Co-existence on earth is the rule of humanity. Its opposite is not the extermination of enemies as some imagine, but mutual assured destruction, quite mad as its acronym (MAD) implies. This holds true in multiple spheres of life, as amply illustrated in my book The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi (New Delhi: Penguin Random House, 2015).
I try to show how Gandhi, who strove all his life for Hindu-Muslim unity, gradually tempered his ideal to the more realistic and modest goal of Hindu-Muslim amity.
Until the horrors of the Partition that accompanied the independence of both India and Pakistan made him appeal to the warring communities to settle, at the least, for co-existence, provided it would be peaceful.
Alas, even that wish of the Mahatma, despite the supreme sacrifice of his life, was more honoured in the breach than the observance. For the two neighbours have fought three major wars and many minor skirmishes in the 73 years of their existence as independent countries.
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As per Indian Standard Time, on the morning of Pakistan’s Independence Day on 14th August and a day before India’s on 15th August, the three-nation accord between the United States, Israel, and the UAE was announced. Its very first line proclaimed “the full normalization of relations” between Israel and UAE.
Even as City Hall, Tel Aviv was lit up with UAE flags and celebrations broke out in the Emirates, India was informed of this momentous development in a phone call to external affairs minister, Dr S. Jaishankar, by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Soon after, the Indian government applauded the agreement: “India has consistently supported peace, stability and development in West Asia, which is its extended neighbourhood. In that context, we welcome the full normalisation of ties between UAE and Israel.
Both nations are key strategic partners of India.” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava added that India’s “traditional support for the Palestinian cause” would not be affected. “We hope to see early resumption of direct negotiations to find an acceptable two-state solution,” he said.
Peace in the subcontinent
In the sub-continent, this extraordinary announcement had positive-minded people on both sides of the Indo-Pak borders asking, “If the Arabs and Israelis can normalize ties, why can’t Indians and Pakistanis?”
I myself wondered if, in our lifetimes, the deterioration of relations between our two feuding nations could actually be reversed—from conflict to coexistence, from coexistence to amity, and, finally, even if in the somewhat distant future, from amity to unity. Such thoughts were triggered by the message of hope out of the Middle East after so many decades of conflict, acrimony, bitterness, and distrust.
Why not? The history of the world has shown many similar instances of former enemies turning into friends. The thirteen colonies that rebelled against Great Britain and went on to form the United States of America in 1775 have an exceptionally stable and special alliance today. Britain and France which fought each other for nearly a thousand years have a warm and cordial relationship.
Even Germany, whose aggression devastated the rest of Europe in two world wars in the last century, is today the keystone of the European Union, enjoying good relations not only with its former enemies, but with most of the countries of the world.
Similarly, the US and Japan, sworn enemies once are the best of friends, even though the former incinerated two of the latter’s highly populated cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 in the only known hostile use of nuclear weapons in human history.
More immediately, the accord signals the growing importance and clout of the UAE in the region. Stable, prosperous, and liberal, the federation of seven small emirates is not only a rising power but a vanguard of reform in the Arab world.
With Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman also seen as a reformer and champion of liberalism in the region, the centre of gravity of Islamic progress may well have shifted decisively. From Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan at one time to Indonesia, Iran, and Bangladesh more recently, not just material prosperity but political and social modernisation is now returning to the lands where Islam was born.
What the future holds in store is still hidden from us. Pointing to Iran and Turkey’s denunciation of the accord, hard-headed advocates of realpolitik will caution us against being too sanguine or expectant.
To right-thinking sub-continentals who ask, “If Arabs and Israelis can be friends, why not Indians and Pakistanis?” they may counter-question, half-humorously, half-sarcastically, “Who will broker such a peace? China?!”
Yet those of us those who seek a lasting and peaceful transformation of the world consciousness cannot but remain hostage to hope.