Dancing to the terrorists' tune
By Jawed Naqvi
Thursday, 02 Apr, 2009 | 05:55 AM PST The terrorists have won if peace is forsaken - IT would be four years on April 18 since India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf issued a joint statement in New Delhi in which they “determined” that their “peace process was now irreversible”.
It would be six months to the day on April 13 since the national security advisers of the two countries met in New Delhi and declared their conviction that India and Pakistan shared a common destiny.
That the meeting between the top security chiefs happened at all in the wake of a devastating bomb attack on India’s embassy in Kabul, for which Indian officials quickly blamed Pakistan’s spies, intrigued many. It was seen as a bold gesture by New Delhi and a rare one by Pakistan. A bevy of journalists attended the dinner at Delhi’s Taj Mahal Hotel where India’s M.K. Narayanan and Pakistan’s Mahmud Ali Durrani were locked in an embrace. For some reason I don’t recall a word being reported about their talks or of Durrani’s invitation to Narayanan to pay a return visit to Islamabad, which was accepted “with pleasure”.
The Mumbai carnage of Nov 26 last year came within six weeks of the Narayanan-Durrani meeting and within moments of a televised handshake at Delhi’s Hyderabad House between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers. In between, on Oct 24, barely a month before terror was let loose on Mumbai’s unsuspecting posh Colaba district, another crucial meeting took place between the two countries. It was described officially as a Special Meeting of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism.
The leadership of the two countries had directed it with a purpose. A joint statement at the end of the talks indicated a positive air. “Information on issues of mutual concern including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul was exchanged,” we were told. “The meeting was held in a positive, constructive and forward-looking atmosphere.”
All this positive energy just vanished after the Mumbai attacks. The peace process, which includes the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, went for a toss. Initial accusations blamed elements in Pakistan for the act, but with time they were escalated to directly blaming official connivance. This past Tuesday, the Indian prime minister was quoted as saying that the composite dialogue could not be revived without clear evidence from Pakistan of action against the Mumbai culprits, indicating that the current standoff will continue indefinitely.
This approach is known to be unsustainable at the best of times but in the context of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan it could become a drag on the AfPak strategy of US President Barack Obama. How can India be of help in Afghanistan if it continues to have bad chemistry with Pakistan, which is, whether we like it or not, the main plank as well as the objective of the strategy?
There is something worse than bad chemistry between the two. Their attention span for engaging in global brainstorming to weed out religious extremism appears limited compared to their ability to run each other down with mutual recrimination.
Anyone can see that they are both victims of the most diabolical form of terrorism confronting the region. The world can see the pattern — that the bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul and the attack on the Indian embassy there, the truck bombing of the Marriott in Islamabad and the Taj Mahal and Oberoi in Mumbai, the close calls that Gen Musharraf and other politicians survived and the looming threats to harm Indian politicians, mostly have roots in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Did the Indian prime minister not know this when he agreed with Gen Musharraf that the peace process was irreversible? Did he not anticipate Mumbai, or for that matter New Delhi, Jaipur and Bangalore? Let us assume that Pakistan’s ISI has an agenda to harm India. Let us not deny that this could be a correct Indian perception (just as the Pakistan perception of India’s RAW). In which case, what was the basis for the meeting between Mr Narayanan and Mr Durrani on October 13–14 last year?
Speaking after dinner, Mr Narayanan was ebullient. He said he had been sceptical about claims that India shared a common destiny with Pakistan, but after his talks with Mr Durrani he felt compelled to change his mind. Was Narayanan right earlier and wrong that day?
“I told the prime minister after today’s talks that I agree with you sir that we share a common destiny with Pakistan,” Mr Narayanan had gushed. Was India’s security chief remiss in inviting Mr Durrani and lavishing maudlin praise on an official whose bona fides were suspect? My instinct is that they needed each other, as do India and Pakistan. The official statement was no less effusive. “The discussions which were held in a very cordial atmosphere covered all issues of mutual concern and interest, including the regional situation. The discussions were most productive.”
The Delhi meeting of Messrs Musharraf and Singh, which included a visit to the Feroshah Kotla grounds to cheer their cricket teams, had an enticing ring to it. A joint statement said the two leaders “assessed positively the progress that had been made so far through confidence-building, people-to-people contacts and enhancing areas of interactions and determined to build on the momentum already achieved”.
That meeting “reaffirmed the commitments made in the joint press statement of Jan 6, 2004 and the joint statement issued after their meeting in New York on Sept 24, 2004 and expressed satisfaction on the progress in the peace process and the improvement of relations between the two countries that has since been realised”. Of these, the January statement had Pakistan undertaking never to allow its territory to be used by terrorists against India. The September statement dropped explicit reference to terrorism, focusing instead on a proposed discussion of the Kashmir issue “in a sincere and purposeful and forward-looking manner for a final settlement.”
A spate of bombings hit major Indian cities in the run up to the Mumbai horror, all taking a heavy toll on human life. Pakistan too has been reeling under one shock after another; the assault on the police academy in Lahore being the latest though by no means the last of the outrages. There will be more of these shocks on both sides of the border and they have to be factored into any future India-Pakistan dialogue.
Any peace movement too must be receptive to this reality. When Mumbai happened there were protests in Lahore and Karachi. When Lahore’s civil society activists gather there on Saturday to protest the latest outrage on their city, it would be a great gesture from their counterparts in Delhi and Mumbai should they decide to express solidarity. The alternative is to continue to dance to the terrorists’ tune, something that we are so vulnerable to.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.