In search of peace

Between the lines


It was a welcome coincidence that both Bangladesh and Pakistan figured in the discussions in New Delhi this week. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was on her first official visit after a landslide victory last year. Top Pakistan lawyers, academicians and human rights activists sat in the capital with their counterparts to find a road to peace after the governments in Delhi and Islamabad had failed to resolve their problems in the last 60 years.

One thing common between the two meetings, held at separate places and at different levels, was the search for peace. Both have succeeded in the sense that they have taken certain decisions which, if implemented, will yield untold benefits. The difference — a big one — was while the governments of Bangladesh and India signed several agreements to restart on a path to peace and friendship after a dreary journey, India and Pakistan have gone still further apart.

The Manmohan Singh government was at pains to accommodate Sheikh Hasina to register that India had opened all its doors to cultivate at least one of its estranged neighbours. On the other hand, New Delhi hardly took notice of the three-day Indo-Pak meeting right under its nose.

Sheikh Hasina’s visit, which took place after one year of her rule, has come at a time when she has assessed her country’s needs and India’s capacity to meet them. She did not demand anything but it was apparent that if her government could not lift her people economically, she would slide further on the popularity graph, already down from 83 to 67 per cent as a recent survey of a Bengali daily published from Dhaka shows.

Sheikh Hasina’s biggest contribution to Bangladesh is the strength she has given to democratic and secular forces: the plank on which she fought election and won three-fourths seats in Jayti Sangad (parliament). India too has, in turn, gained. Lessening of fundamentalism in a neighbouring country helps.

In fact, during the talks between Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina, when the latter took a principled stand and assured him that no terrorists would be allowed to function from her country, the entire scenario changed. She had a long list of demands. But even before she could read the first line, Manmohan Singh reportedly said that she did not have to ask for anything. Whatever is the need of Bangladesh, India will go to the farthest extent to meet it.

The proposed $600 million credit to Dhaka was doubled. India gave an undertaking that it would not take any step on the Tipaimukh hydro electric project without the consent of Bangladesh where it had become a controversial issue. Nor did New Delhi ask for any transit facility which again was a sensitive issue with Dhaka.

Willingness

The resolve to eliminate terrorism is what the region wants, from Kabul to Dhaka. Islamabad would like New Delhi to join the operation but India is in no mood to listen to Pakistan’s argument for the resumption of a composite dialogue. The 26/11 carnage, even though 13 months old, is still fresh in the minds of people.

The Indo-Pak meet has also appreciated the point and has suggested a bilateral and regional approach to combat the menace. It would be better if India and Bangladesh were to integrate their efforts with the ones initiated by Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani and Afghanistan President Karzai.

The Pakistani speakers were frank enough to admit the havoc the terrorists were creating in their country. One of them said that no one leaving the house was sure whether he would return alive. Islamabad needs to be retrieved. It does not mean that India will be less anxious in having Pakistan pursue its effort to book the perpetrators of 26/11.

It is strange that Islamabad has not yet understood how the system works in Delhi. Otherwise, Pakistan would not have overreacted to the statement by chief of the army staff Gen Deepak Kapoor that India may have to prepare for war against China and Pakistan. However irresponsible the statement, it does not pose any threat to Pakistan. Defence Minister A K Anthony scoffed at Islamabad’s reaction.

Gen Kapoor is not Gen Pervez Kayani. The systems in the two countries are different. Gen Kapoor or the Army has no say in India’s political affairs. He is due to retire after serving his tenure. The government will soon be naming his successor.
Making a mountain out of a molehill gives the impression as if Pakistan is trying to score a point, however weak and farfetched. What all this boils down to is the unending mistrust. Until it is replaced by confidence, the two sides have to see that they do not present an exaggerated picture, indulge in accusations or imagine something which has no basis.

Sheikh Hasina’s visit and the Indo-Pak meet should make people in South Asia think of the miracle that can take place if all the countries were to pool their resources. They do not have to give up their separate identity or sovereignty. They have to only shed distrust and suspicion to build the region for the common good.

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