Let's begin afresh

Eleven-year-old Devika has not yet reconciled to what happened to her on Nov 26, 2008. She was hit by a bullet and lost her right leg while waiting at a bus terminus. That gunman Mohammad Ajmal Kasab has been found guilty is her personal and emotive issue.

She does not know the larger perspective. However, her father Natwar Lal feels the ends of justice have been met when the only surviving terrorist out of 10, who came from Pakistan to attack Mumbai, was brought to book. His reaction, more or less, represents Indian opinion, although some feel that the media-hyped trial served more as a catharsis than the cry for justice.

Many in India have taken the government to task for spending crores of rupees to get the conviction of Kasab who was seen wielding his AK-47 even on television screens. New Delhi, however, did well in conducting the case methodically lest some should criticise it for having a kangaroo court trial.

Pakistan foreign minister Qureshi made an irresponsible remark that his government would study the judgement and then make up its mind on Kasab’s conviction. Doubting the judiciary will be the beginning of a new chapter of suspicion between the two countries.

After Kasab’s conviction, New Delhi expects that Hafiz Sayeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief, who reportedly planned the Mumbai carnage, will soon be arrested and punished.
Pakistan’s efforts are not considered adequate in this regard. Islamabad’s plea that the evidence provided by India is too flimsy to convince the court. Since New Delhi insists on having given a clinching proof of Sayeed’s involvement, it would be better if the entire evidence, including Kasab’s statement of admission, was made public for the people to judge.

The public is correct in voicing its criticism against the exoneration of two Indians, also involved in the Kasab case. The judge may not to be blamed because he found the only witness ‘unreliable.’ It is the police who failed to collect tangible evidence against Fahim Ansari of Mumbai and Sahabuddin Ahmed of Bihar. This does not mean that the attack on Mumbai was carried out only by the Pakistanis and the belatedly-found accomplice, David Headley, an American of Pakistani origin.

There are ‘sleepers’ in India and the Taliban have their followers in this country. They are active and it is quite possible that the collaborators in the Mumbai attack were from among the Indian Taliban. They have not been yet traced. But they are there. An operation of Mumbai scale could not have taken place without local help.

Hindu Taliban

In fact, India has discovered to its horror that there is a network of Hindu Taliban as well. They are connected with the RSS and said to be responsible for the bomb blasts at Ajmer Dargah (2007), Mecca Masjid at Hyderabad (2007), Malegaon (2008) and Goa (2009).

Authoritative sources in Delhi suspect that Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP government is in power, has become a safe sanctuary for the Hindu outfits. Hindu Jagran Manch from Indore in the state is considered by the Maharashtra police responsible for the Malegaon blasts which killed 37 Muslims.

That Pakistan is itself in the midst of terrorism, suffering a blast here and an attack there is worrisome for India, particularly when there is genuine fear that terrorism may pour into the country through the Wagah border. The Taliban have said that India was their ‘real target.’ Therefore, Islamabad must take into account the point made by New Delhi that the terrorists come from Pakistan and do not go from India to Pakistan.

This perception of India was reportedly the main topic when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his counterpart Yousuf Gilani at Thimpu a few days ago. The good news is that foreign secretaries of both the countries are expected to pick up the thread from where the two prime ministers have left off.

It is heartening to note that the Indian media has not mentioned the forthcoming talks with Pakistan while singling out its establishment for having ‘planned and executed’ the attack on Mumbai. It becomes incumbent on civil societies in both the countries to put pressure on their governments to resume talks quickly. Qureshi has rightly said it hardly matters what nomenclature is given to the talks, ‘substantive’ or ‘composite’ but it is the ‘spirit’ that is important.

The result of talks will depend on the groundswell of public opinion. People-to-people contact should go beyond the cliché it has become. It should really mean the easing of difficulties the people from both countries encounter to go from one side to the other. Intelligence agencies will have to be reined in so that they do not question every traveller.

I know that most people in India and Pakistan are prisoners of the past. They have deep, entrenched mistrust against each other. They tend to see even positive steps in a negative manner. The media makes a mountain out of a molehill. The Bhutan summit asked all the countries in South Asia to come closer. Prime ministers of India and Pakistan have given a lead by deciding to sit across the table. This demands eschewing mistrust and overcoming past grievances. It may be tough. But let’s begin afresh.

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