Tough on peacemakers

Tough on peacemakers

From President Barack Obama to US defence secretary Robert Gates, the one message which is drilled in is that terrorism can destabilise the countries in South Asia. Governments and peoples living in the region know it too well. They do not have to be warned against what is so obvious.

Yet America has seldom admitted its own nefarious role. It is Washington which decided several years ago to train and arm terrorists and used them to bleed the Soviet Union during the cold war or to create a bulwark of fundamentalism to defeat communism. The result is that the fire of bigotry which the US ignited is consuming stable and democratic forces.

The visit of Gates to the region was significant. For the first time the US used the Indian soil to send a warning to Pakistan on terrorists. He said that the patience of New Delhi was running out and that any attack like the one in Nov 2008 on Mumbai could result in a war. It was a provocative statement.

On an earlier occasion, New Delhi preferred patience to petulance, although the hawks favoured strategic air strikes. War is not an option when both countries are nuclear powers. America is unnecessarily clouding relations between India and Pakistan in the name of helping them to sort out their differences.

Gates reportedly conveyed the same warning personally to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani when the two met at Islamabad. Gilani was said to have told Gates that when Pakistan had not been able to protect its own nationals against terrorists, how could he guarantee that another 26/11 would not take place from the soil of his country?

The reply of India’s Foreign Minister S M Krishna too was unfriendly. He said that India would react if there was another 26/11. Doesn’t it amount to a threat? It is India’s foreign minister speaking, not a junior government servant. Soft-spoken Defence Minister Antony has also warned his countrymen that there might be a terrorist attack and has drawn attention to the ‘violations’ on the line of control (LoC), both on the Kashmir and Amritsar borders.

Incidents look like escalating on the Kashmir side and threatening to become bush fires. Islamabad would have ‘a just reason’ to reject the proposal of Gates that it faced an ‘existential threat’ on the western border with Afghanistan rather than on the frontier with India. No amount of convincing can change Pakistan because it considers India an enemy. This is a tragedy.

Yet the disconcerting aspect is the language used by Gilani, Krishna and Antony in their statements. They are couched in words reflecting mistrust and bias. Such expressions are lessening the space for conciliation between the two countries. True, they cannot coo peace. But they do not have to be jingoistic in their observations. They can at least be civil.

Since New Delhi is almost convinced about the attack on India, it might help the situation if Islamabad is given the information we have. Whatever be the status of relationship, no government can ignore the factual report that such and such group was planning an attack at such and such place.

Gates was correct in assessing that al-Qaeda has adopted different nomenclatures for operation in the three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. And all the terrorists are together while planning and executing the attacks. It goes without saying that there has to be a regional approach to fight against them. But the glue for cooperation is an equation between Islamabad and New Delhi. And that possibility is receding day by day.

The manner in which the Pakistani cricketers were rubbed on the wrong side during the Indian Primer League auction shows that India is still not alive to Pakistan’s sensitivities. The government should have intervened to see that the bias against Pakistan players was rectified. My point is that if any annoyance was to be shown, it should have been against Australia where 1,500 attacks have been made on Indians in one year.

When the IPL took matches to South Africa last year, one felt bad because our security system was not considered good enough to protect the players. This time the IPL is said to have bought peace. It has placated the Shiv Sena which had reportedly threatened to disturb matches if the Pakistani players were allowed to participate. Who is running the Indian government, the Shiv Sena or the Congress?
In the process, an important clue to unravel the 26/11 imbroglio has been lost. In the conversation intercepted between the assailants on Mumbai and their instructors in Pakistan, some Hindi words were used. Obviously, the speakers included Indians. This only strengthens the general belief that there were ‘sleepers’ in the country when Mumbai was attacked. New Delhi has said everything about the attack but not a word about the persons who helped terrorists.

However, the entire scenario between India and Pakistan is tough on those who are trying to build bridges between the two countries. Whatever the structure of goodwill is raised it comes down tumbling because of indiscretion or provocative statement by one side or the other. The peace seekers should not feel discouraged because theirs is a commitment to friendly relations between India and Pakistan.