Dr. Raghavan on Indo-Pak Discourse

May 31, 2015
History and Diplomacy: Contextualizing India-Pakistan Relations

History and Diplomacy: Contextualizing India-Pakistan Relations

by: Dr. T.C.A. Raghavan

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Dr. T.C.A. Raghavan (Indan High Commissioner) spoke at Habib University on Wednesday, 27th May 2015. The topic of the discussion was "History and Diplomacy: Contextualizing India-Pakistan Relations" it revolved around, not the core differences, but similarities that bond the countries together.

A bit about the speaker:

Dr. T.C.A. Raghavan is the High Commissioner of India. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1982. Prior to appointment as High Commissioner to Pakistan, he served as Indian High Commissioner to Singapore (2009-13). His previous overseas postings include Pakistan (2003-2007), United Kingdom (1995-1998), Bhutan (1992-1995) and Kuwait (1983-1986). During his last tenure in New Delhi (2007-2009) he was head of the territorial division in the Ministry of External Affairs responsible for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. He has also served in different capacities in the Government of India in the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce. Dr. Raghavan graduated from the St. Stephens College of University of Delhi and has a Post Graduate Degree in History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. In 1992 he was awarded a Doctorate in Modern Indian History by the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Mr. Raghavan began by commending the management on the excellent campus and taking initiatives for better education. He spoke a bit about the relations between India and Pakistan, impressing upon the audience in the jam-packed auditorium that talk was on alternate discourse that exist between the neighbors. Arts, culture, economic development, challenges in education and public health that exist between the two and are quite similar.

India and Pakistan are such neighbors that would agree on nearly all secondary issues while disagree on all primary issues. Estranged relations because of border disputes and water woes are primary problems while arts, culture etc form the secondary ones where in 1960s a landmark agreement (Indus Water Treaty) form an important achievement ... it broke through the deadlock on primary issues as matters were resolved between the two nations.

And Pakistan/India aren't unique as far as problems are concerned. Many neighboring countries fall between a spectrum of relations, where on one end we have relations like that between USA/Canada and on the other end of spectrum we have North and South Korea. It is between India and Pakistan to which spectrum slot the relations are placed, whether there will be cooperation or perpetual enmity.

And the partition was wake up call on many levels, it dawned a new reality upon people of subcontinent that they could not live together any longer. This led to the premise that if they can't live together, then live together separately live neighbors, and that led to dealing with the new domestic issues like health, education etc from new perspective. As far back as 1951 the two countries had started Cricket series and hockey matches regularly took place, the trend continuing with some breaks (including wars).

The year Mr. Raghavan stressed the most was 1979, a year that holds a lot of importance. Other than military dictatorship that was in Pakistan and USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, it also marks the Iranian revolution that changed the dynamics of the subcontinent. It is also the same year when China began its modernization program and made major improvements to relations with other countries, like Cambodia, and played major role for ASEAN. Mr. Raghavan stressed on this year because there is a cycle of events that come full circle, and as it appears the events of 1979 are coming to a full circle. With Pakistan back to democracy and its civil institutions strengthening compared to what they were before, hope for betterment in Afghanistan and loosening of sanctions on Iran (creating opportunities for more fuel availability in the region) marks positives for this region. Now it is up to the policy makers as to how much benefit they take from the positives who, unfortunately, rather prefer to take up political rhetoric to play on peoples emotions and create more differences between the two countries.

Mr. Raghavan also spoke about Modi's government which is aiming to improve relations with neighbors. The primary reason for to make a mass dent on India's poverty in the next few years and that is only possible if serious border distractions are dealt with. Modi has already visited China to sign major deals, he will be visiting Bangladesh soon to sign a border and had even invited Nawaz Sharif to India for his swearing in ceremony as India's Prime Minister. Compared to others the relations with Pakistan couldn't be improved, this includes a setback in August when Pakistani delegation met Hurriat Leaders and another meeting was canceled when Lakhvi (a wanted terrorist in India) was released from jail in Pakistan. India continues to look for betterment of relations with Pakistan but keeps distance until Pakistan is able to deal with terrorism discourse within its borders.

Building blocks between the two countries, such as Simla Agreement and Islamabad Declaration, already exist and can be taken up to work on relations and improve them. There are opportunities available that can change the way the two countries deal with each other, only if they want to do so. This is an age of information and technology, and much has changed that the two countries cannot hold back (such as narratives that are purely to keep relations estranged since now these can be countered from narratives across the border), and improvements need to be made rather sooner than later. The new generation is impatient with the policies and caution of the previous generations, and things may really have been different if events like Kargil or Mumbai attacks have not taken place.

The session was then opened for Q&A and ended after a few questions as High Commissioner was scheduled to reach airport.

Note from Digital Saeen: While it was an informative session, there are some differences that I have the commissioner. Being true to his post, he painted a positive picture of India like it is India who has done all the hard work to improve relations with Pakistan and hinted that some quarters in Pakistan do not want the relations to be improved. I guess Mr. Raghavan was bound by his profession, otherwise there was no way he missed out on recent remarks by Indian Army Chief and some of the war rhetoric coming from various known Indian figures. Worse, jailing a pigeon on suspect of being a Pakistani spy isn't helping Mr. Raghavan's narrative either. Still, it was a good experience listening to the honorable High Commissioner and hear his thoughts and ideas on the subject.

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