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Between the line

Let’s begin again
May 12, 2010


Eleven-year-old Devika has not yet reconciled to what happened to her on November 26, 2008. She was hit by a bullet and lost her right leg while waiting at a bus terminus. That gunman Mohammad Ajmal Kasab has been found guilty is her personal and emotive issue. She does not know the larger perspective. However, her father Natwar Lal feels the ends of justice have been met when the only surviving terrorist out of 10, who came from Pakistan to attack Mumbai, was brought book. His reaction, more or less, represents Indian opinion, although some feel that the media-hyped trial served more as a catharsis than the cry for justice.

Many in India have taken the government to task for spending lakhs of rupees to get the conviction of Kasab who was seen wielding his AK-47 even on television screens. New Delhi, however, did well in conducting the case methodically lest some should criticize it for having a kangaroo court trial. Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi made an irresponsible remark during an interview to a television network that his government would study the judgment and then make up its mind on Kasab’s conviction. Doubting the judiciary will be the beginning of a new chapter of suspicion between the two countries.

After Kasab’s conviction, New Delhi expects that Hafiz Sayeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief, who reportedly planned the Mumbai carnage, will soon be arrested and punished. Pakistan’s efforts are not considered adequate on this end. Islamabad’s plea that the evidence provided by India is too flimsy to convince the court. Since New Delhi insists on having given a clinching proof of Sayeed’s involvement, it would be better if the entire evidence, including Kasab’s statement of admission, was made public for the people to judge.

Unfortunately, the man who has been arrested for planting the bomb at the Times Square in New York is from Karachi. True, he is a naturalized citizen of the US. But people in Pakistan must take the case seriously and come out openly against organizations like Lashkar which train and brainwash the common man in the name of religion.

The public is correct in voicing its criticism against the exoneration of two Indians, also involved in the Kasab case. The judge may not to be blamed because he found the only witness “unreliable.” It is the police who failed to collect tangible evidence against Fahim Ansari of Mumbai and Sahabuddin Ahmed of Bihar. This does not mean that the attack on Mumbai was carried out only by the Pakistanis and the belatedly-found accomplice, David Headley, an American of Pakistani origin.

There are “sleepers” in India and the Taliban have their followers in this country. They are active and it is quite possible that the collaborators in the Mumbai attack were from among the Indian Taliban. They have not been yet traced. But they are there. An operation of Mumbai scale could not have taken place without local help.

In fact, India has discovered to its horror that there is a network of Hindu Taliban as well. They are connected with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and said to be responsible for the bomb blasts at Ajmer Dargah (2007), Mecca Masjid at Hyderabad (2007), Malegaon (2008) and Goa (2009). The connection of a BJP-run state government has also come to light. Rajasthan home minister Shanti Dhariwal has alleged that the state police under former chief minister Vasundhara Raje of the BJP kept the involvement of Hindutva outfits under wraps.

Authoritative sources at New Delhi suspect that Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP government is in power, has become a safe sanctuary for the Hindu outfits. Hindu Jagran Manch from Indore in the state is considered by the Maharashtra Police responsible for the Malegaon blasts which killed 37 Muslims. Top police official Hemant Karkare is alleged to have been eliminated by Hindu extremists when he had collected certain leads on the involvement of Hindu organisations in the attacks across the country. Even the attack on the Samjotha Express (2007) is considered a handiwork of Hindu terrorists.

That Pakistan is itself in the midst of terrorism, suffering a blast here and an attack there is worrisome for India, particularly when there is genuine fear that terrorism may pour into the country through the Wagah border. The Taliban have said that India was their “real target.” Therefore, Islamabad must take into account the point made by New Delhi that the terrorists come from Pakistan and do not go from India to Pakistan.

This perception of India was reportedly the main topic when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani at Thimpu in Bhutan a few days ago. New Delhi has the assurance of Islamabad that the latter would not allow its soil to be used by the terrorists to go across the border. The good news is that foreign secretaries of both the countries are expected to pick up the thread from where the two Prime Ministers have left it off.

It is heartening to notice that the Indian media has not mentioned the forthcoming talks with Pakistan while singling out its establishment for having “planned and executed” the attack on Mumbai. It becomes incumbent on civil societies in both the countries to put pressure on their governments to resume talks quickly. Qureshi has rightly said it hardly matters what nomenclature is given to the talks, “substantive” or “composite” it is the ‘spirit’ that is important. One thing the two sides must resolve is that they would not snap the talks, however wide their differences.

The result of talks will depend on the groundswell of public opinion. People-to-people contact should go beyond the cliché it has become. It should really mean the easing of difficulties the people from both countries encounter to go from one side to the other. Intelligence agencies will have to be reined in so that they do not question every traveler. High Commissions on both sides should not have mindset bureaucrats. New Delhi which considers itself more liberal than Islamabad is insistent that students and faculty coming from Pakistan to the South Asia University should undergo police reporting daily and not travel more than three cities mentioned on the visa.

I know that most people in India and Pakistan are prisoners of the past. They have deep, entrenched mistrust against each other. They tend to see even positive steps in a negative manner. The media makes a mountain out of a molehill. The Bhutan Summit asked all the countries in South Asia to come closer. Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan have given a lead by deciding to sit across the table. This demands eschewing mistrust and overcoming past grievances. It may be tough. But let’s begin again.

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