P Chidambaram: Iron Man or Ironical Man?

While many of us are still wondering why the Nobel Peace Prize has to be awarded for diplomacy, our own Home minister, P Chidambaram has shown how lack of diplomacy can affect the prospects of peace. In a haughty remark to his fellow congressmen at a public meeting, Mr. Chidambaram commented, “Our strength to take on terrorism from foreign soil is increasing by the day. I’ve been warning Pakistan not to play any more games. Let Mumbai be the last such game. If they carry out any more attacks on India, they will not only be defeated, but we will also retaliate with the force of a sledgehammer”. Such tactlessness was never expected from a man who shook awake the sleeping Home ministry and has added the much-needed dynamism to the ministry. Diplomats are silent on this issue and have not commented on it, but they would have been flabbergasted by Mr. Chidambaram’s naivety when he singularized Pakistan.

The age-old rhetoric of Pakistan being the evil guy doesn’t hold well in the changed political scenarios. Post-Musharraf Pakistan is a limping democracy crawling its way to disaster. Pakistan today is a threat to itself, waiting for an imminent implosion. It has been ripped apart by the myriad factions of Taliban, local tribes and anti-Indian terrorist organizations. And these factions also have their representatives in the government. One can imagine the chaos that characterizes the Pakistan democracy. Not to mention of the in-house terror-sponsors in the form of ISI and the military, who have been raging a back-door war against India for four decades now. It doesn’t take too much imagination to deduce the quantum of pressure faced by Pakistan’s PM and his cabinet. It is also quite ironical to note that the Pakistan government is equally helpless against terrorism as the Indian government. This is has been evident from the recent bombings across Pakistan by the Taliban and its allies gobbling up at least a few hundred lives. In this sense, Pakistan government can be pictured as a spineless scrawny man unable to stand up against his big fat dominating wife and his bullying sons (No offence meant). Now do we go to this scrawny little spineless man and say, “I will break your nose if your family keeps irritating me”? That is what Mr. Chidambaram has just done. While it can be agreed that it is the responsibility of this S L S man to keep his house in order, pouncing on him with “the force of a sledgehammer” doesn’t help either. In this context Obama’s Af-Pak strategy might prove to be more fruitful than Mr. Chidambaram’s sledgehammer policy. It is important to reiterate our stand-point on issues like terrorism with conviction, but such mindless language also has to be avoided. When we say “we warn Pakistan not play any such games”, we implicitly mean that we criminalize Pakistan, the nation. We are in a sense stating that we don’t trust Pakistan’s government. Such statements can only deepen the rift between the two nations and jeopardizes the long-term stability in our sub-continent.

Well, I can hear you fuming: “What can be done then?” There is no quick fix for this issue. Criminalizing Pakistan as a whole and retaliating is very much like charging a crime against a person with multiple personality disorder (again, no offence meant). A definitive, straightforward solution is not on the cards. But the only answer that comes to my mind is that this issue needs a more holistic and sensitive approach to it. As a neighbouring country, it is imperative that we also understand Pakistan’s seething internal problems. If a civil war breaks out in Pakistan, it will not only swallow itself, the estranged nation will also become a bigger headache for India than it is now. Mr. Chidambaram, who is known for his progressive policies on the economic front, has to put his head deeper into this issue than just looking for sledgehammers to pound the head of the demon. Mr. Chidambaram has to build trust and confidence of the Pakistan government and make them partners in the war against terrorism. The situation can’t be more conducive in Pakistan. The government there is slowly realizing that there are also the victims of the terrorism that they once bred in their soil. Recent bombing in the capital city has rocked the confidence of the Pakistani common man’s faith on his government. The government in turn needs some sort of moral support to go forward in supporting the war against terrorism on their soil. Going back to our simile, the scrawny little man needs huge moral support to stand up against his wife and sons. We need to tell him, how important his actions are for both of us. It is easier said than done. India has a long way to go before we can start working together with Pakistan against terrorism. But with Pakistan reeling under multiple terror attacks within a short duration, it makes sense that Pakistan would now have a reason of its own to root out terror camps from its soil. Our Home Minister has in his kitty now, an opportunity now to make a difference. The media has hailed him as the “Iron Man” for dealing terrorism with conviction. But being the Iron Man doesn’t always mean using sledgehammers against your opponents. Mr. Chidambaram might well realize this before he fiddles with critical issues like terrorism. I also secretly hope that all this rhetoric about retaliation is just Mr. Chidambaram’s way of pepping up his public speeches and doesn’t necessarily be his long-term strategy towards solving India-Pak issue.