Editor’s Note: Firstpost editors Sandip Roy and Lakshmi Chaudhry report on the ultimate celebrity conference. A five star line up of authors, intellectuals, biz tycoons, actors, politicians and more have gathered at the Grand Hyatt in Goa as part of Thinkfest. Co-organized by Tehelka and Newsweek, this haute version of TED brings together an eclectic and intriguing range of A-list names, from Nobel peace prize winning Leymah Gbowee to Omar Abdullah to author Siddharth Muherjee to Arvind Kejriwal. Here are their reports on some of the most interesting conversations.
Pervez Hoodbhoy: Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff offered him the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, the third highest honour in the State of Pakistan, but Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, 61, refused it. A Pakistani scientist, essayist, and political-defence analyst, Hoodbhoy is a professor of nuclear physics and heads the physics department at Quaid-e-Azam University. A strong and avid supporter of nuclear disarmament, non-nuclear proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear technology in Pakistan.
Mani Shankar Aiyar: A former Indian diplomat with 26 years of service in the Indian foreign services, Aiyar resigned from the IFS in 1989 to join politics. He has been elected as Congress M.P from Mayiladuthurai in 1991 and 2004. He has served has Union Cabinet Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas and Sports Minister. Most recently, he was Minister of Panchayati Raj Minister until he lost his seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. He is a well-known political columnist and the author of Pakistan Papers and Remembering Rajiv, and has edited a four-volume publication, Rajiv Gandhi’s India.
How bizarre is it to sit in the comfortable confines of a Goan hotel and discuss ways to save Pakistan? Not ways to counter, restrain or engage the nation – but to save it from itself, in a way. Or that both the Pakistani and the Indian panelist agreed on every point, including the fact that Pakistan did indeed need to be saved, and that its most likely saviour is India.
“Pakistan is in deep trouble,” said Hoodbhoy, tracing its woes to 1981 when the very idea of Pakistan changed from that of a Muslim state to a Islamic state. The islamization of Pakistan has since continued apace. “Pakistan is losing its South Asian roots. It’s being Arabized,” said Hoodbhoy, “You can see it in what we say for goodbye. We now say ‘allah hafiz’ not ‘khuda hafiz.” And in that small change is a world of loss.
But how can India save Pakistan? The starting point, according to Shankar Aiyar, is facing two important facts: “Pakistan is an irremovable geographical fact. Pakistan is also an irreversible historical fact.”
Next is understanding the root cause of the hostility of the Pakistani state. Pakistan is not a failing or failed state,” said Shankar Aiyar, arguing that it is precisely this need to impose unity on a divided, fragmenting nation that makes the state authoritarian. But to maintain it’s authority, it needs an ‘other,’ and that ‘other’ is India. “The consequence of a failing Pakistan is a state that would attack the ‘other’ to save its own nation.”
Hoodbhoy echoed the same thought in another way: “We have to accept in Pakistan that the two-nation theory has run its course. Moving forward, our idea of the nation has to be more inclusive.”
But what we must remember – and quick to forget – claims Shankar Aiyar is that the Pakistani state has largely failed to persuade the Pakistani people. There remains a huge constituency for friendship which we need to work with, as opposed to responding to the constituency of hatred.
Following this logic, what India has to do is pull the rug from under the feet of the authoritarian Pakistani state. “Our response to Pakistan has to be asymmetric. To turn the other cheek,” said Shankar Aiyar, “We need to give more than we expect.” To discard the idea of reciprocity and create a blitzkrieg of goodwill.”
The seven steps Shankar Aiyar outlined include the following. One, return to the Musharraf/Manmohan Singh proposal to create a borderless Kashmir — where the LOC is rendered irrelevant – as a precursor to a borderless subcontinent. Two, agree to maintain “uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue” that will remain unbroken and regular, irrespective of terrorist attacks or any other calamity. Three, introduce a visa regime similar to Nepal and remove all restrictions of pilgrimages. As Hoodbhoy agreed, the isolation of the two peoples strengthen the constituencies of hate.
The fourth remedy is to ensure a full and free media exchange, including and not limited to movies, TV channels and newspapers. Five, an open investment regime without any barriers to trade. Six and seven involve standing together on the international stage to push for the expansion of the UN Security Council and launch a joint initiative for global nuclear disarmament.
Sounds naïve and unrealistic? As Shankar Aiyar is quick to remind us, the current European Union would have sounded as impossible a hundred years ago. Much like the French and Germans who fought and killed each other for centuries, we too can live together in “South Asian Union.”
Or so insist the erudite peaceniks in Goa.