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Between the line

Yes, together we can
February 04 , 2009


 MANY years ago, there was an earthquake in Mexico. Hundreds of people died and a large number of houses were destroyed. It was a somber scenario. Yet, one peddler was shouting at the top of his voice: Buy anti-earthquake pill. Overwhelmed by the tragedy, some people began beating him up. In his defence he said: Tell me what was the alternative?

Such was the feeling when a team of peace-seekers from Pakistan met their counterparts at New Delhi a few days ago. When relations between India and Pakistan lay in ruins and when the talks between the two countries were not even in the horizon, it was indeed a brave effort to pick up the thread from where they had left it off before the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Peace makers had made a substantial progress. People-to-people contact was increasing despite the rigours of visa restriction. The contact for the last two decades had developed enough intrinsic strength not to evaporate with the carnage, although the Mumbai attack caused the maximum damage. Conservative elements have always stalled peace efforts but the liberals have still evoked a spirited response in both the countries.

The Pakistani team, which included parliamentarians, human right activists and top journalists, was a bit jolted by the anger it found in Indian civil society. They heard patiently harsh critics who said that Pakistan was merely going over the exercise and doing little to bring to justice the perpetrators of Mumbai carnage. Basically, it was mistrust because India or, for that matter, the world is not sure whether the steps taken-the arrests made and the offices of many-faced Lashkar-e-Toibba sealed-were genuine. The critics said that the Pakistan government was perverting the issue of terrorism and converting it into yet another dispute between the two countries.

The team justified India's rage and condemned unequivocally the terrorist attack. But it also appealed to the society-later through a prepared statement-that the two countries must not allow the terrorists to hijack the pace agenda and must resume the composite dialogue process. The courageous lot of peace-seekers wanted to impress on India that Pakistan civil society, however limited, was fighting for the same values: free society and good neighbourliness.

That they undertook the visit when the wounds of Mumbai were raw spoke volumes about their determination and doggedness. They heard harsh words but presented their case without rancour. What surprised them was that the people's understanding and affection had not exhausted. Probably, left to them, unencumbered by bureaucratic mechanizations, people will find that the destiny of the two is intertwined. Yet the army which calls the shots in Pakistan will not allow normalization because the people in Pakistan can turn back and demand a reduction in the force. There is, however, a possibility that the army will control the jihadis now that there is an outcry against them all over the world.

It is former President Pervez Musharraf who has given a bad name to Pakistan. He encouraged terrorists on one side and staged 'action' against them on the other. Now he has admitted at Washington that terrorists operated from Pakistan. But his plea is that their camps were located at a difficult terrain which handicapped their dismantling. A person who could use all methods to curb the nationalists in Baluchistan should not be surprised if his word is not trusted.

The team promised to convey the feelings to the top. But does the civilian top have the clout? People in India do not generally buy the argument that the weak democracy in Pakistan should be helped at any cost. My firm belief after following events for years is that the establishment on both sides has developed a vested interest to keep people distant. Islamabad does it because the anti-India sentiment keeps the country united. As far as New Delhi is concerned, it has developed an enemy phobia. China which continues to occupy 35,000 square miles of Indian territory after giving it bloody nose in 1962 is too big and too powerful to be challenged. Hapless Pakistan comes in handy to feed the phobia.

I do not condone what Islamabad has done to indoctrinate its nation, from teaching hatred through textbooks to training and arming terrorists. But this is what happens in a country which loses the ballot box. Pakistan has had no democracy for nearly five decades. Most of the leaders who came on the plank of democracy built up their own assets and personal following, not the environment that would protect the people's right to say or the right to differ. The army cashed in on the lack of unity in the country to defend such values.

How do we move forward in an atmosphere if mistrust between the two countries that goes back to the days of partition and even before? But, first things first: Pakistan has to make sure that its soil is not used by terrorists. Therefore, their elimination is a must. America cannot preach on the subject and threaten to bomb the interior of Pakistan if need be. It is America which is responsible for the birth of terrorism. It constituted a force of fanatics and armed it to bleed the Soviet Union. True, America won the cold war but it lost most of Afghanistan to the fanatics called the Taliban. They are now a menace for the entire world. They cannot be defeated only by bombs hurled from unmanned planes. In fact, the indiscriminate bombing is evoking more and more sympathy for the Taliban in Pakistan.

India is having the worst fallout. A new tribe of Hindu Taliban has appeared on the scene. It attacked girls at a pub in Mangalore, Karnataka. It called itself the Sri Ram Sena, a brigade to enforce standards of morality, as the Taliban are doing in the western parts of Pakistan. Another terrifying revelation is that of Hindu extremists who were responsible for bomb blasts outside a mosque at Malegaon, Maharashtra. They want to take over the country and establish a 'Hindu Rashtra'. This is also a goal of the Sangh parivar, including the BJP. A serving military intelligence officer, Lt Col PS. Purohit, now in jail, has already confessed his role.

Terrorism is hard to fight. But if liberals in India and Pakistan were to join hands to combat it together, they might be able to roll back the Talibanisation and religious bias spreading in both the countries. Pakistan has a bigger problem because part of its territory is already under the Taliban who are using it to chastise women particularly. Ultimately, it is the liberals who will have to strive harder than before. Timid souls do not know anything like victory or defeat.

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