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Caging hawks post-Osama

by Dipankar Gupta, 6 May 2011

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The Times of India

Caging hawks post-Osama

May 6, 2011

Who let the Hawks out in India? The American SEALS, of course. They took wing after the Hollywood-like finish with which the American Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) forces rubbed out Osama bin Laden. This spectacular event also converted some of our defence experts into scriptwriters. If only India could send its commandos to do a sequel to the Osama episode, that would be one blockbuster.

Well, what is the delay? We know that Dawood is in 30, Defence Housing Society in Karachi and Hafiz Saeed of Jamaat-ul-Dawa in 4, Lake Road, Lahore. So why doesn’t India come down from the skies and turn their lights off? They may not be in the mood for guests, but we shouldn’t let that stop us.

What Indian hawks miss out in their posturing is that the Kashmir problem will not be resolved by capturing or killing some unbelievably evil people in Pakistan. Terrorists have a way of breeding rapidly if they receive political patronage. Ergo, to resolve Kashmir, or terrorism in the subcontinent, there is no alternative but a state-to-state dialogue.

If we must be inspired by events outside, then let us think Ireland, not America. The long years of violence between the Protestants and Catholics came to a close in Northern Ireland once the British and Irish governments decided to call it a day. It is only then that the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 could be signed and delivered. It is this high-level goodwill and plain straight talk that finally ended the "Troubles" in Ireland.

For years the British did to Irish Republicans what our native hawks want us to do to Pakistani jihadists. They killed, captured and maimed hundreds, but that did not bring them closer to peace. True, Bill Clinton started the process by turning off the taps that funded IRA terrorists, but that was not enough. Eventually it was the resolve of the governments of Ireland and Britain that did the trick.

Even if India can pull off a forced entry into Lahore, Karachi, or wherever, this will not keep the jihadis from breeding. As long as the Pakistani government holds on to the petri-dish, terrorists will spawn like worms. Ireland teaches us that peace happens only when governments want peace. Make no mistake, the fissures in Northern Ireland ran very deep, perhaps deeper than those in Kashmir.

During the decades-long "Troubles", the Catholics and Protestants were using a number of tell-tale signs to mark each other out. They not only went to separate churches, but also played different sports. Even personal names and the use of certain phrases bore an identity tag. Close attention was paid to the way alphabets "a" and "h" were pronounced. On an everyday basis people resolved to such acts of "telling" in order to make out friend from foe.

As long as the Republic of Ireland and the British government tried to scare each other, the "Troubles" got worse in Northern Ireland. Over time, the resemblances between the two sides grew and so did their mutual antipathy. In India we run the same risk. Whenever Pakistan postures aggressively, we have to reciprocate. Where is the alternative?

This has had disastrous consequences for Indo-Pak relations and there is really no end in sight. For some time, there is a deceptive peace in the Valley and then suddenly a single stone starts an avalanche. Such incidents bring out the worst in both Pakistan and India. Religious bigots, whether Hindu or Muslim, are able to raise the ante and scare the rest from calling their bluff. It is this that keeps miracles from happening.

Who would have imagined, prior to the Good Friday Agreement, that the Republic of Ireland would actually change Articles 2 and 3 of its Constitution? With this single act it gave up its long-cherished claim on Northern Ulster. On the other side, Britain too reciprocated by repealing the Ireland Act of 1920. India and Pakistan need to do something that is as grand and magnanimous as this.

The mood against violence is unshakably palpable in all Ireland. When a car bomb killed a rookie Catholic policeman in Northern Ireland, activists from both sides condemned the attack. Catholics and Protestants went in large numbers to the funeral. Many wore T-shirts or carried banners on which "Not in my name" was boldly lettered. When peace looks this good up close, it can help overcome personal tragedies.

We can have such a happy ending too, but not with swooping hawks or staged melodrama. Sadly, the Abbottabad incident shows that Pakistan is unwavering in its support to jihadis. Now that it has been shamed in the open, Pakistan must quickly make up its mind: will it hit back or think about peace?

One often slips up on their names, but what Obama is to Osama, Geelani of Kashmir is not to Gilani of Pakistan. The latter two get on fine and, objectively, need each other. It is this tie that needs to snap, but that will not happen till the government of Pakistan (or is it just the ISI?) wants it to. Perhaps a push from big brother might help. If Bill Clinton could do it for Ireland, President Obama should do it for us. Only then will the war on terror, in Kashmir and elsewhere, end.

In the meantime, Indian hawks could lend their talents to Bollywood.

The writer, Dipankar Gupta is former professor, JNU.