Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Havana betrayal (September 24, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in the race for canonisation, his spectacular act of forgiveness in Havana would have ensured instant deification by any council of the exalted. It is, after all, not every day that the head of a democratically elected government can be “happy” imagining that the blood of 200 unsuspecting commuters in Mumbai was not spilt, that the massacres of Hindus in Jammu never happened and that the blasts in Malegaon were from the dress rehearsal of a syncretic Dussehra. It takes a politician of rare loftiness to tell people that the violence they see around them is actually an illusion (maya), and that those who kill are as tormented as those who get killed.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, life is not an exercise in competitive saintliness. One week after the joint statement in Havana, lesser mortals are still asking what propelled him to pronounce General Pervez Musharraf and some of his more sinister associates ‘not guilty’ of charges of snuffing out innocent Indian lives. For three consecutive days the main opposition party led a no-holds-barred assault on the Prime Minister’s judgment. Manmohan was variously accused of “capitulation” and succumbing to “foreign” pressure—both grave charges. Stalwarts of the security and intelligence establishment joined the chorus. In a stinging intervention, a former head of the Intelligence Bureau even accused the leadership of lacking “guts”.

National concerns have been met by a wall of silence. Neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Foreign Secretary-designate (who is being credited with the Havana doctrine) have cared to explain and remove doubts. The Congress Party which is in business of defending its Government has suddenly lost its voice. The only official reactions have been in the form of an intemperate email from the Prime Minister’s Office to one of the sceptics and a clutch of reports in the media. These suggest that far from succumbing to Musharaf’s bluster the establishment of a Indo-Pak complaints centre on terrorism was a deft move dating back to Manmohan’s Amritsar speech last March.

Ironically, the spin doctor’s version makes magnanimity even less comprehensible. The proposed “treaty of peace” in March was followed by the Mumbai and Malegaon blasts in July and September. The investigations have so far indicated that the bombs bore the signature of terrorist training camps in Pakistan and that the organisers were a blend of Pakistanis and local jihadis. An angry India called off the Foreign Secretary-level with Pakistan and the National Security Adviser was quite blunt in suggesting that the terror attacks were being managed from across the border. Musharraf feigned innocence and retorted that the threat to India came from “freelance terrorists”.

However, as security agencies have repeatedly pointed out, even the “freelance” mujahedeen have an uncanny habit of being accredited to either the Pakistan army or the ISI. Last week, Omar Khayam, a Briton of Pakistani origin charged in the plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights, told a London court that the ISI had organised and funded explosives training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The ISI, he added, worked with radical Islamic groups to choose those who were given the training.

The belief that being indulgent to Pakistan could win India some crucial brownie points, ahead of the final hurdle in the Indo-US nuclear agreement, has also proved a miscalculation. President Bush’s blunt assertion that he could not trust Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his displeasure with Musharraf’s deal with the Taliban forces along the Afghan border are ominous. The West may be wary of a Indo-Pak nuclear face-off but it doesn’t expect India to certify that Pakistan is an innocent casualty of Islamism. Musharraf’s duplicity is well known and acknowledged. Only Manmahon has had second thoughts.

What happened in Havana wasn’t a trivial mistake; it was a betrayal. The Prime Minister has poured Ganga water over the blood-stained hands of killers and violated the memory of every victim of terrorism. He may be a good man. But a good man who condones evil doesn’t warrant India’s respect.

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, September 24, 2006)

No comments: