Visa politics in the neighbourhood
The troubled India-Pakistan relationship have taken one decisive step forward during the visit of external affairs minister S M Krishna to Pakistan. Of all the friendship and policy initiatives that the liberals of both countries and the international community have carried out in the last so many decades, this forward step seems to be a victory of the candle marchers. For years, many public figures from both sides of the border have lit candles at the Wagah border on the night of 14 and 15 August, when on this night 65 years back the two countries were born and with it was born a from of enmity that took myriad shapes. But, this community persisted despite all odds, sometimes even at the cost of being labelled anti-national by right-wing groups in their respective countries.
Today, they can claim that they have won, at least partially. For all they demanded all these years was a more porous border and enabling circumstances for people-to-people interactions. For all they felt was that a large part of Pakistan and a substantial part of India have shared cultural roots. They wanted the two nations to build on these roots. Today, this group of activists can claim that what the interior ministry and the foreign affairs ministry of Pakistan and the Ministry of External Affairs of India agreed on in terms of allowing freer movement of each other’s citizens in the neighbouring country is a practical, political execution of their wishes.
At this path-breaking moment – when a quasi-social movement has led to a significant, positive political development – we need to realise that the politics of both India and Pakistan is likely to remain fluid for times to come. Though it may be more so in Pakistan, where the nation’s political/democratic imagination is still fighting for developing firm roots amidst attacks from competing institutions and ideologies, India, by no means, has firmed up its foreign policy for future. The Indian foreign policy may be a result of its economic policies of the last two decades, where its ambitious global reach may be the logic of co-existence, at the same time it can be calibrated to bind the smaller neighbours in a multilateral web of respect and economic benefits.
While making concessions for the internal turmoil in Pakistan, be it based in its extremist west or the military flamboyance, India will have to realise that in this country, more than any other in the Indian Subcontinent, the multiple power centres have nationalistic aspirations. India, therefore, may have to look at competing nations within a nation before firming up its diplomatic relationship with Pakistan, while, at the same time, making the most number of concessions to the ideology that is most liberal of them all.