Indian Response to Tragedy in Pakistan
By SOMINI SENGUPTA: The NEw York Times, October 21, 2007
AS Pakistan fell into fresh bloody turmoil last week, an unusually poignant statement arrived from its neighbor and rival, India.
Late Friday, the Indian Foreign Ministry released a three-line statement describing a conversation between Pranab Mukherjee, the external affairs minister, and Benazir Bhutto, whose convoy was attacked in Karachi on Thursday after Ms. Bhutto, the former prime minister, returned from exile.
Mr. Mukherjee, it said, “spoke to Mrs. Benazir Bhutto late this evening. He expressed his sorrow at the dastardly act and was thankful that she had escaped unhurt. He also expressed condolences for those who had lost their lives.”
Rather than a bland statement of condolence, customary after incidents of mass violence, the statement named Ms. Bhutto, a politician trying to make a comeback, with sympathy. In another era, Indian leaders might have avoided such a display for fear of being accused of interfering in Pakistani politics.
“The messages conveyed suggest an implicit recognition of the authenticity of her credentials,” said Salman Haidar, a retired Indian diplomat. “It’s a signaling of readiness to do business with her should the occasion arise. It’s unusual.”
It was also an implicit recognition that the forces operating against Ms. Bhutto in Pakistan were those that threaten India: religious extremists, presumably, who would not welcome peace with India; or peace in Afghanistan, India’s ally; or a peaceful resolution in Kashmir. Few other countries are as directly affected by instability in Pakistan as India.
The fates of India and Pakistan have been inextricably bound since their bloody twin births. They have spent the last 60 years building their militaries in war, or preparing for war, with each other. They have repeatedly blamed each other for violence and insurrection in their own territories. And they have haltingly, often without real trust, moved toward negotiating peace.
Relations between them are today relatively tension-free, though in the last several months, as Pakistan’s leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has come under unrelenting pressures at home, hopes of any imminent peace deals have been set to the side.
Washington’s consistent support of General Musharraf has been the one point on which India has agreed to disagree with its new friends in Washington, and New Delhi has been keen, in the post-Sept. 11 era, to seize on reports of Pakistan as a haven for militant groups to point to its own vulnerability to Pakistan-based terror groups.
The foreign ministry also said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had conveyed his “personal concern and sympathy” to Ms. Bhutto and planned to send a letter to General Musharraf.
In the past, Ms. Bhutto had come in for criticism from India, as have virtually all other Pakistani leaders. Now, voices outside the government were not so reluctant to pass judgment on the lack of democracy next door, or to hold Ms. Bhutto herself in some measure responsible for it. The Indian press has been gripped by the drama of her impending return for several weeks, a reflection of how important each country is for the other’s sense of self.
The Times of India, in an editorial Saturday, made note of reasons why Islamist extremists would want to target Ms. Bhutto: she is a woman, she has taken a tough stance on militants operating on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and she has, the paper said, “of late, made moderate noises towards India.”
It went on to criticize the United States for backing an unsustainable alliance between Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf instead of pushing for a level playing field for all of Pakistan’s major politicians. “Instead of propping up one candidate or the other,” it said, “the U.S. and the international community should work on facilitating a transparent transition to democracy.”
The Indian Express was scathing in its editorial, criticizing Ms. Bhutto for operating “in cahoots with a dictator.” It accused her of striking a deal with General Musharraf to ostracize the other former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was deported under threat of arrest last month when he, too, tried to return to Pakistan from exile.
“In politics, you have to do with what you have, as we realize in Indian democracy frequently,” it said. “Pakistan should have been able to choose between what it has — Benazir and Sharif. One of them has been summarily removed from the equation and the other is complicit in that decision. Benazir has come home bearing the worst possible gift for her fellow citizens.”
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