ROVER’S DIARY: Don’t let peace be defeated —Babar Ayaz - Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle in the way of peace with India is the mindset of the establishment, which is not willing to change its 60-year-old India threat perception

A piece of peace won and a bit of cricket lost at Mohali in India last week. Let us talk about the latter first because I know little about the game, unlike every Pakistani. I enjoy the game but feel that only experts have the right to analyse the performance of our players. But the positive change in the sporting spirit of Pakistanis this time is refreshing. In the past, we have always cried and blamed our team, not for playing badly but for match fixing. I was afraid that, this time, the people might again resort to throwing stones at the players’ houses and burning a few buses if we lost the semi-final. They did not. Instead, by and large, their efforts to reach the semi-final were lauded.

Even some of television’s ultra-nationalist hosts also spared them, although the hype built up by the former and the advertisers in the run up to the semi-final was scary.

Now, back to my favourite topic — Pakistan-India peace talks in times of cricket. Why did the Indian prime minister take the initiative to break the ice? And what did we get from the Mohali talks? Is it not interesting that the small innocuous town of Mohali in East Punjab will find its reference in cricket and diplomacy books thanks to Pakistan in both cases? In cricket, it got the opportunity to host the semi-final only because Pakistan was considered not secure enough by the ICC and in diplomacy because the match gave an opportunity to the politically weak Indian prime minister to invite his Pakistani counterpart.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh quipped during a very short interaction with the media after the talks that “the ongoing peace efforts and talks between Pakistan and India are uninterruptible and nobody will be allowed to hinder the process.” His resolve was not one-sided; Prime Minister Gilani also expressed similar feelings.

This aspect is very important in the endeavour to normalise relations between the two estranged neighbours. The non-state actors and the establishment that are fed by the war economy on both sides of the border have always sabotaged the peace process. The political maturity of the leaders on both sides will be tested if they do not let the peace talks be derailed by another Mumbai or Samjhauta Express attack or by a Kargil. The Mumbai attacks by jihadi organisations countered all the positive signals given by President Asif Ali Zardari and Kargil sabotaged the Nawaz-Vajpayee peace dream.

Both sides have now to resolve that the anti-peace establishment and their own non-state actors will not be allowed to hold over 1.37 billion people of the two countries hostage. The political leadership should courageously continue the process even if these anti-peace lobbies launch another attack. The people of the two countries can only defeat these forces of hatred by showing them that the peace process will not be stalled by their nefarious anti-people activities. Otherwise, we will be falling into the extremists’ trap.

Will the Congress-led coalition be able to take bold actions, particularly when Dr Manmohan Singh’s government is weak and many of his colleagues are facing corruption charges? This question has been raised by many fellow analysts. Yes, his government is weak but I think we are attaching too much importance to corruption charges influencing crucial political decisions. As a matter of fact, a peace dividend, no matter how small it is, will help the present Indian government in the coming elections. Even if there is piecemeal progress, the Manmohan government can claim that it has made progress. Do not forget that in spite of corruption, his government has strong economic progress to show in the coming elections. That the coalition is wobbly is nothing strange for all such governments around the world. Another edge the Indian government has over Pakistan is that it has the capacity to overrule the war-economy lobby.

In the case of Pakistan, the present government has a lot to gain if it manages to, say, bring down the troops from the freezing heights of Siachen, solve the Sir Creek dispute, increase trade relations, ease the visa regime, etc. The advantage Pakistan has is that almost all the major parties are in favour of giving peace a chance. Only a few fringe Islamic parties are against this but then they are not represented in parliament and have limited public support. But, unfortunately, the biggest hurdle in the way of peace with India is the mindset of the establishment, which is not willing to change its 60-year-old India threat perception. They are the ones who actually make the foreign and national security policy. Any other view is blasphemous for them. And the geopolitical situation is static for them. They have not been able to come out of the insecurity complex of the 1950s.

As regional politics are changing, one thing should be kept in mind by our anti-India lobby and that is that we are fast running out of options. As NATO and US forces will extract themselves from Afghanistan, the pressure on Pakistan will increase proportionately. At present, their main focus is that we stop aiding the Afghan Taliban covertly, which we do on the pretext of countering the rising influence of India in Afghanistan. But once the West’s involvement in Afghanistan will taper off, Pakistan will then be pressed to book the jihadi assets in the liabilities column on the political balance sheet, where they actually belong. We should not be blind to the fact that India is not only a bigger strategic partner of the West vis-à-vis China, it is an economic partner of the West too, which we are not.

What I fear is that it will not be easy for the short-sighted establishment to put the jihadi genie back in the bottle. While the leadership of these organisations may cooperate because of the hold of their respective case officers in the intelligence set up, the rank and file has been indoctrinated to fight jihad against India. These young fiery fighters may then dub the establishment and their leaders as renegades and revolt. And that would be a bloody revolt in the heartland of Pakistan. Inevitably, to protect their interests the establishment will have to fight against their own non-state militants. Oh! How I wish I am proved wrong.

The writer can be reached at

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