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Between the line

Time to span distance
January 12, 2011


QAID-E-AZAM Mohammad Ali Jinnah said soon after winning Pakistan that his country would never mix state with religion. The forces which are today trying to assert are going against the undertaking he gave. The killing of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer indicates not only religious extremism but also the disdain shown to Jinnah’s teachings.

No doubt, liberal Taseer charactrised the law of blasphemy against women as “a black act.” But this was his opinion which he never enforced on the government. Fundamentalists do not tolerate any other viewpoint. But Pakistan is a democratic polity which allows dissent.

It is strange that the killing has been criticised by the Pakistan People’s Party. Others are either quiet or go over the exercise of criticism for show. And the role of some ulemas is tragic because they are supporting what the assassin has done. They are giving the murder an interpretation that may be grist to the propaganda mills in the West.

The killing brings to my mind the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi. In her case also, the security guards used the gun meant to protect her. But that was a protest against the army’s entry into the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ Vatican. The community has come to forgive the government after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi sought apologies in parliament and at the Golden Temple.

Pakistan’s case is different because extremism is on the rise. The more fundamentalisms are propitiated, the more they get strengthened. The Taliban on the one side and the bigoted among the people on the other can be harmful to the nation’s development and progress.

New Delhi can be of some help in the situation by starting a dialogue with Islamabad. People in Pakistan may see in the talks a way out of the impasse they face on so many fronts. India’s foreign minister S.M. Kirshna may be justified in his statement that Pakistan’s posture of “compulsive hostility” towards India would not help a serious and sustained dialogue between the two countries.

But this was a curt reply to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani’s speech that his country and India could not afford another war, stressing that a dialogue was the way out to resolving differences. New Delhi should not forget that Pakistan is a nuclear power. I recall the warning that Dr A.Q. Khan gave me when I interviewed him. He said that Pakistan would use the bomb “if you ever tried to do what you did in East Pakistan.”

True, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to separate terrorism from dialogue at Sharm El Sheikh. But Indian opinion was so horrified over the 26/11 attack by terrorists on Mumbai that no government can afford to move forward without the assurance that terrorists’ camps in Pakistan have been dismantled.

Pakistan can say, as its spokesman has pointed out, that India is obsessed with the 26/11 attack even after two years. But this argument does not sell in the country which has suffered at the hands of terrorists. Islamabad will have to do something whereby people in India are assured that no attack would take place from across the border. Islamabad has said that there is no terrorist’s camp on its soil. Why doesn’t it invite India to see itself that the terrorists’ camps have been dismantled?

No doubt, Pakistan is itself a prey to terrorism and there is hardly any week when bomb blasts do not take place even on as secure place as the police headquarters. And it does not help if Islamabad is chided that it gave birth to the jihadis of Frankenstein which is beyond its control.

Both are facts: India’s fear of terrorist attack and Pakistan’s helplessness to rein in the fundamentalists or, more so, the Taliban. Yet it is also a fact that the two countries cannot seek a solution to the problem they face unless they begin to talk. Terrorism itself may find the joint approach of the two countries a deterrent.

New Delhi and Islamabd can blame each other till the cows come home. But there is no right or wrong of case when the two sides are not even willing to sit across the table. The real reason is that they live in the past, distant and near. How long will they carry the baggage of history assuming Kashmir is the core problem? Nobody can justify what has been happening in the state. But it is not a black or white situation.

I met two young men from Kashmir a few days ago. One was a Muslim who argued that if India did not give azadi to Kashmir, they would come to believe in the two-nation theory. He described how his house was destroyed and the family members maltreated at the hands of security forces.

The other young man was a Kashmiri pandit who had sought shelter—and vocation—at Mumbai. He was equally bitter because his family had been forcibly ousted from his house at Srinagar and some members got injured in the process. He blamed writers like me who “sympathised” with those who were out to break up India.

In a way, both reminded me of India and Pakistan nourishing the wounds of partition and polarisation. The two youth were as intractable as the two countries are. The Muslim Kashmiri was so angry that he did not mind if the valley alone was made independent, roughly 80 lakh people. The Kashmiri pandit wanted to go back to Srinagar but could not brook the idea of a status outside India. How do the twains meet?

There are too many hands involved in the mix of Kashmir. Abdul Ghani Bhatt of Hurriyat has said that Mirwaiz’s father and Abdul Ghani Lone were killed by the terrorists, not by the security forces or any other government agency. The terrorists are playing havoc in both the countries. They have to be eliminated. There is no other option. They may be operating in one country or an area today but they will spread to engulf the entire region tomorrow.

From whichever point you may start, you end up with the same option: India and Pakistan must resume talks. And once they begin they should not break until they find a solution to the problems. Both countries may have to resile from their firm positions. But governments and political parties should not mind even losing face. Because the alternative is perpetual confrontation which people in the region do not relish. They want to live in peace so that they can improve their standard of living and meet people across the border—the people with whom they have shared sorrow and happiness for hundreds of years.

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