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Time to stand up to, not for, Pakistan

How do you describe or explain the hysterical sentimentalism of democratic India’s reception to Pakistan’s dictator? How do you explain the masochism of the victim of the betrayal at Kargil and of the unending wounds inflicted from day to day by Pakistan’s terrorism in Kashmir, as he pursues his chief tormentor with the unreasoned desperation of the aashiq of the Urdu ghazal, longing for his maashooqa, and who, even as she relentlessly inflicts injury and humiliation on him, cries out,

Teer pe teer chalao, tumhein dar kiska hai,
Seena kiska, dil kiska, meri jaan, yeh jigar kis ka hai.

[Let loose arrow upon arrow, what do you care,
Whose chest, whose heart, my love, whose liver you strike?]

Over five hundred people have been killed in the escalating violence in Jammu & Kashmir since Prime Minister Vajpayee extended his invitation to Pakistan’s ‘three-in-one’ President-CEO-COAS, Pervez Musharraf on May 23, 2001. The year 2000, with all the talk of peace, saw 3,288 people killed in J&K, the highest for any year since 1989, when the conflict exploded into national consciousness. The year 2001 has already seen over 1550 killed. And while the world condemns the rape of democracy in Pakistan, India legitimizes a junta that has shown as little respect for the rights of its own people as it does for the lives of the victims of its cross border terrorism. While the West applies sanctions against that country, we woo its usurper for trade, for oil pipelines, for the privilege of an invitation to a ridiculous ‘tea party’. Any self-respecting nation would have greeted such a man with black flags, with protest demonstrations, with every possible manifestation to communicate to the visitor the contempt in which he is held by a people wedded to democracy, a people who condemn terrorism as an instrument of state policy, and a people who express solidarity with those who have been deprived of their freedoms and their rights in the dictators own country. Instead, we have the disgraceful spectacle of the notables of the land cuing up for the privilege of a shared moment and ‘photo-op’ with the architect of Kargil and the abiding sponsor of cross border terrorism; so much so that the Chief Mininster of Uttar Pradesh is reported to be willing to breach protocol for the ‘honor’ of waiting on Musharraf at the Agra Airport. And as officials and the media in Pakistan drum up a frenzy of false allegations on ‘human rights violations’, ‘mass rape’, and ‘repression’ by Indian security forces in J&K, we pretend that the only issue of relevance regarding the conflict in the State, awash with Pakistani guns, explosives and mujahideen, is a pot of tea that the Pakistani dictator is to share with the Hurriyat. It is, indeed, amazing that, in the reams of newsprint that have been dedicated over the past weeks to the Musharraf visit, there has been no attempt whatsoever to assess what has been happening on the ground in Kashmir over the same period, and to determine whether any real attempt has been made to create an atmosphere conducive to negotiations for peace by a de-escalation of violence.

There is deep symbolism and irony in the location of the proposed Vajpayee-Musharraf talks in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, and this decision reinforces the image of a fervent India wooing a recalcitrant Pakistan through the metaphor of the ‘world’s greatest monument to love’. India’s Prime Minister is a poet and a romantic, and he will identify with the sentiment and suitability of the unrequited lovers plaintive call:

Tun nagin tod na dil ka ke badi kaavish se
Naam ko tere kundah kiya hai iss par.

[Do not break the jewel of my heart, for with great pains,
I have carved out your name on it.]

But passion apart, what are the real prospects of this unlikely seduction? It must be clear to all but the politically naïve that neither leader is in a position to concede anything of significance on Kashmir – without committing absolute and immediate political suicide. Indeed, under present circumstances, engagement with the Musharraf regime does not further the possibilities of peace; rather, it strengthens forces that promote a complex and corrosive strategy of aggression against India. The point that I have argued before is that the "unrealistic pursuit of peace can only defer violence, and often magnifies it. The notion of ‘peace at all costs’ is self-destructive, and negotiations based on false premises and projections, and on unrealistic or divergent assessments of realities on the ground, inevitably result in greater escalation – though they may produce a temporary and deceptive lull."

A great deal of significance is also being attached to ‘people to people’ contacts within the context of the imagined Indo-Pak détente, and there have been numerous ‘Track II’ meetings over the past weeks, with droves of Pakistanis being ferried into Delhi’s favored watering holes to ‘promote the prospects of peace’. The logic of these initiatives, we are told, is that the ‘people of Pakistan’ want friendship with India. Apart from this contestable ‘collective will’, the question that arises is, do the people of Pakistan matter? Have they every mattered? And if they matter, why is Pakistan ruled by a military dictator? Why has Pakistan seen only a fitful and qualified democracy for well over half its existence as a nation? The fact is, it is the feudal elite and the Army – and, perhaps increasingly, the powerful minority of religious extremists – in Pakistan that will define that country’s relationship with India for a long time to come. And there is no reason to believe that permanent friendship or peace with India is among the priorities of these influential collectives.

The fact is, the Kashmir issue will be decided in Kashmir; either by the terrorists, or by those who oppose and defeat them. In the absence of a prior de-escalation of violence, any ‘peace process’ is destined to comprehensive failure. This is, quite simply, in the nature of terrorism. When the two sides come to the negotiating table within a context of high levels of violence, there will be enormous pressure on both (and on a range of secondary players) to escalate offensive operations in order to secure a ‘negotiating advantage’, and this will prove necessarily counterproductive from the perspective of restoring peace. This, precisely, is what is reflected in the escalating loss of life in J&K in the wake of every ‘peace initiative’.

What is needed is a coherent counter-terrorism policy, consistently followed over time; one that is seen not to reward terrorists and their front organizations with privileged access to the negotiating table, or with elevation to a position of undeserved centrality in the democratic and political process; and one that unflinchingly confronts the sponsors and supporters of terrorism with images of their own brutality, their immorality, their cowardice, and the inescapable imminence of their failure and defeat.

Instead, India’s fighting men are now being told that we must put Kargil into the past, ignore the daily toll inflicted in their ranks in J&K, and make peace through negotiated concessions with the sponsors and perpetrators of the worst atrocities. The Indian soldier’s dedication to his duty can well be expressed by the couplet:

Mitti ki mohabbat mein ham ashufta saron nein,
Voh karz chukae hain jo vajib bhi nahin the.

[Impassioned with our love for this land
We have paid debts that were not even warranted.]

But the Indian state’s continuous flip-flop policies on J&K utterly trivialize the sacrifice of the hundreds of young men who lost their lives to confront Pakistan’s adventurism in Kargil, and the enormous tragedy and continuous loss of life that is being inflicted on Kashmir by Pakistan’s amoral and lawless opportunism, and its unashamed sponsorship of terrorism. How long is this to continue? How long can it be accepted without question?

(Published in The Pioneer, July 14, 2001)





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