India has confirmed that a meeting will take place between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly – though dates for the same are still being worked out by the permanent missions of the two countries in New York. Swaraj will also participate in the SAARC foreign ministers' meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA. The first day of the high-level UNGA debate will begin on September 25 and will last for nine working days. Now this is really a welcomed development. With the change of guard in Pakistan, and the fresh initiative for engagement having come from there, it is in the interest of both neighbours to try and script a new history – of harmony and cooperation.
Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once said that if a Martian anthropologist visited the earth in the wake of a cataclysmic nuclear war, he would conclude that humans had only one truly sustainable and successful way of life in their long history – hunting and gathering. “All the rest of human history the Martian would treat as an aberration at the end leading to self-destruction”. In today’s world, though hunting and gathering is not much in vogue, however, it is an undeniable fact of the history that “hunting and gathering alone enabled our ancestors to survive against high odds in the savanna. It made possible a remarkable journey out of Africa into almost every kind of environment, from boiling deserts to freezing mountains. Without this way of life, human beings wouldn’t have reached where they are today. A careful analysis of history of human civilization reveals that the key to successful way of life in our ancestors was their highly developed ability to COOPERATE, which subsequently became the key to all other developments that followed.”
Even as it goes without saying that the human civilization wouldn’t have been possible without this ability of humans to cooperate, one of the major casualties of their progress and development has been the element of cooperation itself. In an age characterized by cut-throat competition everywhere, elbowing out the other seems to be the only mantra for success. This is not to infer that human beings no longer cooperate. Indeed they do, but the amount and extent of cooperation is way too dwarfed in comparison to competition. In fact it won’t be an exaggeration to conclude that in many cases even the cooperation too is motivated by the sense of competition. SAARC or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is a classic example of this “competitive cooperation” and “cooperative competitiveness” between India and Pakistan.
A cursory look at the corporate culture provides numerous examples of competition and cooperation at play simultaneously. Although there is nothing wrong in competition per se, however, only as long as this competition does not lead to the shrinking the pie where needs and interests of people clash, where someone secures his or her needs only by jeopardizing those of the other. For, once it happens so, conflict becomes inevitable. Greed breeds grievance and grievances lead to conflicts. Likewise, the cooperation and competition between India and Pakistan had (and still has) every potential to catapult the entire regional grouping towards higher degrees of progress and prosperity, but unfortunately the mutual hostility of the two countries has not allowed this to happen. Indeed they have held not only the SAARC but also their respective populations hostage to their mutual acrimony.
With India and Pakistan talks (on sidelines of UNGA) round the corner, it is time when those at the political helm in both countries as well as those in Kashmir Valley must take a cue from their ancestors’ history. Armed with sincerity of purpose, it is far easier to imagine cooperation than coercion. For the sake of analogy, one could draw from the relationship between the United States and Canada. Their border, much like India and Pakistan, stretches 3000 miles and their past relationship has not always been peaceful. But can anyone imagine today that the two countries could wage a war against each other as a way of resolving serious disputes over fishing rights and acid rain? There and similar countless examples all across the world, in Europe, for instance, wherein yesterday’s foes have grown and nurtured close friendly and highly cooperative ties. Now if US and Canada; England, France and Germany and scores of other countries can co-exist in harmony, why can’t India and Pakistan?