Shared Destiny

Published: Fri, 05/01/2009 - 11:19 Updated: Wed, 07/01/2015 - 08:08

Indian policy towards Pakistan is like the Mughal emperor who just didn't want to know what's going to hit him

Jawed Naqvi Delhi

Barely six weeks before the Mumbai attacks, the national security advisors of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi where they discussed everything except Kashmir or other humdrum 'routine' issues that are taken up in their bilateral parleys. The focus was on the October 14 meeting on terrorism.

The Indian embassy had been blown up in Kabul in July: 41 dead, including the military attaché. This marked a devastating setback to India's growing strategic interests in Afghanistan. Earlier, the Agha Khan-owned Serena Hotel was attacked in Kabul, targeting foreigners and a European minister who narrowly survived. Then came the suicide truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. These were not the only provocations for the high-level meeting between the two national security advisors - Messrs Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former Pakistani ambassador in Washington, and MK Narayanan, under whose watch India sealed a landmark defence pact with the United States.

As mysteriously as it took place, the media almost deliberately curtailed the Narayanan-Durrani meeting in its visibility, more so in India. The reason is not clear. This was a meeting after all where Narayanan had confessed to Durrani how the visitor had single-handedly changed his perception about Pakistan. "I told prime minister (Manmohan Singh), that sir, you were right. India and Pakistan do share a common destiny," he told Durrani at a dinner after their two-day talks. Incidentally, senior Indian journalists attended the dinner.

The talks between the NSAs presaged a flurry of meetings between the intelligence interlocutors from both sides. The Mumbai plotters, whoever they be -- the Taliban or the Lashkar, or a deadly combination of both, with the blessings of Al Qaeda or the so-called rogue elements within the ISI  -- they all would have seen the Narayanan-Durrani meeting as a significant departure from the routine India-Pakistan exchanges.

Moreover, on November 26, two or three hours before the 10 odd men were to unleash a reign of terror in Colaba, Marine Drive, Gateway and VT Station in Mumbai, the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan were locked in a 'warm' embrace in New Delhi.

To say that the suddenly burgeoning India-Pakistan ties were not the main target of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai is to deny the most palpably verifiable fact about the tragedy. That India and Pakistan, both responded to the crisis, which was not of their making, in precisely the way the terrorists would have liked them to react, is a tribute to the sophisticated mind games that hardline religious terrorists are capable of indulging in. Pakistan's denial of its lapses (and possible complicity?) and India's inability to understand the compulsions for that denial, exacerbated by political opportunism which visits its foreign policy, particularly when elections were about to happen, has not yet been dealt with frontally.

A former Indian diplomat once likened India's foreign policy with its neighbours to Delhi's ubiquitous auto-rickshaws - reckless at slow speed. The refrain that India would not change its aloofness towards Pakistan -- a policy it has adopted as a self-proclaimed successful stance -- fits with that description.

The Taliban has taken Swat, says the headline. "Our policy with Pakistan has been more successful than that of the BJP," says the Congress. The Taliban are threatening to march on Islamabad. "The Congress policy on Mumbai betrays a weak leadership in Delhi," exults the BJP.

This is classic enactment of recklessness at slow speed, somewhat reminiscent of the quotes (wrongly, I think) ascribed to Muhammed Shah Rangila when Nadir Shah was marching to Delhi, the Mughal capital. "Hanouz Dilli door ast," he is said to have proclaimed, telling the saaqi to pour him a drink since Delhi was yet far from Nadir Shah's sights.

The civil society in Pakistan has always been robust, during times of intense crisis and during the long phases of ruthless military dictatorships. The number of men and women who have suffered and sacrificed their everything for democracy and liberal ideals is living proof of this. So many editors have been to jail, so many human rights activists have simply disappeared, so many women's groups, poets, journalists and writers have been systematically hounded -- and yet the street fight is on.  And the media still has the courage and skill to satire and spoof the military and political establishment. Something often missing in 'Indian democracy' and its 'free press'.

The lawyers' march and protracted struggle to restore the legitimacy of the highest judiciary is not the only example that comes to mind. When Lahore came under attack in the latest episode of rising incidence of brazen terrorism, civil society members took out a march. By contrast, I know of Indian human rights activists who have asked me if it is safe for them to travel to Pakistan today. The people of Pakistan are already facing the present and real threat to their dreams and ideals, and they have inherited this crushing reality from the past.

However, in India, the protracted struggle for freedom for Dr Binayak Sen held for more than two years under fabricated charges by the BJP led regime in Chhattisgarh, the protests against politicians involved in the 1984 killings of Sikhs, the campaign for justice against the Gujarat genocide and the land struggles against the SEZs, are testimonies that the civil society and grassroots groups in India are actively involved in redefining this one-dimensional 'market democracy' of the predator, neo-liberal rich.

The corporate driven Indian media often blacks out news of dissent, in what we perceive to be a democracy, but they can't block the truth, can they. Indeed, when as many as 15,000 Indians, do come out on the streets in Delhi, as they did in December last year under the flag of the CPI-ML, and demanded immediate resumption of peace talks between India and Pakistan, the news was blacked out. But the people to people contact, the anti-war sentiment in India even after the Mumbai attacks, the authentic longing for a creative and humane relationship between the civil societies of Pakistan and India, is an objective denial of fanatic jingoism and war-mongering on both sides of the border.

More recently, a delegation of peace activists came from Pakistan, including some respected members like IA Rehman, Asma Jehangir and Salima Hashmi. They were given an earful from a completely insensitive 'intelligentsia'.  Worse, the media misquoted them. The consequence was an earful they got from their own journalists when they returned home. And yet, the exercise was necessary and many of us benefited from the insights the delegates had brought on the disturbing situation in their country.

There was a similarly mismanaged meeting in Delhi of journalists from both sides recently. I am not even sure that the presence in the auditorium of Ram Sene men was a pure coincidence. Nevertheless, the very important issues that some very important journalists were pontificating about, was obfuscated by the focus they put on the disruption of the meting by a handful of Rightwing Indian zealots shouting anti-Pakistan slogans.

If India and its important journalists are determined to remain clueless about the threat that is looming not only over Pakistan but over all of us in South Asia, and possibly beyond, it will finally be self-destructive. Much like the misquoted comments of an inebriated Mughal emperor who refused to admit the inevitability of what was going to hit him.

Indian policy towards Pakistan is like the Mughal emperor who just didn’t want to know what’s going to hit him Jawed Naqvi Delhi

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