Indo Pak Talks

At the recent SAARC summit in Bhutan, the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met briefly to discuss the bilateral issues. The news reporting this meet was accompanied by a picture of the two leaders shaking hands and smiling at each other. Quite predictably, the Indian news media both print and television went ballistic. If they didn’t openly accuse the Indian PM of consorting with the enemy, it was definitely implied. And they are not the only ones resorting to it as of now.

For some time now, some regular contributors to the Letter to the Editor sections regularly parade their patriotism by fulminating that any contact with Pakistan is a reasonable offence. Consequently, our Prime Minister was castigated for having the temerity to shake hands and initiate a dialogue with the enemy.

It is still not clear as to precisely what these worthy gentlemen expect India to do. One of the channels recommended that our military go in with guns blazing and bomb the hell out of the terrorist training camps located in our neighbor’s territory. This is justified as a legitimate tit-for-tat response – but actually it is not. There is a huge difference between a group of terrorists sneaking across our borders to commit mayhem and our military crossing an international border. It may be a common knowledge that the terrorists are abetted and controlled by Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI, but this has never been proven in the court of law. On the other hand, any military adventure by India would be immediately branded as an act of aggression and our stock in the international community would plummet. Moreover, as America has discovered to its cost, such an operation is very rarely surgical or effective. The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to inflict retribution on the Taliban and Al Qaeda for the actions of 9/11. Nine years later, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are still in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the world’s most powerful nation seems to be out of options.

Then what exactly would our “patriots” have us do? Perhaps we could stand on principles and refuse to talk to the “enemy”, but what will that bring us? Are we naive enough to believe this will shame the Pakistani establishment into curbing the activities of the jihadis? Besides, cutting of all contact with Pakistan is counter-productive. It must not have escaped the public’s notice that terror attacks in India inevitably take place just before or after a diplomatic initiative is announced. This clearly implies that any normalization of relations between India and her neighbour is anathema to the terrorists. By isolating our country from all contacts, we would be merely augmenting their game plan.

Then there is this fixation with the terrorist leader and ideologue, Hafeez Saeed. At every opportunity, India declares that meaningful talks with Pakistan can resume only after Saeed is arrested and locked up, or deported to India – as if this is some sort of a magic bullet that will automatically turn off the terrorist tap. The man is a mere symbol, a puppet nurtured and controlled by the Pakistan army. Arresting him may satisfy a craving for retribution in many of us, but in material terms, it won’t change anything. It will not make the country safer. It is time we got over our penchant for symbolism and recognized the real dangers facing our country. Symbolism has long been a powerful weapon in the armory of politicians, but we, the so-called educated intelligential, have fallen prey to it as well. Hafez Saeed is a classic example of this. Our politicians and our media have elevated him to the status of a villain of mythic proportions.

The fact is that the Pakistani establishment is playing a very clever cat and mouse game with us. They send out tantalizing signals that Saeed’s incarceration and punishment is imminent; and then return an apology. By showing their reluctance to take action against Saeed, they are furthering the illusion that Saeed is India’s most flaming enemy. Hidden in this strategy is the hope that neutralizing him will get India off their backs. It is very probable that once Saeed has served his purpose, the Pakistan government will lock him up and throw away the key.

The sad truth is that Pakistan continues to cock a nook at this nation, because India does not project its power. Continuously parroting that India will not resume the “composite dialogue” until our neighbour takes comprehensive action against the perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and dismantles the terrorist training camps on their soil, has made us the laughing stock for the rest of the world. Where is the deterrent? What is the incentive for Pakistan to accede to India’s demands? There is no thought given to how we can make Pakistan suffer if it continues to be defiant. There doesn’t seem to be a readymade solution, but given the fact India is streets ahead of Pakistan in terms of economic clout, to name just one area, surely there must be something we can do!! Also, it has long been the Pakistan military’s implicit intention to bleed India with “a thousand cuts”. Well, why don’t we inflict at least a few hundred cuts on them?

But the question, as always, remains that will we do anything? Our “leaders” are so preoccupied with petty politics, scoring brownie points and feathering their own nests that they are bereft of any original ideas. So all that’s left is to “talk”, which only serves to perpetuate the status quo. And this suits Pakistan just fine.

Garima Obrah