We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Pakistani media analyst, Javed Jabbar. Jabbar, who was in D.C. to address audiences at the Atlantic Council and United States Institute for Peace, spoke to us about how to improve relations between India-Pakistan, Pakistan’s media industry, and the future of Pakistan itself.
Javed Jabbar is Chairman and Chief Executive of J.J. Media (Pvt.) and Project One (Pvt.). He has served as President Gen. Pervez Mursharraf’s Minister of Information as well as a former senator and minister in three federal cabinets. He produced the film Ramchand Pakistani (directed by his daughter, Mehreen Jabbar) and has authored several books, his most recent being Criss-Cross Times: selected writings about conflict and confluence 2001-2009. Jabbar is a member of the Neemrana Initiative, one of India-Pakistan’s most successful Track 2 dialogues.
The following is a transcript of the INSIDER BRIEF’s interview with Javed Jabbar, conducted by Sehr Akbar and Zainab Javed.
Q: Do you believe any progress was made during the Indo-Pak talks last week in Islamabad? Is avoiding touchy subjects such as Kashmir a strategic success or blunder in future relations between the two countries?
Javed Jabbar: Firstly, the fact that the two foreign ministers met represents substantive progress because it vindicates Pakistan’s position for the past two years, (since the Indians suspended the level of contact at the foreign minister level after the November ’08 Mumbai attack). It represents an acceptance in India that there is no alternative to dialogue. So it is progress. However, progress is also coming back to square one, because in any case we were already talking, (right, India suspended the talk, so it was frozen). In a way you can say it is one step forward, and at the same time it’s one step back because it takes us to the pre-November ’08 position, (when by coincidence the foreign minister was in New Delhi on the very day the terrorists carried out their attack in Mumbai.) Bizarre that the foreign minister of Pakistan was in Delhi and there was this terrorist attack there which they immediately blamed on Pakistan.
So firstly, the meeting in Islamabad is good. Second, I’m not surprised by the fact that there was no major positive outcome. It is too early to expect a sudden improvement or major new development. The very fact that they are now talking and listening to each other face-to-face is a very positive sign. Third, on Kashmir, I am not expecting anything quick or overnight from the Indians. It will be a gradual process. Public opinion in both countries will have to be prepared to accept a compromise of the historical position, with some adjustment, which needs time. Everyone has various compulsions to think of in both countries, but I’m confident that this meeting will lead to a positive outcome.
Q: What do you see as the solution for Kashmir being? Military solutions have clearly never worked (four wars have been fought). Is there any other way to solve the problem?
JJ: There are four steps which are vital to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
First element is to try to get an agreement between both Pakistan and India on which areas require a clarification about the status of Kashmir. For example, is Ladakh a part of Kashmir or is it to be treated as an autonomous region separate from Kashmir? The northern areas of Pakistan – are they to be treated as something outside Kashmir or are they considered historically to have been a part of Kashmir? So the first step has to be, let us agree that this is the area we are disputing. At this time, there is vagueness about it. The only definition is this line of control — where both sides know this is the line of control, but other than that, there is some vagueness. So remove the vagueness.
The second step is to gradually reduce the troops on both sides of the line of control instead of having 500,000 Indian troops and 100,000 Pakistani troops. Reduce them gradually so that you reduce the tension and conflict with local people. Especially in Indian Kashmir.
Third step should be the delegation of power by the Indian government from Delhi to the government in Srinagar. Give them more authority, give them more power. Similarly in Islamabad, we should give more authority and power to the local government of Azad- Kashmir. At the moment, the government of Pakistan decides many of the appointments that take place. So give more power to both sides of Kashmir, the local people.
Fourth step then can be, start a dialogue between the elected people in Azad-Kashmir and the elected and political people of Indian Kashmir. I say elected and political because the Hurriyat conference/leadership of Indian occupied Kashmir has never taken part in the elections that are held within Indian Kashmir. They boycott them because they say the elections are held under the Indian constitution – which they don’t accept. So you have to also bring in the Hurriyat leadership, apart from those people like Omar Abdullah (elected CM of Indian Kashmir). The Hurriyat is not elected and the Indians say the Hurriyat doesn’t represent people, but they do represent some people. So there should be some dialogue between the elected and political people from both sides of Kashmir.
Once you take those four steps, then public opinions in both sides of Kashmir and in India and Pakistan may be willing to accept a final settlement. What that final settlement will be, let’s leave it to those two dialogues and to what the governments of India and Pakistan can agree upon.
Q: The India-Pakistan relationship is built on a very fragile thread of trust — what are some measures that can reduce the ‘trust deficit’?
JJ: I believe that the first step towards reducing the trust deficit has to be continuous, uninterrupted, sustained dialogue at all levels. At the summit level (heads of state and government should meet regularly and frequently), minister level, official level and very importantly, at the military level. The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan should meet the Commander in Chief of the Indian army, even if there’s no agreement and they are very angry at each other. They must meet because the whole point about the current environment of the world is that you listen to and meet each other. At the UN, you sit in the same hall, where you have people completely opposed of each other’s viewpoint, but you listen to each other. So it’s very important for dialogue to be conducted on a regular, continual, uninterrupted basis. That’s the first way to reduce the trust deficit.
