A 47-YEAR-OLD woman, Amita Uddaiya, has disclosed that she was flown out from Mumbai to the US for questioning by ‘white men’.
Two days later, she was flown back and was asked to say that she had gone to Satara, a place not very far from Mumbai. Amita had seen six terrorists arriving in the fishermen colony on the seaside. They were part of a group of 10 who attacked Mumbai.
Surprisingly, no one from the media has followed up on the whisking away of Amita. Nor has the government come out with any explanations. Local police have rubbished her story. But she has stuck to it. Many questions remain unanswered — why did she go? Who forced her to undertake the journey? What did she tell her husband, who was in hospital, before she left? It is apparent that it was a hush-hush job which was in the knowledge of the powers that be. That America needed her was clear, probably to prepare the dossier on the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. Was there something more than what meets the eye?
America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is known for such covert operations. Taking away Amita is not beyond them. But why was she flown all the way to America? Probably, the FBI has its most sophisticated equipment to interrogate, record and what not. This establishes one thing that the FBI enjoys a carte blanche in India. I would not be surprised if the agency has its network in the country; some with New Delhi’s consent but mostly without it. Not long ago, the agency sought permission to open its office in India. I do not know whether Amita’s is an isolated case but it is the only one that has come to light. There may have been more. The question is not that of numbers, but that of sovereignty. Has America extended similar facilities to India? This is not related to the extradition treaty. This is related to the extra-constitutional authority which America has come to wield throughout the world. I hope President Barack Obama, known for clean methods, puts an end to FBI’s mechanisations. In his inaugural speech, he said: “Our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”
In the past, whenever I read about Pakistan handing over its nationals to America — the number so far is nearly 500 — I explained to myself that a beleaguered country, financially and democratically weak, was unable to resist the pressure. How could India with its traditions of defiance and dissent act like a hapless state? Was the necessity of building diplomatic pressure on Pakistan so much that we had to surrender the independence of institutions? If this is the price we had to pay to get Washington on our side, it is much too much.
If we, claiming to lead the non-aligned movement, begin to behave like a supplicant nation, small and weak countries would have no reprieve from big powers. It looks as if we are being sucked into the American orbit of influence, without even realising it. The India-US nuclear treaty was responsible for it. The world even saw us voting against the age-old friend Iran at a crucial meeting concerning the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have lowered our tariffs to enable subsidised goods from the West to compete with our indigenous products. Thousands of small entrepreneurs have gone out of business and many shops have shutdown.
Permission given to foreign newspapers to print their facsimile edition from India, with 100 per cent equity may not disturb our press. But it indicates a change in policy. Former prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru did not allow The New York Times to have its facsimile edition from India in the fifties. Such things were considered a blemish on India’s independent identity and avoided.
While framing Indian foreign policy, Nehru wrote to Krishna Menon, then India’s high commissioner to the UK: “how naïve the Americans are in their policy. It is only their money and their power that carries them through, not their intelligence or any other quality.” When the new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that America wants to strengthen political and economic ties with India, she should realise that we are looking for friends, not masters.
Whether or not it was Washington’s pressure, Islamabad has changed its stance in the last few days. The dossier which was ‘mere information’ has become ‘useful and good.’ Pakistan could have done the same thing without bringing Richard Boucher into the picture. Now he looks like the whistle-blower. America has become a court of appeal for both India and Pakistan. Had Islamabad addressed New Delhi’s fears earlier, its loss of faith in Pakistan would not have been so much as it is today. No doubt, tension has lessened but the feeling of alienation has increased. In Mumbai the fallout has been irrational. Pakistani artists, staging their plays to packed houses, were forcibly ousted from the city. Fortunately, these artists also saw how the common man reacted. People came up to them to say that they were sorry for what the Shiv Senaiks had done. Happily, the story was different in New Delhi where another Pakistani troupe received deafening applause. Again, Mumbai witnessed some policemen visiting bookshops to tell owners to remove works of Pakistani authors from their shelves. No explanation was available from the government. Did it order such a search or did the policemen, contaminated as some of them are, do so on their own?
The cultural vandalism is, however, an indication of the mood of the people. There have been very few voices of condemnation. We say that music knows no borders or that terrorism has no religion. But when prejudice takes over, such observations mean little. The Mumbai attack has drastically cut the number of liberals in India and exposed peacemakers. Some human rights activists on both sides are trying to repair the relationship. I hope they succeed.
How to pick up the thread from the Mumbai carnage is the question. Now that Asif Ali Zardari’s government has assured India that it would bring perpetrators to book, the confidence will start building. But the probe should be authentic and transparent. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India wants the whole thing to be out; from the beginning to the end. If done, this may falsify the impression in India that Pakistan always gets away with whatever it does.
If Islamabad is once again seen indulging in window dressing, the distrust will deepen. Even if there is no conflict, there will be no peace. Even if there is no hostility, there will be no harmony. Such a situation is neither conducive for India nor Pakistan.
The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.