Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have already met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in New York by the time this column appears on Thursday, but still, here’s some unsolicited advice: Pakistan needs help, not criticism, as it despairingly contemplates yet another crossroads in its history.
In the wake of the serial bomb blasts in India and repeated Line of Control violations, the mood in New Delhi is hardening. More and more people are connecting the dots between home-grown terrorists, Muslims and Pakistan—a state of affairs dangerously reminiscent of the times when the “foreign hand” was blamed for all the troubles at home.
Singh, a witness to the 1947 Partition riots, knows well what simplistic mindsets can do. But if he can reassure Zardari that he understands Pakistan’s daily agony and anguish, as it hurtles from blast to blast, in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad as well as in the increasingly unstable borderlands, he would be standing up for the largely inarticulate Indian middle ground.
Truth is, Pakistan is as much a victim of its own terrorism as is India. The blast at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad over the weekend has further shaken the ground beneath Pakistan’s feet. Coming in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination last December, as well as the daily dose of terror that is being unleashed in the tribal frontier, Pakistanis are rapidly sobering up in the face of rhetoric, both in India and the US, that Pakistan is a failing state.
So let’s take the worst-case scenario. Assuming the above is true, shouldn’t India shoulder the biggest burden of containing the mess? After all, none other than the Prime Minister has said, again and again: We can’t choose our geography, we have to learn to live together as responsible neighbours.
Zardari still doesn’t have total control over his army or Pakistan’s spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. The day after the Marriott blasts, as Zardari prepared to go to the US, Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani left for China—Pakistan’s oldest and strongest friend. Beijing has, in the past, gift-wrapped everything Islamabad wants, from a tested nuclear device to missiles to a warm-water port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan’s democracy project is still in its infancy, which is why it must be publicly supported by India. Even if New Delhi privately gnashes its teeth before going to bed every night, and dreams about the end of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the Kashmir valley, waking up and smelling the coffee in New York must include giving Zardari the message that India will back Islamabad—especially if he wants to establish political control over the army and the ISI.
Imagine the spectre of a truly failing Pakistan, spinning out of control, spitting out a calamitous cocktail of nuclear weapons, guns and religious extremists. India will be on the frontline, make no mistake!
So, by the time this column appears, Singh and Zardari would have likely announced measures to open trade across the Line of Control in Kashmir in two sectors: from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad and from Poonch to Rawalkot. The decision, no doubt, would be historic. After 1953, when crossing points between the two countries were shut, this is the first time that both countries would be allowing a restoration of everyday commerce.
Since both governments have so little imagination, however, the traded goods will be minimal. They are certain to include fruits, a concession to the demand of Kashmiri fruit traders, shaken by the informal economic blockade enforced by those spearheading the recent Amarnath agitation in Jammu.
At last, Kashmiri apples and pears and oranges will wend their way to the markets in Muzaffarabad and Rawalpindi, Sialkot and Lahore. The authorities in Delhi, no doubt, feel this is a crucial measure to build confidence among Kashmiris in the run-up to elections in Jammu and Kashmir, possibly as early as November.
Meanwhile, what of the home-grown terrorist-Muslim-Pakistan paradigm? What are we going to do with the growing belief that all Muslims are terrorists and vice versa, and they are funded by the ISI?
One answer might lie in the bios of those accused of the Delhi-Jaipur-Ahmedabad blasts. Many are students, some of them enrolled in Delhi’s Jamia Millia university and one in Sikkim’s Manipal University. These boys don’t fit the traditional image of the brutalized, lumpen rioter. They may or may not have been trained by the ISI to create chaos in India’s cities, but they are as Indian as they come.
Fact is, India’s boast that there was no Indian inolved in international terrorism was shattered the day Bangalore’s Kafeel Ahmed rammed his jeep into the Glasgow airport last year.
Manmohan Singh must surely be congratulated for steering India into the new century on several counts. But as he meets US President George Bush to thank him for pushing the Indo-US nuclear deal through in Washington, DC, tomorrow, he could, perhaps, spare a thought for the dangerously growing suspicions against Indian Muslims at home.
Zardari’s comment that terrorism was a “cancer” in Pakistan, in the wake of the Marriott blasts, could easily apply to the situation in India.
Jyoti Malhotra is Mint’s diplomatic affairs editor and writes on the intersection of foreign policy, trade and politics every week. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
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