I was so far only talking about the official dialogue. Second, I believe there should also be regular non-official dialogue between people who are not holding offices or in a government capacity, but people who have the capacity to influence public opinion.
The third type of dialogue is media dialogue between the editors and proprietors of various media, especially indigenous language media such as Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi (not just English media). These are the languages spoken by the majority of the people of India. Those should interact with people from Pakistan – Urdu, Sindhi and Pashtu language media, (both electronic and print) – so that there is greater communication.
The next step should be increased trade and commerce.
If we take all these measures, there should be a reduction in the trust deficit and an increase in a sense of mutual confidence.
Q: What do you believe is the existential threat to Pakistan?
JJ: I believe that the greater threat to Pakistan today is our own internal state of being – the conditions in which we live, the mindsets that shape some of our official policies, and the attitudes and practices of some parts of our society. These need to be reformed, modernized, and brought in tune with the rest of the world because some parts of Pakistani society are still living in medieval times while part is living in current times. There needs to be a coherence and harmony with the rest of the world. We can’t be so out of step as to be seen as a freakish country which has some completely mad practices or allows those practices.
In many ways, very good things are happening in Pakistan. We have a strong judiciary, media and a flourishing civil society. Many organizations raise their voices when it comes to human rights, freedom of expression and the rights of trade unions, laborers, doctors, teachers, and so on. We should extend these rights.
In India’s relations with Pakistan, we must never lower our guard with India. We must remain vigilant, but we must reach out to them with a hand of friendship and ask them to be fair to and not undermine Pakistan by attacking it outside like it does through academia and media in the USA. We should adopt a policy of mutual respect and dignity.
We must treat our own internal conditions (lack of education, lack of social justice, lack of economic opportunities for the poor). These are the main existential threats to Pakistan.
Q: Do you think Track II diplomacy was pursued effectively under Musharraf’s regime?
JJ: Track II started in 1992, ironically it was a time when PM Nawaz Sharif was in office for the first time. It was initiated by an American initiative through the Ford Foundation with an American scholar and former diplomat called Paul Kreisberg. He brought together a group of Indians and Pakistanis, and they met at a place called Neemrana, New Delhi in Rajasthan. Neem standing for Naeem, Rana standing for a Hindu named Rana – that’s why the place is called Neemrana. And the concept was that this group of specialists from different disciplines meets every once every five-six months with the knowledge and approval of both governments, but speaks its own mind. They are not government officials and not bound by government policy. And the cardinal rule was do not talk to the media. Because the moment we start talking to the media and the headline is reported that “Pakistan suggests this solution for Kashmir,” there will be a great negative reaction in India. So we decided don’t talk to the media. That is why for the last 18 years we have been able to meet regularly and develop possibilities for solving some of the problems. This Track II process should continue because on some occasions it helps governments with new ideas that governments can then make into official policy since they’ve already tested those ideas in Track II.
There’s a public track, which is normally also called Track II, but shouldn’t be. The public track can be called Track III and is media oriented. You get a group of say film actors from India to visit Pakistan, vise versa, you send some public personalities from Pakistan to go to India. Sports, culture, all that can be Track III. Trade can be track IV. Sports is another track. So there are different tracks on which you can build relations. And Track II has a specialized function which should continue.
Q: In retrospect, were Musharraf’s policies that led to the explosion of private media wise to begin with? Was Pakistan ready or mature enough?
JJ: Without taking away any credit from General Musharraf for enabling media to be free, this character here [Javed Jabbar] had a little something to do with it because well before Musharraf. I had written the original law in 1996, which was passed as a law called EMRA, Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance on February 14, 1997. It was the last law passed by the caretaker government of Farooq Leghari and Malik Meraj Khalid in which I was also a minister. That law should have been made a permanent law by the second government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which he didn’t do. Otherwise we would have had free media about five years earlier than we did. When General Musharraf made the mistake of asking me to be in his cabinet, we revived that law, improved it, and we finally introduced it. Media freedom came because of General Musharraf’s decision, which was a bold decision and credit should go to him for implementing a law that had already been there but that had not been acted upon.
It is, I think, a tribute to him personally that he allowed this to happen, but it is also a reflection of the basic commitment that the people of Pakistan have to freedom of expression. People like to listen to different points of view and they have a very open-minded attitude. People like watching Indian movies. They may hate India’s policies in Kashmir, but if it comes to enjoying Indian music, they’ll enjoy it. Similarly, Indians also enjoy Pakistani music or something which is done in a good, noncompetitive way by Pakistan. So, it is a reflection of our society’s open-mindedness and a tribute to the people of Pakistan.
At the same time, media should also recognize the need to build national self-confidence and self-esteem. It should not treat all news as bad news and good news as no news. There is a need to balance the bad news with the good news and bring out the strengths and the beauty of Pakistan.