Beyond the stadiums too - Zafar Hilaly -Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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A friendly gesture by India is a rare treat where Pakistan is concerned. Hence, many, including Indians, were surprised when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart to India for the World Cup semi-finals. True, it was not a path-breaking event, but it was unexpected nonetheless.

Apparently, the decision was Manmohan Singh’s alone and, while welcome, it wasn’t entirely altruistic. It shows off India in a good light at a time when India is seeking support for its bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. It also suggests India wants to turn a new leaf in relations with Pakistan which have deteriorated because of India’s reluctance to re-engage following the Mumbai attack. But let’s not quibble about the motive; it is a welcome move.

Left to himself, one suspects, Singh would have engaged rather than shunned Pakistan after Mumbai; and he would have been right. We would have been far more cooperative. Indian threats and the hysterical reaction that followed Mumbai vitiated such prospects and two valuable years were lost. Joining the pack at home baying for blood may have been politically rewarding domestically for Congress, but eventually it was self-defeating.

Were it up to Zardari and Singh progress in resolving some less complicated bilateral issues like easing travel restrictions, visits to holy sites, expanding the list of trade items, Sir Creek and, who knows, even Siachin, would have been better than fair.

Unfortunately, neither Zardari nor Singh wield much clout politically. Minority governments and strong opposition parties in both countries hamper progress. So do pseudo-religious political parties which brand any sign of conciliation as a “sell-out.” And then there is the elephant in the room when all India-Pakistan matters are discussed – Pakistan’s establishment – and, albeit, to a far lesser extent, the Indian military, which has also has shown its teeth on occasions like when it vetoed the agreement on Siachin.

To make matters worse, officials in both countries have over the years developed an irresistible urge to score points off each other. Having participated in numerous India-Pakistan meetings, I have seen how each side tries to bowl the proverbial “googly,” although such tactics only delay and sometimes scuttle sensible agreements. I recall telling a particularly bright spark in our delegation in 1975 that the height of cleverness is to conceal it rather than show it off – of course, to no avail. For sheer bloody-mindedness subcontinental babus have no equal.

Gilani and Singh should use the occasion to level with each other and agree to let solid agreements, rather than cleverly crafted statements, do the talking. It is deeds, not literature, that is needed. Merely spinning out the process won’t wash. It would also be wise to discard the pose of studied indifference, or else it will further erode hope. From the present low point to a hiatus in relations is but a small step, pregnant with dreadful consequences.

The impression the Indian public seems to have of Pakistan is of a country on its last legs, when in fact the resilience Pakistan has demonstrated in these difficult times is impressive. We may appear a bit groggy, but we have overcome a host of calamities and remain firmly on our feet.

This is perhaps best exemplified by the performance of the Pakistani cricket team which, though wracked by scandal, terror threats, lack of leadership off the field, and denied the opportunity to play international cricket at home, has nevertheless reached the semi-finals, having inflicted on the Australians their first defeat in 34 World Cup matches and another on the likely finalist, Sri Lanka. What better proof of our resilience and potential. Nor do we need a miracle to overcome our travails; a little breathing space will suffice. India can’t do much, but Manmohan Singh must know that every little helps.

The fact is that extremism poses an external and internal challenge to both countries. Neither gains if the other loses. A Pakistan lost to extremism would retard, if not end, India’s ambitious plans for its own growth. In between overs at Mohali Manmohan Singh could perhaps reflect whether India’s current stance towards Pakistan has yielded the desired results and, as it has not, what may.

Singh must know, for example, that Pakistan’s chief concern is our security and the danger posed by India. To debunk such a perception as absurd, which is the instinctive Indian reaction, does not allay it; and merely to sit back and say “too bad” is also not the answer; nor is feigning peaceful intentions while deploying additional forces and greater firepower on the border. The fact is even if the wolf and the rabbit can somehow be persuaded to lie down together, the rabbit won’t get much sleep.

Manmohan Singh must also know that India’s entire case accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorists of Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Mumbai attack was based primarily on the statements of three men, two of whom were later acquitted. The fact that the Indian dossier is drawn almost entirely from the confession of the surviving gunman, Kasab, surprised the Americans (Wikileaks). But what bowled them over was the implicit rejection by both the trial court and the Bombay High Court of the corroborative statements purported to have been given by Messrs Ansari and Sabahuddin, and the subsequent acquittal by the court of these two Indian Muslims. Significantly, the Bombay High Court also rejected that part of Kasab’s confessional statement involving them.

Thus, India only has Kasab’s word (some phone intercepts and a lot of unsubstantiated evidence/theories) for our involvement. In other words, all India has to bank on by way of evidence that will stand up in court is the utterance of a homicidal maniac who has changed his testimony and his pleas as many times as his fancy took him.

To take such a man seriously, to depict his uncorroborated statements as amounting to “Grade 1” evidence, which India’s national security adviser at the time, Narayanan, did, is reminiscent of the Bush neo-cons prior to the Iraq war. They too took the word of a duplicitous collaborator as “Grade 1” proof and paraded it about as incontrovertible evidence – the notorious “slam dunk” – passed on by George Tenet to Bush. Only fools believe everything they hear.

To think, therefore, that India and Pakistan could have gone to war on such slim evidence beggars the imagination. Sadly, men of the ilk of Narayanan and Wolfowitz populate administrations in every country. They seem to have a liking for war. It panders to their instincts and takes the mind off other problems. It exalts them, it makes them look serious and, in any case, few bullets ever hit the men who start wars. Luckily for India, their presence was off set by others like Manmohan Singh.

Come Wednesday morning, these thoughts will rightly be furthest from the minds of both prime ministers, but when Thursday dawns they will return. Hence, almost the first matter they should agree on must be not to confine the venue of their meetings to stadiums, of course, with the exception of their next meeting when, hopefully, Zardari will be present to invite Manmohan Singh to join him in his enclosure at Mumbai stadium to watch Pakistan take on Sri Lanka in the finals.


1 comment:

  1. I am from India and I do share some of your concerns. However I feel that not just the politicians and bureaucrats from both sides, but also the common people are prisoners of a bloodied past whose memories continue to hunt them even now. You, me or the media can blame the politicians from both sides as much as we can for all the hatred and animosity, but very honestly, they only reflect the general mood on both sides. People don't want war, but they are not prepared for peace either. So, 'indifference' is the best of the solutions for now. Hope Pakistan becomes indifferent and stops cross-border terrorism, and India stops flexing its muscle as the big brother. On a lighter note, now that Pakistan has failed to reach the finals, Zardari should come and watch the final in peace at Mumbai, without a 90-member entourage or Gilani to disturb his peace.