Thursday, October 1, 2009

PM's Gamble at Sharm El Sheikh

PM's Gamble at Sharm El Sheikh
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 21.07.2009

That Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to be in New Delhi soon upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s return from Sharm el Sheikh need not have been the primary reason for the joint Indo-Pak statement issued at the Egyptian resort.

But US officials have, nevertheless, gone out of their way to emphasize that Clinton’s was a bilateral visit, and that any hyphenation with Pakistan should be discounted. In the Washington – New Delhi – Islamabad parlance the term “de hyphenate” has acquired a distinct connotation. It largely means “Kashmir shall not be mentioned”.

Sure, Kashmir was not mentioned at Sharm el Sheikh, but “all outstanding issues” between the two countries were. Obviously, both the delegations are quite clear that the blanket formulation covers Kashmir.

Not just this. Manmohan Singh has gone much further than any Indian leader in the past.

He even allowed “Balochistan and other areas” mentioned in the Statement. Paragraph six says:
“Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas”. The sentence has been inserted to strengthen Gilani’s hand. Pakistan will now be expected to do everything in its power to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice.

Some delivery on this count has already taken place. Pakistan has for the first time ever actually charged some of the culprits. The pace of hearings and eventual conviction has been left vague. In fact Pakistan will find Clinton’s statement in this regard helpful. In an interview with Times Now channel she expressed confidence about Pakistani actions against Mumbai terrorists but she gave Islamabad a bit of a rope by saying that “we know from all over 9/11 experience” that legal processes can take considerable time.

Hawks in New Delhi are already splitting hairs on another formulation. “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed”.

In 2005 Manmohan Singh and Gen. Musharraf had agreed that the bilateral Peace Process was “irreversible”, and that acts of terrorism should not be allowed to derail the process. This was clear recognition of the fact that there were in Pakistan, powerful groups who would wreck any process that leads to an Indo-Pak rapprochement.

Who are these malignant interests? Well, in the short term the Al Qaeda – Taleban would like the Indo-Pak border to hot up so that Pak troops are pulled away from the NWFP and the border with Afghanistan where militants are taking some stick. The long term resistance to normalization with India comes from the all powerful Pak Army which sees in peace a dilution of its raisson d’etre.

Reverting to Sharm el Sheikh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a gamble, alright, but it is a relatively safe gamble. It is clear as daylight that between nuclear armed neighbours war is no option. Only a dialogue process is. This process has the potential of enlarging that constituency in Pakistan which is opposed to Islamic militancy as well as Army rule.

It must be recognized that the threat to the Dialogue Process is from either of these elements separately or in conjunction.

Remember, (and I have first hand knowledge of this) from the February 2008 Pak elections upto 26/11, Mumbai, there was in Pakistani public discourse no unfriendly mention of India or of Kashmir. So discredited was the Pak Army fighting the then unpopular war in the North – West that officers would not be seen in their uniforms even doing grocery shopping, outside the cantonments.

26/11 changed all that.

Ofcourse we were all angry at the spectacle of iconic buildings in Mumbai ablaze. But it is precisely in these moments of national anger that the media’s role becomes one of great responsibility: angry, without becoming hysterical; critical without losing fidelity to facts; channelizing national anger not aggravating it to feverishness, irresponsibly losing sight of purpose. Instead of targeting the perpetrators of Mumbai, namely the army, ISI and their Jehadi “assets”, the media tarred all of Pakistan with one brush, weakening that huge constituency which had begun to look forward to friendship with India.

In response to India’s media barrage, the Pak media, so far extremely critical of the army, closed ranks in retaliation, causing public opinion, so far focused on Jehadism and the Army, to regard India with rediscovered hostility. The perpetrators of Mumbai had succeeded.

And guess what was the eventual outcome. Pak Army officers could once again do their grocery shopping in full uniform!

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