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Between the line

A man on mission
August 12, 2009


I WAS asked the other day at Amritsar whether the lighting of candles on the night of August 14-15 at Wagha border has lessened the distance between India and Pakistan. My reply was that the mood of people, although still biased, has changed, but not to the extent I expected when a dozen of us lit candles at the border for the first time 15 years ago. I was conscious then that it would take time to dispel the darkness that the decades of hatred had accumulated.

Yet I thought that the people in both countries would assert themselves and cry for peace when the rulers were keeping them quiet in the name of patriotism or religion. For the first time since independence, some 40 people from Pakistan appeared on the other side of the border at the midnight last August and exchanged with us the candles and shook hands amidst slogans like India-Pakistan Dosti Zindabad.

I must explain the lighting of candles at the border is not the end by itself. It is a movement to awaken people on both sides to their common culture, common history and common geography so that they don’t go apart. It is a search for peace, an effort to change the outlook. I can see more and more people renouncing violence and ruling out war to sort out things amicably. The change is slow, but it is creeping in steadily.

The 26/11 attack on Mumbai, however reprehensible, did not create a war hysteria which the attack on the Parliament House did. At that time, the forces of the two countries stayed on the border, in an eyeball-to-eyeball formation for 11 months.

Another positive sign is that Pakistan has admitted the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage are its nationals and their entire operation was planned on the Pakistani soil. The admission of guilt is hard when the record of the two countries is only a sum total of accusations and counter-accusations. Now even the ISI is reportedly keen on initiating a dialogue with New Delhi. The agency’s chief has reportedly met Indian intelligence chief.

I am not suggesting that Pakistan has changed its policy. General Parvez Kayani, the Army Chief who still calls the tune, has put the danger from the Taliban and India at par. Yet when President Asif Zardari rules out any danger from India and says that the 26/11 attacks were by the Taliban who had been nurtured and trained for years by the successive Pakistan governments, it indicates some rethinking, however limited.

Its Supreme Court’s judgment is the biggest thing that has happened to Pakistan. The court has declared all the ordinances issued by former President General Parvez Musharraf null and void. This is in line with the fresh air of freedom that is blowing in that country. The fact that there is not even a comment by the army encourages me to believe that the latter is beginning to respect the limits to which the armed forces can go in a democratic polity. At this time, the tendency of Indian thinkers and experts to run down Pakistan and heap all the blame on it does not help. Even a bit of change across the border is a huge because it gives the tiding of the most-awaited spring.

However, the effusive Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani continues to goof up things by saying that he had an upper hand at Sharm-el-Sheikh where he signed the joint statement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Gilani is helping only the BJP and the hawks who have not accepted the statement either in letter or in spirit. He is provoking New Delhi to take a stiff stand. It seems he would wreck even the remotest chance of talks between the countries if he continues to speak in the vein he is doing.

Take the mention of Baluchistan. Gilani is gloating over the ‘victory’ which the opposition and the media in India are exploiting to take the government to task. Manmohan Singh has told Pakistan to place the evidence on the table. No dossier has been sent so far. America’s statement that there is no evidence of India’s hand in Baluchistan should have silenced the critics. But they are bent upon defaming Manmohan Singh who has acted on the principle of transparency.

In the next few days, India and Pakistan will be celebrating their 62nd year of independence. Both should use the occasion to introspect to which direction their relations are heading. Both are relentlessly going towards a point where, even if there is no conflict, there will be no settlement.

Those in India who are engaged in a sterile debate over the word ‘link’ should stop their carping because of the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s (LeT) attack this week in Srinagar which killed two security men. The resumption of LeT activity in Kashmir after one year proves beyond doubt that the first task before the two countries is to deal with the gamut of terrorism.

The 26/11 is only one facet of it. Until Islamabad does not go after the terrorists organizations like the LeT which “concentrate on India” from the safe haven of Pakistan, the root cause of terrorism cannot be met. Then the manner in which the Pakistan administration is dealing with the case of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed is not helping the initiation of ‘composite dialogue’.

How I wish Pakistan could start thinking afresh on India. When I accompanied former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on his bus trip to Lahore, I could see how determined he was to begin a new chapter to cultivate good relations with Pakistan. We had not reached the border yet when he called me and showed the message he had received about the killing of Hindus by the militants at Doda. But he decided to complete the mission. This can be judged from what he wrote in the visitors’ book at the Minar-e-Pakistan: India’s stability and integrity depended on the stability and integrity of Pakistan.

The effort which some of us have been making for the last 15 years by lighting candles on the Wagha border is towards that end. People in both the countries should light a candle outside their house or on the rooftop on the night of August 14-15 to avow their commitment to friendship between the two nations.

Leaders in Pakistan have in Manmohan Singh a person who is determined to travel whatever the distance is required to make up with Pakistan. He is thinking of a common market for the South Asian countries. Islamabad should not try to score points while interpreting the joint statement. He should be strengthened. He is a man on mission.

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