22 May | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

Mani Shankar Aiyar suggests nonstop dialogue until ‘awakening’

India’s Congress party leader asks academics, business persons, and students to continue meeting outside Pakistan and India, bypassing governments in Islamabad, New Delhi

India’s former minister and Congress party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar has said that the civil society in Pakistan and India should continue dialogue until awakening of the governments in Islamabad and New Delhi, and pointed out visa issues between the two neighboring countries.

During a session – Hijr Ki Raakh, Visaal Kay Phool – about Pakistan-India affairs on the second day of the iconic Faiz Festival at Alhamra in Lahore, he suggested that the academics, business persons, and students should continue meeting outside Pakistan and India, bypassing the governments.

Born in Lahore’s Laxmi Mansion on 10 April 1941, Mani Shankar Aiyar is also a well-known political columnist and has written several books, including Pakistan Papers. His special interests include grassroots democracy, foreign policy particularly with neighboring countries, and West Asia and nuclear disarmament.

Having served in the Indian Foreign Service, he joined the Congress, and went on to get elected to the Lok Sabha three times, and a member of Rajya Sabha. The Indian politician considered it meaningless to expect that the current establishment in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi would want to talk to Pakistan.

“Under Hindutva, they are trying to imitate Pakistan. The Gandhi-Nehru answer to Pakistan was that they would not become a republic based on religion but a republic based on all religions,” he said while referring to the struggle of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru for secularism in India.

“We can observe that Gandhi-Nehru philosophy that lasted for 65 years was overthrown in 2014,” he said, referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments in India. “We are going to have the same mindset in New Delhi for the next five years,” he said, and pointed out that 63 percent Indians have never voted for BJP, and their allies.

“From my experience, Pakistanis have been the people who react perhaps overreact to the other side. If we are friendly, they are overfriendly and if we are hostile, they get over hostile,” Mani Shankar Aiyar said. He also said that he had never been to any country where he had been welcomed with such open arms as he was in Pakistan.

He said when he got posted in Karachi as India’s consul general, everyone was looking after him and his wife. He has written about a number of incidents in his memoirs which shows Pakistan as a completely different country to what the Indians imagine. “We have to understand that goodwill is needed but there had been something opposite during the last 10 years,” he said.

‘Pakistan would be happy to restart dialogue’

Mani Shankar Aiyar also pointed out that there were five Indian high commissioners who served in Islamabad during the Congress-led government and the BJP-led government and all these envoys agreed unanimously that whatever are our differences, we must engage with Pakistan. “The biggest mistake that we made in the last 10 years is refusing dialogue,” he said.

“My life in politics rose in spurts to its highs and then sputtered out to the point where I find myself sidelined by Rajiv Gandhi’s heirs and marginalized even in the party. But that is another story for another book,” he wrote in concluding lines of his autobiography – Memoirs of a Maverick – indicating that the companion volume to the book, which will be released later, is also likely to deal with the factors leading to his diminished stature in the Congress.


On the occasion, Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India Shahid Malik also informed the audience of the Faiz Festival that Mani Shankar Aiyar was born in the Lakshmi Mansion in Lahore. But he questioned the Indian guest’s statement that initiative for peace must come from Pakistan. Recently, Pakistan had suggested to India to start the dialogue process but the Indian government was reluctant to do that, he said.

He said that Pakistan would be happy to restart the dialogue where it was left in 2008 and it included all issues. “Let’s start to talk about the dialogue process even if we agree to disagree. We can start with small steps like easing the issuance of visas for people-to-people contacts and trade offers the best peace possibility between Pakistan and India, involving private business persons from both the sides,” he suggested.