AFTER the recent terror attack on Mumbai, India and Pakistan are hurtling towards a precipice.
They must stop before it is too late, before attitudes harden and there is no going back.
Accusations and counter-accusations are being flung, and the atmosphere gets murkier by the hour. The terrorists came from Pakistan by sea and were trained and indoctrinated in Pakistan, says New Delhi. Give us proof that they are Pakistani and where the training camps are and we will take necessary action, says Islamabad.
Here is a list of 20 fugitives being harboured by you we want sent back to India, says New Delhi. If they are in Pakistan, we will try them ourselves, responds Islamabad.
And so it goes on, getting us nowhere.
The US secretary of state lands in New Delhi, expressing her support for India and then flies to Islamabad to urge the Pakistan government to nail the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack and the outfit — or outfits — behind them.
Meanwhile, after declaring that it too has been a target and is also fighting the terrorist menace in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and has lost several hundred troops in the process, Islamabad issues a thinly veiled threat: if India’s belligerence continues, we will be compelled to move some of our troops from near the Afghan border to the border with India.
In other words, we will have to shift our attention from helping you (the US) in taking on the Taliban, to confronting the Indian threat. Is blackmail too strong a description of that?
At the same time, there are mad voices making themselves heard in India. A panellist on a popular TV programme seen by millions, advocates bombing Pakistan, to the applause of the audience. Even the Indian foreign minister does not entirely rule out such a course of action, saying that “appropriate steps” will be taken to protect India’s sovereignty.
US president-elect Barack Obama virtually echoes the Indian minister when he says that nations have the right to defend themselves. His choice of Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state must also have dismayed Islamabad. Both Hillary and Bill are known to have a soft corner for India, having made several unofficial visits to the country. And Pakistanis must recall when in 1999 during the Kargil war a furious Bill Clinton summoned the then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif to Washington and virtually compelled him to withdraw Pakistan troops from the conflict zone, thereby humiliating Islamabad.
No wonder Pakistan feels beleaguered, with its back to the wall, nursing the sentiment that not only India but just about everybody is pointing an accusing finger at it.
I should add here that currently in India there is a strong backlash against our politicians in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack. A certain distaste among the Indian public for the political class was always there — for its corruption, its inefficiency and its arrogance. But it was hidden. Now it has come out in the open.
Politicians make sure they have plenty of security, even when some of them don’t need it, with armed bodyguards and commandos constantly surrounding them. But what about our, the common man’s, security? Why aren’t we being adequately protected?
Insensitive remarks and thoughtless actions by Indian politicians after the Mumbai terrorism have also cost them dear. The Maharashtra chief minister was sacked after he went on a tour of the devastated Trident hotel, with his actor son and a well-known film director in tow. How about terror tourism, with a little bit of Bollywood thrown in? India’s feisty news channels attacked him mercilessly, repeatedly showing the damning film footage.
His deputy chief minister suffered the same fate after he tried to play down the attacks by saying that such “small things” tend to happen in big cities and that the terrorists were planning to kill 5,000 people (so only about 200 killed was not such a bad deal).
After the incensed father of one of the commandos killed in the Mumbai carnage refused the chief minister of Kerala entry into his residence, the chief minister had the gall to hint that the father was mentally ill and that “even a dog” would not go to his house. A demonstrator had a fitting answer to that with a placard reading, “We would prefer a dog visit our house than a politician”.
Just as Pakistan feels on the defensive, so do India’s politicians. The best way to deflect criticism is to grandstand, to posture and talk tough. That is exactly what some of India’s leaders have been doing and will continue to do in the days to come: yes, we will consider a strike on Pakistan, to take out the terrorist-training camps — and to hell with the consequences.
The tragedy of it all is that just before these terror attacks on Mumbai, the peace process between India and Pakistan was well on course. Numerous cultural and sporting exchanges were taking place, beginning with the cricket one-day internationals in Pakistan in 2003.
I was in Lahore and Islamabad then as part of a tennis team playing with our Pakistani counterparts. We were greeted with such warmth and affection that it often brought tears to my eyes. Taxi drivers would refuse to take fares when they realised we were from India.
At the Lahore ODI where I was present the spectators cheered the Indian players. I could not believe my eyes. I was looking at a new generation, a generation that was not carrying the bitter baggage of Partition but which nursed hope and friendship in their hearts.
The deranged beasts that struck Mumbai on Nov 26 want to return the two countries to an era of hopeless despair and festering hatred. Let us vow that they will not succeed.
The writer is former editor of the Reader’s Digest and the Indian Express.
Daily Dawn, 9th December, 2008