Friday, July 16, 2010

THE HINDU QUOTIENT (July 16, 2010)

By Swapan Dasgupta

An intriguing feature of the chatter that preceded the visit of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was the apparent bewilderment of Pakistani commentators at India's continuing preoccupation with terrorism. It was suggested by well-meaning Pakistanis with an interest in the process of normalisation that the timing of the James Coleman Headley interrogation reports was wilfully mischievous. Why, it was said, would an Indian minister engage with Pakistan if the objective was to delve into a past tragedy?

The belief that Hindus, blessed with a very feeble sense of history, are incapable of sustained interest in something that is already some 20 months old is playing a role in shaping Pakistani perceptions of its large neighbour. There is a definite feeling that the great Hindu quest for lofty magnanimity can be manipulated in a diplomatic game.

This perception has a basis in contemporary history. In his autobiography published in 2000, Indira Gandhi's economic adviser P.N. Dhar argued that India showed exaggerated understanding towards a beleaguered Pakistan during the Simla negotiations in 1972. P.N. Haksar's plea that it would be unwise to repeat the follies of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was bought by an otherwise hard-nosed Indira Gandhi. Dhar also revealed that it was a touching concern for the political future of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that deterred India from incorporating the permanence of the Line of Control in Kashmir into the Simla Pact.

In hindsight, the spirit of forgive-and-forget hasn't paid India any meaningful dividends in its relations with Pakistan. Yet, what is truly astonishing is the persistence of appeasement as a diplomatic strategy. In 1997, the short-lived United Front government did India a colossal disservice by attempting to pursue I.K. Gujral's doctrine of asymmetry in Indo-Pakistan relations. In ordinary language the Gujral doctrine implied that as elder brother of a large subcontinental family, India must always show generosity and indulge the more spirited younger sibling. The UF Government didn't survive long enough for this policy to be played out fully. Nevertheless, it was long enough for some over-zealous appeasers quietly dismantle India's intelligence and strategic assets within Pakistan as part of a confidence-building measure. Predictably, there was no reciprocal move by Pakistan to dissolve ISI networks within India.

The belief that India can be beguiled by sweet talk, flattery and exemplary hospitality into letting down its guard has become a part of Pakistan's strategic thinking. There is enough evidence to point to laxity along the LoC in the aftermath of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's bus trip to Lahore in 1999 which enabled General Musharraf to plan his audacious military strike in Kargil. A habitually bitten India, it would seem, isn't thrice shy.

A possible reason behind giving Islamabad the benefit of doubt on too many occasions is the rationalisation that Pakistan is schizophrenic and blessed with multiple power centres, each acting autonomously. The 'good' Pakistan, comprising civil society, literati, media and the beleaguered small nationalities, is thought to be constantly at loggerheads with the 'bad' Pakistan which is made up of the military establishment, the crazy religious fundamentalists and the civilian clientele of the cantonments. The self-perpetuating seminar circuit has forever advised India's policy-makers to be supportive of the 'good' Pakistan against the 'bad' Pakistan. 'Don't do anything precipitate to strengthen the hands of the military' is an advice well-meaning Indians have been repeatedly given by well-meaning Pakistan.

Today, this civilian army of the good has been advising Indians that it won't to do to continue harking back to the past, to the horrific events of 26/11. 'We are both victims of terrorism' is a common refrain of Pakistanis.

That Pakistan has suffered grievously at the hands of crazy suicide bombers and wild desperados is undeniable. Hardly a week passes without a fresh horrific bombing in a crowded bazar, a hotel or an army camp. Even the ISI hasn't been spared. Compared to Pakistan, India does appear to have got away lightly. Yet, there is a crucial difference in the jihadi terrorism in the two countries, and one that can't be brushed off lightly. Pakistan's domestic terrorism is largely a consequence of the larger turbulence within Islam, the war in Afghanistan and the interplay of both these with the Pakistani security apparatus. In India, however, apart from the Maoist depredations, terrorism has been largely a Pakistani export and a part of the low-intensity war that began with General Zia-ul Haq.

The importance of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai lay not merely in the sheer scale of the operation. The capture of Ajmal Kasab and the subsequent unmasking of Headley by the US authorities have made it possible for the world to gleam the scale of the ISI's involvement in the attacks. Had Kasab not been captured alive and Headley not been outed, Pakistan would persisted in its steadfast denial of any involvement. Today, it has become untenable for the Pakistan Government to maintain the fiction that India is laying the blame for the alienation of its own minorities at the door of the neighbour.

It's the unviability of Pakistan's protestations of innocence that has prompted the spirited plea to forget the past and start afresh on a clean slate. It's a position that is difficult to sell within India, a reason why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had to control his instinctive desire for bonhomie at any cost. The Headley revelations have also made it impossible for India to firewall 26/11 as a Home Ministry issue, delinked from the concerns of civilised diplomacy.

Pakistan still believes that a protracted spell of diplomatic filibustering plus the embarrassment of the upsurge in the Kashmir Valley will wear India down. For the moment, Krishna has indicated that this time India will not be a pushover. The joint declaration (or even its absence) will reveal whether there is any ground to believe that India is finally allowing the lessons from the past to shape its journey into the future.

Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age, July 16, 2010



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