Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is currently touring Pakistan after getting invitations from Islamabad as well as the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab. President Asif Ali Zardari hosted a special dinner for Nitish and his delegates on Tuesday after learning that the day also coincided with Diwali, the Hindu festival of light.
Nitish Kumar had earlier spoken to a Hindu panchayat and also shared with officials in Sindh his experience in improving governance and law and order situation in his own state. He also praised the Pakistan government's flagship poverty alleviation scheme called the Benazir Income Support Programme and said India could learn from its neighbour. The JD(U) leader said, in an observation, that besides the regular talks between New Delhi and Islamabad, there should also be communication between places like Lahore and Amritsar and Patna and Karachi.
Suu Kyi in India
Meanwhile, Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday and her trip was a part of India's engagement with the multi-party polity in her country, which has opted for political reforms in the recent times. Suu Kyi, who had spent her formative years in India, was set to meet top Indian leaders and people at the school and colleges she had studied before flying to other parts of the country. Suu Kyi had said earlier this year that more people-to-people contact was important to improve the bilateral relation between the two countries.
Both visits by Kumar and Suu Kyi are silver linings amid the tense ambiance that perennially prevails in the south Asia and its immediate neighbourhood. Why don't we, the people of South Asia, engage more with each other for such softer means can go a long way in breaking even the most difficult of deadlocks.
Hard politics has failed south Asia, will soft politics get a chance?
Opposing each other over respective national interests is an obsolete game today, all the more in south Asia. Today, no south Asian nation and its people can live in isolation. The consequences of the blood-games that our political forefathers had indulged in badly affected all parties concerned. Forceful political division of a geographic entity, which was intrinsically whole, in terms of popular culture, had left the subcontinent with a wound that was never to heal.
Continuing political opportunism has, instead, widened the differences more and after quite a few wars and assassinations and regular skirmishes, south Asia has emerged as one of the most volatile regions in the world and has lagged behind despite having great potential to excel.
National political power centres in the south Asian countries have failed to achieve anything and on the contrary, has made their respective countries bleed. The single-minded obsession with popular politics has seriously crippled the politicians and the mainstream avenues of diplomacy. In such conditions, it is the softer and informal approach of people-to-people contacts that can help in overcoming the atmosphere of fear to a great extent.
Nitish Kumar's suggestion for city-to-city talks is a good one
Nitish Kumar's suggestion of talks between Lahore and Amritsar and Patna and Karachi is a valuable one. We engage in city-to-city talks and cooperation talks with many countries (like those between sister cities). Why can't that be possible in south Asia? In the subcontinent, the people of Kolkata and Dhaka are culturally more closer than say those between Kolkata and New Delhi. Chennai perhaps will find more things in common with Colombo than Mumbai. Hence, when already there is an existing commonality between sovereign territories, why do we prefer adversity over mutual bonhomie? The game of politics has left us incapacitated.
Regionalism has paid off in several parts, why not in south Asia?
Regionalism has prospered in many parts of the world today and that has been facilitated by the emergence of a common external threat perception. Southeast Asia and Latin America have seen regional organisations flourish but the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) has floundered in south Asia.
It is primarily because the political mindset here has not come out of the colonial hangover yet and the mutual suspicion has hindered a minimum co-operation. The poor relation between India and Pakistan has meant that an internal threat perception might have deeply damaged SAARC's cause.