Changing the status quo - Kuldip Nayar - November 12, 2010

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ON his visit to Pakistan in 1999, the then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee wrote in the visitors` book at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore that India`s prosperity and integrity depended on that of Pakistan.

More recently, US President Barack Obama used more or less the same words, saying that Pakistan`s stability was in the interest of India. Although Obama said that the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai must be brought to book, he did not satisfy Indian opinion which wanted him to name Pakistan.

There must have been some pressure on him. While addressing the joint session of parliament, Obama said that terrorism emanating from Pakistani safe havens was “not acceptable”, although he refused to take sides and said that India and Pakistan must settle their problems themselves.

Obama should have maintained his guarded stand because he must remain credible in Pakistan at a time when American forces are combating terrorism in Afghanistan with Pakistan`s active help. Even so he maintained a balance.

When asked about Kashmir at the joint press conference he said that it was a long-standing dispute. America did not want to impose a solution, but was willing to play a role if both India and Pakistan so desired.

He was more categorical on the topic of Myanmar and Iran, showing his disappointment with India`s policy of wooing Yangon. He expected India to come on his side in punishing Iran.

The Indian prime minister said he was not afraid of discussing the `K` word but that it was difficult to do so when the “terror machinery [was] active as ever before”. Few will find fault with what he said. Yet India should appreciate that Pakistan may not be in a position to deliver 100 per cent on terrorism. After all, its cities, one after another, have been attacked by the terrorists.

One may argue, even justifiably, that it was the Pakistan establishment which initiated terrorism that has now become a Frankenstein. The genie of terrorism is not returning to its bottle. Whether or not Delhi and Islamabad like it, they must arrive at an equation.

At one time, Bangladesh was alleged to have provided shelters to anti-India terrorists. But since the return of Sheikh Hasina the sanctuaries have gone. Islamabad has to do something similar and more credible in the fight against terrorism to make Delhi believe that the Pakistan government is doing its best.

On the other hand, Manmohan Singh should realise that terrorism is not a tap that can be turned off. Otherwise, Prime Minister Gilani would not have requested him to separate terrorism from the talks.

Both had agreed to this at a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh last year. Strong public opinion in India did not allow the prime minister to follow through. Yet the impasse must be broken. Perhaps talks can start on small matters as Obama suggested and India can make it clear to Pakistan that problems like Kashmir would be taken up only when Delhi feels confident that Islamabad is seriously tackling terrorism.

It would be in Delhi`s interest to make some concession to Islamabad to help it resist more pressure from an increasingly powerful China. Otherwise, the region might become the victim of a new Cold War between Washington and Beijing, with New Delhi supporting the first and Pakistan the second. Both India and China are two giants which have to be kept away from clashing.

An Indian regional leader, Mulayam Singh, has already warned Delhi against a war with China “at any time”. The whole region can become a theatre of hostilities and destruction and another world war cannot be ruled out if a process of conciliation between India and China does not get under way.

Pakistan has some influence over China. I remember a Pakistani foreign secretary telling me that the road from Delhi to Beijing goes through Islamabad. Therefore it is incumbent on Pakistan to try to bridge the gap between Delhi and Beijing. It is an open secret that China has not only laid claim to Arunachal Pradesh but also parts of Jharkand and Ladakh.

Some incidents of forcible occupation by China in these areas have been noticed but deliberately ignored by Delhi in the larger interests of keeping the peace. But it is an uneasy peace if the two sides do not come to accept rules and guidelines on the border`s inviolability.

Jawaharlal Nehru similarly kept China`s assertiveness under wraps for some six years before the Indian public came to know about it. Still there was a war between the countries in 1962. Pakistan can play a role to ensure that they do not follow the same path of hostilities.

Pakistan was a bit hasty in criticising Obama for supporting India`s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Islamabad should be happy that another permanent seat is coming to Asia.

I concede that this kind of attitude can come about only when the two countries have buried the hatchet. How long will the region have to wait for that to take place? More than 60 years have gone by and the basic problems of hunger, health and education remain unresolved. The two countries have even fought three wars resulting only in misery, frustration and helplessness.

Fundamentalism takes root in countries which do not think beyond enmity and hatred. That is why both countries are falling victim to it. If they want to change the status quo, they must start talking. It is only then that their people can start to dream again.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

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