Swami Agnivesh and Rev. Valson Thampu
Agra is getting ready to host a historic event. History, lest we forget, is riddled with the wounds of power-play. All through history we see that the preparations for war have gone on side by side with the quest for peace. According to a historian between 500 AD and 1500 AD over a thousand "eternal covenants" of peace were signed between neighbouring nations. Not one of them lasted more than five years. That was not because peace was inherently fragile or unstable. It was because peace was negotiated with gross neglect of its foundations. A house built without a foundation cannot last for too long. This needs to be remembered by all of us because those who ignore history are condemned to repeating it.
Thus, the run-up to the Agra Summit needs to be more than an exercise in diplomacy. It calls for reckoning a few basic truths.
First, as compared to the prolonged and passionate orchestration of mutual hate between the two countries not enough has been done to create a culture of peace on the subcontinent. Ironically, we have been readier to make the ultimate sacrifice for wars, but rather reluctant to pay the price for peace. Peace not unlike war has its demands. While it is deemed heroic to sacrifice oneself at the altar of war, it is universally felt to be cowardly act. Thanks to human vanity which has made even minor adjustments for peace cowardly. As a result, war became a theatre of sacrifice and peace a domain of haggling and mean-mindedness. How come the grandeur of human spirit so marvelously in display in the death-dance of war, is conspicuous by its absence in the sanctuary of peace?
Second, we need to see peace as it is in its real self. Centuries of war mongering have deceived all of us into believing that war is the primary reality and peace a sporadic exception, in the domain of international relations. And hence there is the concept of 'creating peace,' as though peace is a serendipity item contingent on the industry and ingenuity of politicians. This is a monstrous mistake. The players in the Agra Summit must start with the truth that peace is the primary reality. Conflict results from the ruination of peace. War is not the norm, peace is. Hate may seem more powerful than love is but, hate is still the degeneration of love. The task at hand is not to invent peace. It is simply to accept the pre-existent blessing of peace that we have corrupted and rejected over these five decades. The longing for peace pulsates in the subcontinent through our shared cultural heritage- our porous boundaries, our wrenched-apart friendships and family ties that comprise our bleeding memories.
Third, peace calls for patience. Not because it is hard to attain in itself, but because we have been unschooled in the grammar of it. Thanks to prolonged collective conditioning, we remain psychologically obsessed with the trophies of war. For that very reason, it does not help to conjure up a monster of over-expectation. Anti-climax stalks all unrealistic expectations. What is more, they disable us from working patiently on attaining the goal of peace. The Agra Summit must be deemed historic even if it does not flood the subcontinent with the sunshine of peace. It is historic even as celebrating the awareness that for these two countries, as for all other neighbouring nations, there is no alternative but to live in peace. Fortunately, the approach of both sides seems to be marked by a sense of mature realism. According to Mr. Sarfraz Khan, the Kashmir Affairs Minister of Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf "believes there cannot be any instant solution for all the problems". So the General intends to come to India with an open mind in offer to "create a conducive atmosphere for future talks." Yet it needs to be insisted that maturity is much more than mere realism. It is also the passionate optimism that enables the peace process to endure and overcome the hurdles along the way. Nothing of great value has ever been achieved in history instantaneously. Genius, as the wise saying goes, is nothing but the capacity for taking infinite pains. The genius for peace is no exception to this principle. The willingness to take pains is a measure of the love that we bring to bear on the peace process. Nothing, but a total devotion to peace making will do justice to the aspirations of the peoples of these two countries.
Fourth, the basic pre-requisite for peace is a people-centred culture of governance that holds itself accountable to something more than human authority. It was in this respect that the much-touted bus diplomacy was poorly conceived. It was envisaged to be a bus ride into history and as predicted it proved to be a bus ride to nowhere. History, as we have known it, is the domain of St. Machiavelli. The subcontinent needs a different patron saint and paradigm of history. We must dare to see sub-continental history as a shared pilgrimage. Vajpayee and Musharraf must meet each other as pilgrims and fellow wayfarers seeking together and helping each other to realize a climate of peace that safeguards the welfare of their wounded people. In contrast, the people, especially the rank and file, are the last priority in a war-centred approach to history and development. War is assumed to be a stronger catalyst for development, especially, of a technological kind. But this mindset has invariably spewed up the monsters of death and devastation, souring the fruits of such developmentalism. It is not in military terms that India needs to be a super-power. Such a dream cannot be shared with Pakistan or any of our neighbours. But as a super-power of human peace and prosperity India can, and will, see her neighbours as friends with whom she shares a glorious spiritual destiny that turns into a commitment to total human welfare in Two-Third of the World. We must approach this sacrament of peace making with a vision of the centrality of people's welfare, and not as an opportunity to perform some diplomatic sleights of hand to mesmerize history.
Well, the good news is that for Vajpayee and for Musharraf the time is ripe and ready for it. The greatest gainer from Agra will be the CEO of Pakistan. It will stamp his authority with legitimacy. Post-Agra, the General will be the genuine leader of Pakistan in the eyes of the world and that should be music to the ears of Musharraf. Besides all this the Summit can deflect domestic attention from the mess that Pakistan today is in. It is foolish to let Musharraf's alleged lack of democratic credentials dilute the significance of this Summit. For the better part of its history, democracy has had only a dubious presence in Pakistan. And such democratically elected leaders as that nation fitfully had were really not free to pursue peace, given the ascendance of the army in the politics of that country. Musharraf is in a better position than any of his predecessors to talk peace with us.
This is complemented on the Indian side by the current political scenario. Vajpayee heads a coalition government of which the BJP is the dominant constituent. The Sangh Parivar, of which the BJP is the political wing, used to thrive on whipping up anti-Pakistan sentiments till the other day. The Agra Summit would have by now run into rough weather at home if instead of the BJP the Congress were to spearhead it. And, by a strange coincidence, the BJP too, desperately needs to re-write its image. The party has been repeatedly buffeted in recent times with compelling evidence that it can have no future in governance so long as it remains fixated on the politics of hate. Globalisation has shifted the popular preference from fighting and dying to the pursuit of wealth and enjoyment of life. Fewer and fewer people are today willing to fly like moths into the fire of death for the sake of any ideology. This cannot but shift the preference from the diplomacy of confrontation to the diplomacy of cooperation. The Agra Summit is the first and perhaps the last genuine opportunity for Vajpayee to sponsor a cause that is also the cause of the country as a whole. The historical and political compulsions on both sides will thus make the work of Vajpayee and Musharraf prosper in Agra.
In the end, peace is too precious to be left in the charge of politicians and generals. Peace is more basic to people's welfare than it is to the calculations of their rulers. As common people we need to work for it. For five decades we have worked hard at ruining peace on the subcontinent. Now for a few years we must work harder at repairing peace for the sake of our own people. We have, unwittingly, hurt the cause of peace by endorsing the hysteria of hate contrived and perpetuated by those who stood to gain from it. Agra will become a turning point in our history only if the peoples of India and Pakistan reject the hysteria of hate and resolutely embrace the promise for peace.