA Raghavan, who was former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan between 2013 and 2015, read excerpts from his book. This was followed by a discussion. Dr Raghavan described the book as a historical narrative of how the interface between India and Pakistan has developed since 1947. The book does not rely a great deal on declassified files and draws instead from people's assessments and impressions of how they dealt with particular situations, which in turn contributed to the development of India-Pakistan history.

The speaker read an excerpt on what were possibly the first extradition cases between India and Pakistan in the early 1950s, when an Indian dacoit - Bhupat Daku  - wanted for crimes and murder in India, crossed into Pakistan. Many complexities ensued in the absence of a legal extradition treaty. This was followed by a excerpt on India-Pakistan summit meetings - highlighting the role of Rajeshwar Dayal, then Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan and an old friend of President Ayub Khan - and how both sides perceived incidents and meetings differently. The final excerpt was based on a high-level India-Pakistan meeting between then foreign ministers IK Gujral and Sahabzada Yakub Khan in the backdrop of the deteriorating situation in Kashmir in the 1990s, where Khan reiterated Pakistan's claims on Kashmir and almost gave India a war ultimatum. Both India and Pakistan had weak governments in the 1990s, which lent credence to the external perception that both countries were on the verge of war.

The media has always been a very big factor in India-Pakistan relations. Media reportage, based often on sources usually from within government, sets the tone of public rhetoric. The Chair reinforced this assertion, saying, "the ship of state, unlike conventional vessels, leaks from the top."

Dr Raghavan also discussed Afghanistan, another important factor in India-Pakistan relations since 1947. Afghanistan has figured, although not very prominently, in bilateral relations from time to time, and very prominently in 1979 and 1990. History shows that India and Pakistan are very rarely on the same page, with widely divergent readings of the same events. This makes a reading of this shared but contested history problematic. Both have different narratives on the wars of 1965 and 1971. Public perceptions, too, of these historical events diverge widely. Within India, in fact, there is no consensus on when the 1965 war began, with different narratives pointing to different dates between August and October.

Relationships between neighbouring countries are difficult to navigate especially when one neighbour is significantly larger than the other. This is not without historical precedent. External factors such as China's relations with Pakistan may be important but they do not have a very dramatic effect on India-Pakistan bilateral relations. This is especially so when seen in the context of South Asia witnessing a consistent external influence in the region historically.

On Kashmir, there have always been efforts to go around the problem. One way has been long open-ended discussions and summits, much like the discussions on the Indus Water Treaty which went on for eight years. Some of the measures included softening and depoliticising the ceasefire line and allowing people to move in both directions across the border, which from 2004 saw an intensive examination from a policy perspective, pointing towards a possible way forward. Backchannels have also had some limited success on their own, but there is a strong need to embed it in the larger process.

Rapporteured by Rajat Ahlawat, Research Intern, IPCS