India-Pakistan on a road to nowhere
Akrita Reyar The first thing that comes to mind when one begins to write about India and Pakistan is the cartoon of a yoga instructor, entangled in such an inordinately complex position that it seems impossible for him to ever straighten out.
After over 60 years of a topsy-turvy ride together as neighbours, the two countries seem headed on roads that have no intersection. Shared history is by no means a guarantee of a common future. Increasingly, our paths seem too distant to decipher any commonalities. Unfortunately for India, its geography has become its liability and the intertwined past a putrid wound, which elements in Pakistan are unwilling to let heal. 26/11 was testimony of that. Substantial and comprehensive evidence proves that the most dastardly act of terror launched against India was planned, controlled and executed from Pakistan soil. Evidence includes a brainwashed canary called Ajmal Kasab singing in an Indian jail. The initial reaction… The immediate reaction after the Mumbai siege was that of seething anger. People in India were full of directionless wrath. Pakistan had to be taught a lesson. Exactly how, no one knew. The government, which was already frustrated by a string of terror attacks before Mumbai, had no option but to talk tough. More than once did the government hint at “all options being open” if Pakistan did not take immediate action against the perpetrators of the ghastly crime. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India could contemplate military precision attacks on terror camps in PoK and Pakistan territory. It was rage on leash. The US was alarmed by the cracker wire that was fast burning out. An explosive South Asia, which was nuclear-armed, seemed a nightmare. A slew of high profile visits to India and Pakistan meant temperatures were brought down and Pakistan told in stern terms to start acting against terror elements.
A year after the incident, the US has come good on its promise to keep the pressure up. The fact that the Kerry-Lugar aid bill has a clause - which says Pakistan would have to crackdown on all nefarious constituents, that run the terror writ unchallenged from its territory - is proof that US has warned the Islamic nation that time’s up for playing games. India, in the meantime, put an immediate stop to all goodwill gestures, trade links and political dialogue with Pakistan. This was clearly no time for niceties. It even demanded that the Pakistan ISI chief be sent to India for some talking down. The Pakistan government seemed at one point of time ready to concede to this demand, but it later dithered after Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani put his foot down. He is believed to have told the Pakistan government that “today they have summoned the ISI Chief, tomorrow it will be me”. However intransigent positions India and Pakistan may adopt, it is equally true that the US will not allow a war to break out. Moreover, Dr Manmohan Singh has time and again asseverated that “India cannot realize its true potential among the comity of nations” as long as the Pakistan albatross continues to weigh us down.
Back to dialogue… It was perhaps because of such a belief that the PM, with a bit of US coaxing, agreed to meet Pakistan President Zardari in Russia at the Shanghai Cooperation summit on June 16 this year. Right at the opening of their meeting and in full media glare, the Prime Minister told Zardari: “I am happy to meet you, but my mandate is to tell you that the territory of Pakistan must not be used for terrorism.” A short, curt and businesslike message was conveyed at the meeting that lasted less than an hour. If the first meeting between the top leaders of the two countries drew jeers in Pakistan, the second meeting between Dr Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in Egypt met a similar fate, but this time on the eastern side of the Line of Control. Fresh from his success, first over the nuclear deal, and then a renewed and a stronger mandate at the hustings, Prime Minister Singh felt that he could probably take some bold initiatives. At the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting on July 16, Dr Manmohan Singh and Gilani asked their aides to leave the room while the two thrashed out the modalities of a joint statement. The meeting spilled well over two hours. Limited resumption for foreign secretary level engagement, de-linking talks from action against terror and including Balochistan in the statement, which Pakistan gloated as our tacit acceptance of aiding subversive activities in their territory, raised a furore. Dr Singh, the kind of person that he is, discounted the fact that people won’t see it as ‘you can investigate what you like, when I have nothing to hide’. The opposition and the media were livid. There was unison of voices against Dr Singh having failed the country. Such was the outrage that even Sonia Gandhi sidestepped the issue in Parliament, even though the PM kept insisting that he could explain. As things stand….. First Pakistan was in denial mode. Later, though it reluctantly acknowledged that Pakistan citizens were involved in the conspiracy, it refused to hand over the guilty to India and rather promised to hold a fair trial in the country itself. The acknowledgement of involvement of elements based in Pakistan first came from Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who said, an FIR had been lodged under the Anti-terror Act. Soon after, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quershi sought to confuse matters by linking 26/11 with Samjhauta Express blasts. Later, despite India having sent a dossier which has proof about weapons, milk packets, candy bar wrappers, satellite phones emanating from Pakistan, and the details of the dingy taken by terrorists from Karachi, phone conversations with handlers in Pakistan and interrogation details, the Islamic nation continue to harp about “lack of evidence”. And despite out clarifications on their queries, Pakistan has been dragging its feet. There cannot be an overnight transposition in Pakistan. Its establishment including the Army and the ISI has long used terror as a part of state policy. Friends cannot be ditched suddenly, more so as they continue to serve the purpose of bleeding India. As things stand, there continues to be a trust deficit between the two South Asian neighbours. The trial in Pakistan to implicate the accused has already become a joke. True, seven people with direct involvement in the Mumbai siege including Javed Iqbal, who procured VoIP phones, and Hamad Ameen Sadiq, who wired money, have been rounded up, but they are mere pawns of a very large game handled by the big fish like the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafeez Saeed, who the Pakistani authorities refuse to put behind bars. Dispensing real justice is still a long distance. It is not that the Indian government has been sitting pretty. The new Home Minister P Chidambaram is a busy man these days. We seem to have finally had some success in foiling some terror plots (13 according to reports), with immense help from the FBI. This week the feisty Home Minister seemed to mean business when he said that another 26/11 will call for retaliation. The Indian population, which has had to suffer both the terror onslaughts and a series of duds in terms of false promises from political bigwigs like Vajpayee who said “our patience is not unlimited” and then only went on to show that it was, is really fatigued and craving for some concrete action on preemption and hot pursuit of terrorists.
The way ahead… History and experience have shown that when there are long phases of impasse, there is at times no option but to let events play out. Such is the weariness, wariness and dreariness in trying to tackle Pakistan that most Indians feel that time will itself throw up a situation when things may eventually get better. There are already some signs of a positive turn. The Pakistan authorities have started taking on jihadis, even if they are doing it selectively either on US’ behest or to secure themselves. Because of the overpowering reality of daily incidents of bloody violence on its own territory, Pakistan will have to some day realize that all fundamentalists are best eliminated. In that sense, the relationship between the two countries no longer hinges so much on dynamics between India and Pakistan, as it is does on Pakistan’s relationship with itself. About the course it wants to take for the future of its own country. And if it does make some sensible choices, one can only hope that India and Pakistan one day, in the distant future, may meet at destination peace.