Published in Newsline on 24 Feb 2010 (http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2010/02/the-indo-pak-hate-cycle/)
When candles were lit in Kolkata for Ankik Dhar and his friends Shilpa and Anindyee, tears flowed; and simultaneously hatred brewed. This has happened whenever explosives detonated either in Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore or Hyderabad or latest in Pune. Whenever a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) or a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) mercenary had been discovered to ignite an incendiary, the men on the ‘wrong side’ of the north-western border have been demonised. Even an innoxious Sufi-Dervish strolling along the squalid Indian streets have been looked at with terror and suspicion : is he an ISI agent?
Over years, this animosity was maneuvered with dexterity by the civil-military elite of Pakistan to stoke similar hatred in the Indus plains. The ‘hate cycle’ formed a regenerative feedback loop. Hence a self-sustained model of Indo-Pak rivalry has blossomed to its egregious maturity.
Commencing from the terrorist attack on the precincts of world’s largest democracy in 2001 to the infamous siege of the financial capital Mumbai on 26 November 2008; the bilateral relationship of the two South Asian ‘giants’ has slowly been pushed towards political bankruptcy.
In between, a minor salvage was attempted by creating a Joint Anti-Terror Cell so as to smoothen future scenarios as regard to handling terror. Indubitably, parties with vested interests existed and continue to exist which leave no stone unturned to provide energy to the ‘hate cycle’. And “Lashkar-e-Toiba Al Alami” appears to be the latest induction in the list of such potent candidates.
Interestingly, it claims to be a breakaway faction of the old LeT and the rationale posited by it for breaking away is that LeT was acting as a puppet of the ISI. Well, what does this mean?
It invariably projects a much more deadly and ominous future for South Asia. Are we headed for an uncontrolled chain reaction of terror? Already, mainland Pakistan is reeling under the venomous Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
For India, having a clean terror-free fourteen months since 26/11 may be perceived in either of the following ways. The enhanced efficiency of the Indian security personnel and better security-intelligence co-ordination is the obvious evaluation of the success; while the pre-occupation of the terrorist groups in the Af-Pak region is the cynical evaluation.
Nevertheless, the RDX-Ammonium Nitrate blasts on 13 February near the German Bakery in Maharashtra’s (India’s western province) cultural capital Pune, did come as a shock to the Indian citizens. Moreover, the blasts were probably tailor-made to blast out the talks at the Foreign Secretary level to be held between the two archrivals on 25 February.
After an interregnum, India and Pakistan would again sit across the table. The astute political observer would definitely hint at an American influence behind this as India was reluctant to ‘chalk out the talks’ due to the lethargic movements of the civil bureaucratic machinery of Pakistan in acting against Hafeez Saeed; the Jamat-ud-Dawa generalissimo.
Furthermore, India would cautiously tread in these bilateral forums, more so keeping in mind the Sharm-el-Shaikh diplomatic fiasco at the sidelines of the recent most NAM Summit.
Surely, Foreign Secretary level talks are just the beginning, but at least a beginning. However, the agenda of the talks remain unclear as ever. Is the situation so benign that both the secretaries could just exchange pleasantries and end with Sir Creek, while meandering around the Indus Water Treaty?
Would bouncers be merely ducked? Why a head-on-collision with the obvious be avoided? Why would Islamabad continue to evade India’s concerns regarding cross-border terrorism and why should New Delhi shy away from Kashmir? Both the parties need to appreciate the fact that by just talking these two so-called ‘contentious’ issues, they are not going to loose Karachi or Mumbai.
If few things need to be sorted out, then those things ought to be prioritized.
Decades ago, the Italian fascist Mussolini, amongst his many ‘not to be revered’ acts and policies, uttered : “The Nation is a single fixed point, the rest is obvious”.
Regarding Indo-Pak bilateral ties, an analogue may be generated : “Kashmir is a single-fixed point, the rest is obvious”. In fact, cross-border terrorism too is inextricably intertwined with Kashmir. However, that in any way does not mean that the terms of the negotiation could be dictated by any terrorist outfit or even by obdurate authorities.
Flexibility, adaptability and pragmatism on both sides would enliven matters and lessen tensions. Both Islamabad and New Delhi need to traverse some distance toward each other, without succumbing to past follies.
Islamabad has its own domestic predicaments; be it the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) or the judiciary-executive tussle or the Balochistan tangle or the terror-implosion since the launch of the Swat-South Waziristan offensive. India, too cannot prevaricate regarding its Maoist insurgency or the tumultuous North-East or for that matter the ‘Kashmir burden’.
Nonetheless, the naïve commoner walking along the alleys of Kolkata or through the by-lanes of Rawalpindi may not appreciate the jargons of ‘geopolitics’ or ‘strategic depth’ or ‘composite dialogue’. Rather the simpleton has the inalienable right to ask the respective policy-makers : “When you talk, why don’t you talk seriously? Why do you only posture?”