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A peace delegation from India needs to visit Pakistan now

by Najam Sethi, 31 January 2009

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Mail Today, January 30, 2009

A Peace delegation comprising human and women’s rights activists, media peaceniks and party political representatives from Pakistan recently visited New Delhi. They went with a threefold objective: to "condole" the Mumbai attacks and express solidarity with Indians in their hour of grief, to explain how and why Pakistan too is a victim of the same sort of terrorism that is threatening to afflict India, and to try and put the peace process and people- to- people channel back on track.

In view of the adverse travel advisories put out by both countries and the war paint put on by both media, the delegation risked being branded "unpatriotic" in Pakistan. But the two leaders of the delegation, Asma Jehangir, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and Imtiaz Alam, Secretary- General of the South Asia Free Media Association, are known as fearless crusaders in the region for doggedly promoting the cause of peace between India and Pakistan. Given the goodwill they personally enjoy in India, they threw caution to the wind at home and embarked on their journey across the border with great expectations.

In the event, however, even they were surprised by the consistently frosty, sometimes hostile, reception that they received at private, official and media forums in Delhi. It seemed as if all of India, public and private, had consciously united to send out one harsh message to Pakistan: that India is deeply wounded and will not take another such attack lying down. This is perfectly understandable.

The terrorist attack was on the Taj Mahal Hotel, the pride and symbol of resurgent modern India; it humiliated India’s "powerful" security establishment by exposing its gaping weaknesses; and the terrorists targeted innocent civilians rather than any specific military or intelligence organ of the state or government, thereby signaling their intent to wage war on India, Indians, and indeed the very idea of secular India.

Therefore credit must be given to the Indian establishment for showing great restraint and maturity, unlike the reckless way in which America reacted after 9/ 11.

The post- Mumbai composite view in India has three salient elements. First, they say that elements of the Pakistani state were allegedly complicit in the planning, organisation and implementation of the attack, evidence of which is proffered in the recorded chatter of the terrorists with their Pakistani handlers which suggest that this message was deliberately meant to be given. The implication of this, as India’s foreign minister has expressly stated, is that non- state actors and state actors in Pakistan were jointly responsible. Second, they believe that the government of President Asif Zardari is innocent but weak and Pakistan’s military establishment is guilty and strong. The implication of this is that there is no point in India talking to a weak civilian government or strong military establishment — because both are part of the problem — about redressing terrorism and advancing the peace agenda. Third, they insist that Pakistan should not mistake India’s overt outrage and anger as merely election- related histrionics and that it will be business as usual after the elections are over in April. On the contrary, they claim there is a consensus in India’s state and society that India must align with the international community and fashion a united strategic resolve to compel Pakistan’s state and society to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure on pain of international encirclement, blockade and sanctions.

Unfortunately, however, India and Indians seemed blind to an equally harsh reality about their own state and themselves — that terrorism is not just Pakistan’s problem but increasingly India’s too. This is not because the origins of such terrorism lie exclusively in political distortions within Pakistan but also because India has had a role in creating conditions conducive to its growth by refusing to resolve the regional conflicts that spawn it. Indeed, the truth is that the whole business of armed non- state actors in Pakistan, and the rise of Military Inc in Pakistan, who are together the bane of democratic Pakistan and India, is directly linked to the unresolved Kashmir conflict.

Equally, it is profoundly unrealistic for India’s government to claim that because the Zardari government in Pakistan is weak, there is no one to talk to in Pakistan about how to get the peace process back on track. New Delhi had five years of unfruitful dialogue with a strong military- led government from 2003- 08 that was ready to think outside- the- box and make unbelievable concessions, especially on Kashmir, but was constantly thwarted by the statusquo and lumbering Indian bureaucracy.

Indians worry and warn about a second terrorist attack on their soil.

But just as it is inevitable in one way or another in the future, so too is India’s likely response. "Surgical strikes" and "limited war" may be "honourable" self- satisfying responses, but they are not realistic options between nuclear armed states. Nor should India think of responding by manufacturing its own version of state- non- state actors to foment trouble in Pakistan. It will only hurtle the two peoples and states into confrontation, make India’s problem more intractable and hurt it disproportionately because it has more economic and political sheen to lose than Pakistan. Equally, if all other options are on the table for India in alliance with the international community, including punitive sanctions, blockades and Pakistan’s total isolation, it should be clear that such an occurrence will have disastrous consequences for Pakistan’s tanking economy and its equally fragile national unity. Fortunately, the view in responsible quarters in India is that even this response, all options short of war, is undesirable because it will plunge Pakistan into headlong failure. The hawks, on the other hand, argue that at least India will have ensured that Military Inc. will have only the ruins of Pakistan to preside over if they continue to muddy the waters. Thus the debate continues.

A peace delegation from India needs to visit Pakistan now, not to explain why India is angry — that message lies in the domain of the Pakistani delegation that has just returned from Delhi — but to understand why the cause of its established democratic state and civil society is the same as that of Pakistan’s fledgling counterparts.

The writer is the editor of The Friday Times