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Between the line
 

Optimism is a moral duty
September 16, 2009

 

THERE is every reason to be pessimistic about relations between India and Pakistan. One is determined not to resume talks until it sees the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack on November 26 last year brought to book. The other is stuck on the stand that New Delhi has not sent it “enough evidence” to pursue a viable case in the court of law, particularly against Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawah, which was earlier known as Lashkar-e-Toibba.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has said that Pakistan is “playing with our emotions” in not detaining Saeed. Chidambaram has given more details to Islamabad, how Saeed masterminded the 26/11 and was accompanied by one ‘Major General Sahib’ (probably a retired Pakistan officer) during a meeting with Kasab and other terrorists at a training camp.

Islamabad has said that the dossier sent by New Delhi is a rehash of earlier information. Had this been only a diplomatic exercise, it would have mattered little. But the outcome of the 26/11 case has got intractably linked to the composite dialogue or, for that matter, to the normalcy between the two countries. By stating that Saeed was not involved, Pakistan’s former National Security Adviser Mahmud Durrani has convinced none in India. The problem with the bureaucrats and the top brass, retired or in service, is that they support their respective government’s stand which they have themselves mapped out.

True, mistrust is at the back of estrangement which is deepening day by day. But this is something with which the people have lived for 62 years when the two countries were born. There is no serious attempt, except at the people’s level and that too in a limited way, to change the frozen attitudes. The fact is that so long as the intelligence agencies in the two countries are the ultimate arbiter, no progress is possible.

India’s hardened attitude on the 26/11 may be partly because of the Maharasthra assembly election, scheduled to be held on October 13. The Congress-ruled Centre and state may have smelt an electoral advantage in keeping the dialogue hanging. The BJP and the Shiv Sena comprising the opposition in Maharashtra have made the 26/11 their election plank to show New Delhi’s “incompetence” in not prevailing upon Islamabad to keep Saeed behind bars.

Yet to say that no talks can take place till the guilty are punished may be like waiting till the cows come home. The courts in third world countries are painfully slow in their disposal of cases. Some compromise formula has to be hammered out and let this not take place by bringing America into the picture—waiting in the wings all the time.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir is right that the two countries will have to come to the negotiating table sooner or later. But this type of confidence does not allow Pakistan to mollify India’s fears. In any case, the talks are the means, not the end by itself. The two countries cannot ride a high horse if they want to live like neighbours.

Strange, the debate on who was responsible for partition did not evoke even limited demand, either in India or Pakistan, for the steps to minimize the harm that one is doing to the other. Apparently, there is some regret on partition. Otherwise, the book by Jaswant Singh would not have created the positive feelings as it did. Logically, there should have been some visible effort to make at least travel between the two countries easier. But the whole thing has proved to be a mere digression.

If Islamabad feels it has done enough on the 26/11 case and still has not impressed New Delhi, Pakistan can at least lessen the points of friction. Violations of ceasefire on the Jammu and Kashmir border, although fewer than before, have irritated the public in India. Its Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor is exasperated to such an extent that he has said at a press conference that his army would be “forced to retaliate.” One thing can lead to another. Why doesn’t Islamabad see that violations do not take place? After all, the LoC is a de-facto border till there is some accord. It does not mean that Pakistan has watered down its claim on Kashmir.

Another point of concern in India is the story in American media that Pakistan had illegally modified the US-supplied Harpoon missiles to target India. Washington has promised to examine the missiles and Islamabad has extended its cooperation. But there is no word of explanation to India where the mistrust has got heightened. When it comes to Pakistan, it is no less hyper. It has expressed its apprehension that India may hold nuclear tests again.

Even if the 1998 thermonuclear test has shown “drawbacks,” as pointed out by some Indian scientists, it does not mean that India will resume tests. It has given a commitment to the world not to do so. In the face of nuclear deal with the US, it is nearly impossible that New Delhi would do anything which may put the whole deal in jeopardy. In fact, it is an opportune time for both India and Pakistan to reiterate their earlier undertaking not to be the first user. And the moratorium on tests is a must.

Islamabad should be attending to New Delhi fears that Pakistan is still training, arming and encouraging militants to indulge in terrorism in India. Shah Abdul Aziz, a former parliamentarian, has told a Pakistan TV channel that senior officials of the Interior Ministry sent him to meet Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban chief who was killed subsequently, to show “unity against India” in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. If this is true—and there is no contradiction by Islamabad—then India’s charge that the 26/11 has had the involvement of state actors gains credence.

Where is the silver lining in this somber atmosphere? The only plus point is that Islamabad has a parliament which has come through a democratic struggle that the lawyers waged. It should be more independent than the earlier democratic governments which owed their installation to the army that decided to bring them to the fore at a particular time. New Delhi should put more faith in the Zardari regime which is grappling with the problem of terrorism from within.

Many decades ago, there was a wise professor who said: “Optimism is a moral duty.” After watching relations between India and Pakistan since independence, I can appreciate the professor’s advice, because only optimism can sustain faith in normalcy.


 
 
 
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