Renowned former Indian diplomat and politician, Mani Shankar Aiyar, brings a fresh perspective to the Indo-Pak narrative by highlighting the people of Pakistan as a pivotal asset for India. Aiyar’s reflections during the Faiz Festival underscore the warmth and hospitality he experienced, emphasizing the potential for people-to-people connections to transcend political tensions and foster understanding.
In Aiyar’s eyes, the overreactions of the Pakistani people, whether in friendship or hostility, reveal the depth of emotions that permeate the relationship. His personal anecdotes, shared in his book “Memoirs of a Maverick,” paint a picture of Pakistan vastly different from Indian preconceptions. Despite the goodwill he encountered, Aiyar acknowledges the challenges of translating such warmth into meaningful governmental dialogue and cooperation.
While Aiyar advocates for resumed dialogue between India and Pakistan, the reluctance of political establishments on both sides remains a significant hurdle. The last decade, marked by strained relations, contrasts sharply with the advice of seasoned diplomats like Satindar Kumar Lambah, who underscore the importance of engagement with Pakistan. Aiyar criticises the courage to conduct surgical strikes but laments the lack of courage to engage in direct talks.
Aiyar’s call for sustained civil society engagement echoes sentiments expressed by Pakistan’s former diplomat, Shahid Malik. Aiyar stresses that initiatives for peace need not solely originate from governments. Malik suggests practical measures, such as easing visa restrictions, as a starting point for enhancing people-to-people contacts and fostering trade, offering a tangible path towards reconciliation.
Mani Shankar Aiyar thinks it’s unrealistic to expect the current Indian government, guided by Hindutva principles, to engage in talks with Pakistan. He believes they are trying to copy Pakistan’s Islamic republic model, deviating from the secular vision of leaders like Gandhi and Nehru. However, he clarifies that this viewpoint is held by a minority, as 63% of Indians have not voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In simpler terms, not everyone in India supports this government’s approach, emphasizing the diversity of opinions within the country.
Aiyar’s perspective illuminates the potential of people-to-people connections in reshaping Indo-Pak relations. While political establishments may be hesitant, the grassroots efforts advocated by Aiyar and Malik offer a ray of hope. The challenge lies in overcoming visa issues and fostering dialogue at various levels, transcending political rhetoric for the betterment of both nations.