View From The Neighbourhood: Urge to talk

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent.

The June 9 editorial in Dawn begins with the assertion of a sentiment that has become common in Pakistan when it comes to talks with India: “While the messages coming from New Delhi are mixed, Islamabad is clear in its vision: Let both nations come to the negotiating table and find a way forward to shed the animosity of the past seven decades — and counting — and attempt a new start in South Asia”.

It recalls that post the Pulwama attacks, the two countries were on the “brink of war”, and given that scare, “the importance of talks cannot be overstated”. The editorial contends that post the elections in India, it remains unclear what position Prime Minister Narendra Modi intends to adopt vis a vis Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Kyrgyzstan is an opportunity for Imran Khan and Modi to break the ice.

The editorial even goes on to suggest a trajectory for a possible diplomatic detente: “Let both start with the ‘soft’ issues (CBMs, people-to-people contact) and work their way up to the major issues (Kashmir, violence). It is clear that if these opportunities are lost, then only further turbulence is likely in one of the most tortured geopolitical relationships in the world”. It does not, however, mention New Delhi oft-stated pre-condition — “terror and talks can’t go together”.

Sri Lanka, unforged

While the news pages of the Sri Lankan English language media have given extensive coverage to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, on the eve of his arrival, there were few editorials or opinion articles on the visit. Instead, the social cleavages and political turmoil that have come to the fore since the Easter terror attacks continue, understandably, to dominate the conversation. Siri Hettige, Chair of Sri Lanka Studies at the South Asia Institute at the University of Heidelberg argues in The Daily Mirror on June 6 that “what we witness today is an extraordinary situation that we can ignore only at our own peril. It is the culmination of a series of long-neglected economic, political and societal issues. If we fail to identify the gravity of the emergent situation in the country today and explore all possible avenues and find a way out of this unprecedented crisis, consequences for the country and the people can be dire”.

On the political front, he argues, “people inhabiting this landmass have not come together as a cohesive political community transcending ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions. This is largely due to the failure of post-independence regimes over the last sixty years to adopt appropriate national policies to achieve such a national goal. The result has been intermittent inter-community violence and conflict that not only led to an enormous waste of financial and human resources but also encouraged many people to leave the country”.

On the economy, uneven development and the retreat of the state led to much dissatisfaction, as was seen during the Tamil insurgency.

Finally, and most importantly, governments have failed in their primary duty of being the arbiters of violence: “Successive governments including the present one have failed to even effectively enforce the law against the perpetrators of violence. It is against this background that we need to look at the most recent terrorist attacks and other violent incidents that followed. The way the government leaders have reacted to these recent developments has made the situation worse”.

Muhammad Zamir, a former diplomat and foreign affairs analyst weighs on Narendra Modi’s decisive election to a second term by the people of India in The Dhaka Tribune on June 9. Zamir highlights the growing and deepening relationship between Bangladesh and India, as well as the fact the PM Sheikh Hasina was among the first to congratulate Modi.

Yet, as has been the trend in Bangladesh since the issue of the NRC in Assam and the Citizenship Bill has become salient in India, Zamir flags many issues. Among these is Amit Shah’s (now home minister) divisive and offensive rhetoric against Muslims and Bangladeshis in political speeches: “Shah… also needs to understand that fuelling nationalist sentiment by accusing others of appeasing Muslims can only create instability. This needs to be avoided.”

Zamir also points out that the election win in India has been seen globally in complex ways: The foreign media have acknowledged that a mixture of development and nationalism has worked in Modi’s favour. There has been a subtle juxtaposition of nationalist rhetoric, subtle religious polarisation, and a swing of welfare programs, and these have helped the BJP considerably. Modi and the BJP managed to fuse nationalism and development with technology as the common denominator. He has promised the citizens safety and security through the protection of India’s “land, air, and outer space,” and also targeted welfare schemes for the poor— homes, toilets, credit, and cooking gas”.

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi

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