Obama's plainspeak

Between the lines

“India’s prosperity and integrity depends on the prosperity and the integrity of Pakistan.” These are not the words of President Obama, but of former BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who wrote this line in the visiting book at the Minar-e-Pakistan, the venue of the Pakistan resolution in Lahore. However, Obama used more or less the same words — Pakistan’s stability was in the interests of India. He was replying in Mumbai to a girl student’s question why America had not declared Pakistan a terrorist state.

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. Apparently, there must have been some pressure on him when he came to Delhi and met Manmohan Singh because, while addressing the joint session of parliament, Obama said that terrorism emanating from “safe havens in Pakistan is not acceptable.”

Still he refused to take sides and said that both India and Pakistan had to settle problems between themselves. I think that Obama should have stuck to his original guarded stand because he must stay credible in Pakistan to have leeway in that country, specially when American forces are combating terrorism in Afghanistan with the active help of Pakistan. Even then he maintained a balance between India and Pakistan.
When asked about Kashmir at the joint press conference he said that it was a ‘dispute’ pending for a long time. America did not want to impose a solution, but was willing to play a role if both India and Pakistan so desired.

The reaction from Pakistan reflects its uneasiness over some of   Obama’s remarks. Although foreign minister Qureshi has said that Islamabad and Delhi should jointly destroy shelters of terrorists in Pakistan, there has been no response from India. President Zardari has also said that he would not allow his soil to be used by terrorists against any country. But this is an exercise which Islamabad has previously gone over. Delhi has remained cool.

Very few will find fault with Manmohan Singh’s statement that he was not afraid of discussing even the ‘K’ word, but found it difficult to do so when the “terror machine is active as before.” Yet what India should appreciate is that probably Pakistan is not in a position to deliver 100 per cent on terrorism.

One may argue, even justifiably, that it was the Pakistan establishment — something confirmed by former President Pervez Musharraf — which initiated terrorism that has become a Frankenstein. How does it help now because the genie of terrorism is not going to return to the bottle?

Earn credibility

Earlier, Bangladesh provided shelter to terrorists against India. But, since the return of Sheikh Hasina, the sanctuaries have gone. Islamabad has to do something similar and more credible to fight against terrorism to make Delhi believe that the Pakistan government was doing its best.

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

Pakistan has some influence over China. I remember that a foreign secretary in Pakistan once told 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 put its claim on Arunachal Pradesh but also on parts of 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 some firm rules and guidelines on the border’s inviolability.

Pakistan was a bit hasty in criticising Obama for supporting India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. After all it supported India’s two-year membership only last month. Pakistan is itself a candidate next year when another non permanent seat becomes vacant. 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 peoples in the region have to wait for that development to take place? Already 63 years have gone by and the basic problems of hunger, health and education still remain unresolved.

Fundamentalism takes root in countries which do not think beyond the limitations of enmity and hatred. That is the reason that both countries are increasingly prey to it. If they want to depart from the status quo, they have to begin talking to each other. It is only then that the people in the region may begin to dream again.

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