New Leadership, New Relationship

Husain Haqqani (L) Sudheendra Kulkarni (R) in Mumbai on August 5, 2014. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, 05 August, 2014 — Asia Society India Centre hosted Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States; and Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chairman of Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai in a discussion on the dynamics of India and Pakistan’s 21st century relationship, and its implications in the South Asian region.

The event began with Ambassador Haqqani’s deeply astute perspectives and stimulating observations of Indo-Pak sentiments. He believes the neighboring countries are “prisoners of contending narratives” dating back to Partition. Haqqani endorsed that the intellectual discourse in India tends to overlook the fragility behind Pakistan’s creation, noting that the Partition left Pakistan with one-third of British India’s military and only 17% of economy — ensuring that the military is the dominant institution in the country. Meanwhile, he argued, Indians themselves are still severely scarred by the idea of imperialism, and institutionally remain reluctant to embrace external ideas and influences. This attitude risks Pakistan isolating itself from its Western and Middle Eastern allies, and plunging into a sub-continent-centered impasse. Till date, the military’s business of conflict has flourished, making Pakistan unable to keep a functioning democracy, as military coups triumph over the people’s power to make policy.

Kulkarni aptly summarized the issue, “It is assumed that we (India and Pakistan) cannot live with each other — yet, it is truer that we cannot live without each other.” His beliefs lay in the optimism of a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship — if both countries stop defining themselves as the others’ “existential enemy”.

The experts agreed that for any hope for peaceful co-existence, both countries need to actively advance beyond Partition and change the narrative from the past to present tense. Ambassador Haqqani envisions a future where we look further than just reconciliation, “we need to be ambitious.” When questioned on the highly contentious Kashmir issue, he proclaimed that territorial disputes have held us back for decades. Haqqani affirmed we can yet aspire to be like USA and Canada, portions of whose boundary lines are still debatable, and regardless have found more meaningful common ground that fuels growth for both neighbouring countries. With that, he hopes that the constituency of peace in both India and Pakistan will amplify from a limited liberal intelligentsia to a nation-wide support of the masses.

Reported by Tarini Ranadive, Intern, Asia Society India Centre

Video: Watch the complete programme (1 hr., 21 min.)

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