Home Columns Books Profile Contact
Between the line

The right to live
April 15, 2009


IT was a small gesture but a gesture, indeed, by some people who took out a procession at the historic Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to express their solidarity with the people of Pakistan at their hour of challenge from terrorists. It is a coincidence that thousands of people demonstrated on the same day at the Mall in Lahore to warn terrorists: Hands off.
In both countries the message given was that the people would not allow bomb and bullet to defeat freedom and fraternity. With no arms, no security, the processionists have made it clear that the determined people are a far bigger force than all the gun-carrying fundamentalists put together.

The civil society on both sides knows that the battle between terrorism and peace may last long. The loss may be enormous. But there is no doubting the victory of those who leave the comfort of their home to come on the streets to defend their right to live—to live without fear. They want to build an environment where the children can play without their parents worrying about them, where the elders can go about their business in confidence and where every man can command respect in the moment when he bows before his God, whatever his belief.

Unfortunately, both New Delhi and Islamabad do not come up to the standard which prepares them for a firm response to terrorism. They are not even on speaking terms, much less anywhere near planning joint steps to meet the scourge. Who gets the better of the other in diplomacy or tactics has little significance when the people they represent have begun to feel as if they are on their own. Both societies are an exasperated lot which has little faith in the government.

What happened at Mumbai or elsewhere a few months ago and what is happening in Pakistan in some shape or the other every day shows that the battle with the enemy—terrorists—is yet to be joined. The people do not see any short or long-term strategy which the government on either side has charted to exterminate terrorism.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has a point when he says that when the Pakistan government is not doing enough to bring the perpetrators at Mumbai to justice, there is no use resuming the dialogue with Islamabad. The Pakistan reply that it will not agree to “any pre-condition” too makes sense. But asking for a quick trial is not putting conditions. The simple fact is that both do not yet appreciate the enormity of danger the terrorists pose to the two countries.

True, Islamabad gave birth to Taliban to have a “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. But they find that the Frankenstein is killing the master, the Pakistanis by the dozen. Would apportioning the blame to Islamabad help Delhi? By reaching within six kilometers of the Wagah border, Taliban is giving a warning to India that they are not too distant. Kashmir has already reported the entry of Taliban through Gurez in the north of the state. The Indian army has verified that some infiltration has already taken place.

Taliban seem to have a well worked out plan to undo both India and Pakistan. To India, their threat is to its secular structure. In Pakistan, they want the society to go back to the medieval way of living and thinking. Armed with fatal weapons of firearms and fanaticism, Taliban are killing those who differ with them or come in their way.

David Kilcullen, former adviser to top US military commander General David Petraeus has warned that Pakistan could collapse within six months in the face of the snowballing insurgency. Is this prospect good for New Delhi? Imagine a buffer state between Taliban and India disappearing. What is India doing except feeling smug? There may be Indians who are chuckling over the maelstrom of terrorism and thoughtlessness in which Pakistan is caught.

Both New Delhi and Islamabad should realise that their hostility is only helping Taliban and weakening the forces which believe in democracy and the rule of law. The more the two countries go apart, the more viability they give to fundamentalists who have built a make-believe world on hatred and extremism. All the problems pale into insignificance when the fight is for the survival of the basics for which the people live.

India should be able to appreciate this much more than Pakistan because the former has been a stable democratic country for more than six decades. Unfortunately, when it comes to Pakistan, India does not act as a visionary. See how New Delhi has stopped officials in the Pakistan High Commission from going to nearby Gurgaon or Noida to play golf as if India does not want people to people contact.

It is too much to ask the two nations to cleanse the slate of bias and bitterness. But can the two nations cobble together a plan to confront Taliban? New Delhi should give a unilateral undertaking to keep the eastern border, along with Kashmir, quiet so as to enable the Pakistani forces to fight on the western front, adjoining Afghanistan and FATA.

The gaping wounds of Mumbai will take time to gather the crust. The Pakistan government should be seen doing all to punish the perpetrators. Let that process continue. Yet the two countries should be seen openly joining hands for exterminating terrorism. Islamabad must take steps to stop the activities of the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) in helping Al-Qaida and Taliban. Only the other day did the three top US generals accuse the ISI of doing so. The matter was also raised during the Pakistan Army Chief’s recent visit to Washington. “I think it is Pakistan’s interest to be very clear on the issue,” General Jones said while referring to his talks with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The ISI, being part of the army, may be difficult to change until the latter modifies its attitude. It considers India a bigger enemy than Taliban. The mere transfer of troops from the border with India to the NWFP from where Taliban operate will not do. The attitude has to undergo a sea change. The plea that only the rogue elements of the ISI are mixed up does not wash.

On the other hand, New Delhi has to learn how to adjust and live with an intransigent neighbour like Pakistan. It has been the same story of deadlocks and dialogues for the last 62 years. Pakistan genuinely fears that India, a far bigger and more powerful country, will one day gobble it up. This is not true. Both sides have to bury the hatchet to enable people to exercise their right to live.

© Copyright 2008, All rights reserved.