In an extraordinary show of unity Pakistan's political leadership stands behind the government and the armed forces in defence of national security interests. Uniquely and to the great admiration of the people, the heads and representatives of almost all political parties - including those who would not touch the PPP-led government even with a barge pole - got together in Islamabad on Tuesday and unanimously vowed to defend Pakistan's "honour and dignity as well as its sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity".
Prime Minister Gilani's invitation was responded to whole-heartedly by the political leadership across the board, in sharp contrast to his counterpart's initiative in India where the principal leader of the main opposition party opted out of a similar exercise, adding a new political dimension to the Mumbai incident.
Obviously, the seven-point declaration adopted by the conclave at the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad was a measure of political maturity exhibited by the Pakistani leadership - be it in the parliament or outside of it. Given their widely differing perceptions and ideological perspectives on various national and international issues, the unanimity of their stand vis-à-vis New Delhi's blow hot and blow cold conduct following the Mumbai tragedy is a source of great satisfaction. Thank you, India.
The unity shown by the political leadership at the Gilani-hosted APC was essentially an expression of solidarity with the government in the face of India's threat emanating from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reaction, enthusiastically echoed by the state officials and the Indian media, in the early hours of the Mumbai attacks. It spawned scare all over the place.
But as reality sank in and the finger directed at Pakistan started moving, an opinion began emerging that the attacks on India's commercial hub could very well be the work of home-grown terrorists. Astounding admissions of intelligence failures led to resignations from high offices. The Pakistani side, on the other hand, displayed patience. But there was no cringing to the growling from across the border.
As Pakistan stood its ground that it was not in any way involved in the Mumbai attacks, it expressed its deep sorrow over the wanton killings. Being a frequent victim of suicide-bombings and as an amphitheatre of global war on terrorism the people of Pakistan are sad at the mindless massacre of innocent people, irrespective of their nationalities.
Of course, the gathering at the Prime Minister's House reiterated the nation's resolve to defend its sovereignty but more pronounced was its unreserved support in hunting out the terrorists involved in the Mumbai carnage. The APC expressed "Pakistan's desire to pursue its constructive engagement with India in a comprehensive manner with a view to building confidence and mutual trust for establishing friendly and good-neighbourly relations with India on the basis of resolution of all outstanding disputes".
In fact, diplomatic engagement between Islamabad and New Delhi has continued at multiple levels, as Pakistan has asked India to set up a ministerial-level joint investigation commission at the earliest.
To a discerning mind, the APC in Islamabad transmits more than one message; it not only brings out the fact of a unified national stand against Indian threats, but also encroaches upon the government's 'monopoly' over foreign policy management, particularly the part of it which deals with Pakistan's partnership in the US-led war on terror.
The opposition parties, which were greatly frustrated over the foot-dragging in implementing the parliamentary resolution on foreign intrusions and military-exclusive approach in the tribal region, are likely to come back with the demand for a review of that partnership. The APC caucus also tends to shift the balance of state power from the Presidency to the Prime Minister House.
That after his unanimous election, Prime Minister Gilani has succeeded in winning over the trust of the entire political leadership, is no mean achievement. He was able to obtain an environment in which sworn political adversaries sat on the same table. Nawaz Sharif was seen shaking hands with Shujaat Hussain and Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Imran Khan flashed smiles to the MQM leaders.
The willing participation of Mehmud Khan Achakzai and others who had boycotted the February elections, underscores the fact that those out of parliament are as much relevant to national issues as those inside. However, it may be naïve to think that by unanimously adopting one declaration, Pakistan would have succeeded in banishing the demons of mistrust and misperceptions that stalk the Indian political landscape.
As before, Indian politics at present is hostage to a variety of rivalry-centred contentions that brook no limits in exploiting ethnic, religious and linguistic differences and divides. Then there are the extremist networks that have their own agendas to promote. But having said that, one would not like to under-estimate the threat posed by international terrorism or its myriad fellowships in India and elsewhere.
Pakistan is its bigger victim than India. It is in Pakistan's own interest that it has joined others in combating this evil. Rightly then the APC offered India comprehensive engagement in exploring the root causes of terrorism as well as its networks. We hope India would respond positively.