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Between the line

An opportunity at last
July 29, 2009


THE media in both India and Pakistan has failed to rise above its mindset to welcome the outcome of the meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Yousef Gilani. There has been no victory or defeat. After four years of deadlock if the two sides have agreed to talk, it amounts to a plus.

In fact, the credit goes to Manmohan Singh who has broken the logjam to say in a joint statement that India is ready to discuss all differences with Pakistan, including the outstanding issues. He has also explained that Pakistan should deliver on the Mumbai attack before taking up other things, euphemistically called “a composite dialogue.”

Where has he gone wrong? In moving towards the negotiating table or in emphasizing that the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage must be brought to justice? Is it the stand of hawks in both countries that India and Pakistan should continue to live in enmity and insecurity, which they have nurtured from the day when the two countries parted company in the wake of Britain’s withdrawl?

In fact, Manmohan Singh has traveled an extra mile to reach Pakistan, so that he could look back with pride at the effort he has made, despite the diatribe by opposition leader L.K. Advani and the all too familiar anti-Pakistan lobby, to push the two countries from the darkness of hate to the light of understanding.

I wish Gilani had also risen to the same heights as did Manmohan Singh. The Pakistan Prime Minister, when asked at Islamabad whether India was a threat to Pakistan, said, “It was too early to say.” This is the line of General Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff. Gilani should have endorsed President Zardari’s stand that Pakistan is threatened by the Taliban, not India.
Gilani created another embarrassment for Manmohan Singh by announcing that India was creating trouble in Baluchistan. When Manmohan Singh told him during the talks to bring his proof to the table, and when he included Pakistan’s perception in the joint statement, was it necessary for Gilani to issue a statement within 48 hours of the meeting? Understandably, politicians have to play to the gallery. This is what they have been doing on both sides for decades. Isn’t it time for them to turn to the plight of millions who go without food at night and who are sick of wars, or threats of wars between successive governments on both sides?
It’s a welcome development that Islamabad has ultimately admitted officially that the terrorists who struck at Mumbai were from Pakistan. The charge sheet filed against them, unfortunately eight months late, should also assure New Delhi that Pakistan is trying to deliver its part of the deal. To connect this development with the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India may be churlish. However, she has correctly underlined Pakistan’s responsibility to “make progress against a syndicate of terrorism.” This demands immediate dismantling of training camps, something India has been consistently calling for. It will be counter productive on the part of Islamabad to argue that it has no training camps on its territory. New Delhi has provided it with every bit of detail about the camps.

What is amusing is that practically every newspaper and TV channel in Pakistan brought in Kashmir, even though it was not specifically mentioned in the joint statement. When Manmohan Singh has agreed to discuss all outstanding issues, he includes Kashmir as well. But this is the exercise over which we have gone many a time before.

New Delhi’s stand is that it will not accept religion as the basis for any political solution. India realises that its secular polity, however old, is still rickety and weak. If it accepts religion as the basis how does it defend the principles of pluralism and one nation? True, India was divided on the basis of religion, but how can we perpetuate it when every village of ours has Hindus and Muslims living together? I have no doubt that Pakistan will also be one day a secular country, a concept which Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah propounded when he said on the eve of partition that people of the sub continent were either Pakistanis or Indians and that religion would have nothing to do with politics.

Another point to be emphasised on Kashmir is that the borders can be made irrelevant but not altered. This is what Manmohan Singh said and this is what a former Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, however wanting in all respects, tried to implement. There must have been some formula which Musharraf has left behind. This can be discussed further so that both Kashmirs have as much autonomy as possible, with soft borders.

I wish the Hurriyat had worked on something like this, but it is lost in the maze of many formulas, ranging from forging an Islamic entity to a sovereign, independent country. And its greatest weakness has been that it has not been able to take along either the Hindu majority Jammu or the Buddhist majority Ladakh. Still the Hurriyat claims to represent the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan should be assured that India wants to settle the Kashmir problem bilaterally and without any outside power coming into the picture. Hillary’s statement that the two countries should resolve their problems bilaterally, and that America is not in favour of mediating, should silence the voices both in Pakistan and Kashmir wanting to draw Washington into the imbroglio.

Many in India and Pakistan are still prisoners of the past. They carry the baggage of partition all the time. They have to shed their biases and prejudices, if not for themselves then at least for today’s generation which wants economic growth and the opportunities that come with it. Is it realistic to believe that a 21-year-old Indian or Pakistani cares passionately about property that their ancestors left behind, or the hazardous journey that they undertook from one country to another? In India when a young Muslim is taunted about Pakistan, he hits back to say “Dig up my grandfather from his grave and ventilate all your anger against him.”

Today’s youth wants to travel and trade across the border. Like their counterparts from other areas of the world they are driven by curiosity and hope for a better future. Both India and Pakistan have economies which can be further developed for each other’s mutual benefit. Ultimately, South Asia can have a common market like the European Common Market in which the economies of scale mean that cheaper goods and services could be made available for the benefit of all.

This is as much a reality as talking turkey.

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