The first time I visited Pakistan was in 1982. I went for a week long visit to Islamabad, travelled by colourful buses to Rawalpindi, and by taxi to see the ruins at Takshshila. This was well before peace and friendship talks had emerged on the official Indo-Pak agenda. Even then, what struck me most was the warmth and friendship I received from ordinary people in Pakistan, the moment they knew I was from India. The people of both countries want to be friends but their rulers want to be enemies – this was the common refrain during that memorable visit, expressed during chats with shopkeepers, hotel waiters, staff and customers at restaurants and roadside stalls.
Much water has flown through the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra since that first experience of mine across the border 27 years ago. The climate for friendship has risen and fallen through several cycles, especially in the most recent decade. I have visited Pakistan three more times, once spending a weekend in Lahore, driving down the super-highway from Islamabad and back up the Grand Trunk Road, accompanied by my wife. The tall good looking Punjabi driver of our taxi doubled up as our guide during the journey. He pointed out to us the birth place of Mohammad Rafi, that veteran singer of the past whose melodious voice continues to enchant many South Asians irrespective of political borders. Our driver cum guide recounted many interesting stories to us, and considered it an honour to have played host to a visiting couple from India.
The high point of our experience was in Lahore, when we ordered coffee in our hotel room and were served by a young man from Kashmir. He grew excited at finding that we were visitors from India. With shining eyes, that handsome lad said, "If the Europeans could form a Union, why not we South Asians, and then nobody in the world can defeat us!"
During every upswing in the climate for good neighbourliness, it would seem that the rulers of India and Pakistan are becoming enlightened at last. Hopes were raised for the first time when the then Prime Minister Vajpayee crossed the border almost a decade ago. I remember his quotable words, "We can forget history but we cannot ignore geography" and that "we can choose our friends but we cannot choose our neighbours". The key message conveyed by those poetic words was that the best course for India to follow is to build friendly and mutually beneficial relations with neighbouring Pakistan.
But alas, after raising hopes of a breakthrough, relations would crash once again, under one pretext or another. The most common cause for precipitating a breakdown would be a terrorist incident, whose motive and identity of the mastermind would remain a mystery, while the official propaganda machine would produce accusations and allegations, spreading more hatred and hostility between the neighbours. We have witnessed troops being deployed along the border, and heard various voices on both sides screaming for each other’s blood, until the wind changes again and the next round of talks begin.
Blow hot, blow cold, no war but no peace either – this has been the pattern of Indo-Pak relations during the past decade or more. The current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared to be raising the voice of sanity once again, as he defended in Parliament the Joint Statement he had signed with his Pakistani counterpart in Egypt in July 2009. Does this represent a fundamental break from the past, to be welcomed? Or is it just another cycle of the same charade?
I have pondered at length over the first major pronouncement made by Home Minister Chidambaram, soon after taking charge of this portfolio following the November 26 Mumbai terror attacks last year. He made two statements, one after the other. First, he said that an operation of the scale and sophistication of the Mumbai attacks is most likely the handiwork of a state intelligence agency, and not merely of some "non-state actors". Second, he said that some arm of the State of Pakistan was involved in preparing and carrying out this attack.
After pondering at length, I am convinced that the first statement is based on sound logic, while the second is merely an assertion. The fact that the Mumbai terror attacks were launched from the soil of Pakistan and many of the operatives were from that country does not, in itself, establish the identity of the mastermind. State intelligence agencies of not only Pakistan, but also of other countries such as the United States, have networks of operatives on the soil of Pakistan.
If the Indian Home Ministry actually had concrete evidence to back up its allegation that official circles in Pakistan were guilty, then it would have shown this to the world by now. The evidence that has been shared with Pakistan leads to the conclusion that citizens of Pakistan were among those involved, and at least part of the operation was launched from the soil of Pakistan. Even the Government of Pakistan has admitted this much. However, it has consistently denied that any of its official agencies, intelligence or army, was involved in the attack.
The Indian leadership is now caught in a contradictory position. On the one hand, it wants to respond positively to Pakistan’s acceptance of the use of its soil and involvement of its countrymen in the Mumbai attacks. On the other hand, it does not wish to admit that it made baseless allegations against Pakistan in the past. As a result, the Indian rulers are blowing hot and blowing cold at the same time. "We will de-link peace talks from anti-terrorist actions", says the joint statement, while those from India who signed it say, "We will not begin talks until Pakistan shows credible action against the suspected terrorists".
I have always been interested in murder mysteries, especially those where the detective examines all possible solutions and examines the alternative theories in the light of available clues and evidence. Suppose India and Pakistan were to sincerely cooperate in the investigation of the Mumbai terror attacks, and examine all the theoretical possibilities. Would the involvement of US intelligence not appear high on the list of possibilities? They certainly have the capability to execute an operation of this magnitude and sophistication. Do they have a motive?
One must remember that the legacy of hostility and mutual suspicion between India and Pakistan is a result of the colonial manipulation and engineering of the Partition of the sub-continent amidst communal holocaust and massive forced migration across borders. Imperial Britain made sure that the nations of South Asia will remain weak and divided, caught in permanent insoluble contradictions among themselves. Imperial America learnt from its more experienced ally, and has used Indo-Pak hostility and the Kashmir dispute to create for itself a space to act as "peace broker".
The American rulers do not want an Indo-Pak war at this time, given their pre-occupations in Afghanistan. At the same time, they do not want India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes and build a durable unity, which would cut their own space to manoeuvre. Thus, it appears that a policy of "no war but no peace" fits in very well with the aims and motives of the US government in South Asia. The US would like the two nuclear neighbours to talk with each other, but if and when they get too close, it could organize a terror attack to break the spell. That is certainly a theory worth testing.
Some months back I was watching Musharraf being interviewed on Indian TV, and the anchor of the show was asking him why the Government of Pakistan did not allow the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to interview the suspects who were in Pakistani custody. Musharraf said, "We said they could interview the prisoners in the presence of our own authorities; we are not going to hand them over to the FBI, as they are in Pakistani custody".
Now why would someone ask Musharraf this question? The only reason is to communicate that "hey, you must be having something to hide if you refuse to allow the FBI to grill your prisoners". It means that the person asking this question is not even considering the theoretical possibility that the FBI may actually be guilty, in which case it would be foolish and dangerous to allow them to talk to anyone, be it in Indian or Pakistani prison, especially without the presence of the national government authorities.
This attitude of trusting the Anglo-American agencies, while suspecting any agency of Pakistan, is itself a part of the colonial legacy. Along with English medium education comes an implicit faith in the white man and his institutions. "The FBI will not do evil things, while the ISI must never be trusted" – is the stupid prejudice that has been ingrained in one section of our intelligentsia, to which most of the English speaking anchors on TV belong.
In conclusion, I remain unconvinced that this Manmohan Singh regime has the capacity to overcome the colonial legacy and embark on a path of lasting peace and friendship with Pakistan. I will be glad to be proved wrong. I am afraid I may be proved right.
by S. Udayan