Learning from history
History is a great teacher, a huge repository of events and happenings of past that are an important source of knowledge and wisdom. The trick to learn from the history lies in reading and interpreting it so as to be able to draw something from it, something which makes sense with at least identical situations of present and challenges of the future. And history itself bears witness that those who knew the art of learning from the history have themselves created history of sorts in their respective domains. Irrespective of the source of history in terms of its central characters, a student of history, a teacher, a political activist -- everyone whosoever is active in the sphere called humanities – needs to cultivate some rapport with the history. For, once they read and understand the role and importance of history in humans’ social and political evolution, then only could they harness its potential to bring about ‘desired’ change in their own peculiar situations. By token of this argument, leadership in the subcontinent, particularly the political white ants in New Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir, must read history as much as they can. Once they do so, one may hope that the recurrent mistakes in Indo-Pak bilateral ties as well as between the state and the centre will end for good, which is, of course, the only way to break the conflict trap Kashmir is caught up in.
In the early 1997, F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela described the journey they (and South Africa too) had taken from war to peace. Poles apart politically and ideologically as they were, both the leaders spoke separately; yet there is a thread of commonality in what they articulated. De Klerk spoke about how he had come to realize that, politically and militarily, the white minority could not hold on to power indefinitely in the face of strong black resistance armed with the fruits of the Knowledge Revolution: ideas of equality, moderns means of communication, weapons and international support. South Africa’s economy was suffering from international trade and financial sanctions. Only by reaching a peace accord could the white minority hope to retain its quality of life and the Afrikaner tribe protect its identity.
Mandela talked about seeing the country descending into civil strife and economic ruin. While he was confidant that the black majority would prevail in the long term, he wondered what kind of country would be left in the end for blacks to inherit. Only by prospering in the new global economy could they put an end to their poverty and deprivation – and that prosperity could be achieved only by cooperating with the white minority, with their technical skills and business experience. The vision of the African National Congress, moreover, had always been a democratic multiracial society. With every passing year of ethnic violence, that vision was fading out of reach.
Both leaders, in other words, realized that the conflict was stalemated. Continuing the violence would spell defeat for everyone. Only through negotiations could both sides hope to meet their needs. If both sides could lose through a spiral of violence, then perhaps both sides could win through a spiral of dialogue. As Mandela put it, “I never sought to undermine Mr. de Klerk, for the practical reason that the weaker he was, the weaker the negotiations process. To make peace with enemy one must work with that enemy, and the enemy must become one’s partner.”
People in India and Pakistan as well as those in leadership roles in New Delhi and Islamabad will have to learn from their own as well as others’ history. As the South African experience shows, they will have to believe in the possibility of new alternatives -- that envision and ensure victory for all parties and stakeholders – something that would realize the dream of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous South Asia. Harping on pre-conditions for resumption of stalled talks will serve no purpose. India’s insistence on making it “either-or” kind of proposition for Pakistan is like undermining the political compulsions of that country. Going back to Mandela’s assertion, the weak Pakistan means the weaker negotiations process with it. “To make peace with enemy”, whether one likes it or not, one has to, and “must work with that enemy, and the enemy must become one’s partner.”