A panic-proof resolve Rajmohan Gandhi

A panic-proof resolve Rajmohan Gandhi
Dawn, 26 Oct, 2009

Let me start this piece with a declaration of faith. As an Indian who knows the neighbouring country, I affirm that Pakistan has enough courage, commonsense and diligence in its people to survive the tough challenge it faces.
I follow this avowal with a groan. What, I ask, will be the consequences of the cruelty heaped the other day in Faisalabad on a humble young woman and a humble young man for their crime of seeking the shade of a campus tree for a short conversation away from their hard lives of poorly compensated toil?

The uniformed security guard who reportedly shaved those innocent heads, and thereby proved his manliness to himself, was an unknowing accomplice of the Taliban, and campus officials who refuse to punish the security guard are, whether or not they know it, the Taliban’s allies.

May this hurtful reminder of our subcontinent’s cruel streak spur us towards a total, public and unrelenting repudiation of extremist thinking wherever it comes from, and whoever acts on it, whether a Hindu, Sikh or Muslim, a Sunni or a Shia, a separatist or a nationalist.

And let us not forget even for a split second that suicide bombing, whatever its psychological roots, has nothing to do with someone belonging to this or that religion, nation, sect or ethnicity. Profiling cannot be wrong in the West but right in our part of the world. Extremists of every ilk are our adversaries. Pakhtuns, Afghans, Tamils or Nagas are not.

At this watershed moment — to turn to the larger canvas — Pakistan and India need not so much a grand deal (e.g. movement over Kashmir by New Delhi matching a Pakistani resolve against anti-Indian militancy) as a purposeful partnership.

Deals are struck by parties nursing suspicions about each other. In a deal, each party stands poised to renege before the other can break its word. A partnership, by contrast, is forged by parties that see a common danger and know they have to fight it jointly.

All our eyes see a common danger before us. Let us believe our eyes.
Indians live in denial or daydream when they imagine that extremist triumphs in Pakistan will leave them unscathed. Pakistanis inhabit a fantasy world if they think that terror strikes aimed at India will leave them unhurt. Suicide bombs snuffing out young lives in an Islamabad university are not unconnected to murderous attacks on innocent villagers in Indian-administered Kashmir or on tourists in Mumbai. There is no escape from this law of consequences.

But we must also believe what we know to be true, which is that the vast majority of Pakistanis and Indians are disgusted by the culture of the gun and the suicide bomb. They would like an uncompromising partnership to banish that culture. We should remain panic-proof in our firm knowledge that this is where the people of Pakistan and India stand.

Indians must acknowledge that Kashmir is a dispute that remains to be settled and one that should be settled through creative dialogues involving India, Pakistan and all major shades of Kashmiri opinion. And Pakistanis should accept the error in thinking that support for extremist violence in Kashmir was risk-free.

Any Pak-India partnership must before long find a reflection even in the Afghan policies of each country. Both India and Pakistan have a stake in the triumph of the ballot over the bullet in Afghanistan. Successes for the Taliban there will hurt Pakistan before they can threaten India.

Indians on their part should be totally clear in their minds that New Delhi’s engagement in Afghanistan is meant for the benefit of the Afghan people and in the interest of Pakistan as well as India, not for pressurising or embarrassing Pakistan. Not only that. The people and government of Pakistan should be kept informed of Indian projects in Afghanistan. In fact efforts should be made for joint India-Pakistan projects in a country that has been battered for decades.

To allay Pakistani concerns, India should announce categorically that it will not send soldiers to Afghanistan and also that it will not send trainers for Afghanistan’s army or police. Even if it be true that many an Afghan harbours warmer feelings for India than for Pakistan, Indians should recognise that ties of geography, ethnicity and family bring to the Pak-Afghan relationship a depth that can never enter the India-Afghan relationship.

Whatever the Obama administration decides about American troop levels in Afghanistan for the immediate future, the phasing out of America’s military involvement there is inevitable. The US simply does not have the stomach for a long-term nation-building exercise in Afghanistan. Recognising this reality, Pakistanis and Indians should focus less on what America should or should not do, and more on how they (we) can assist Afghanistan — separately and jointly — once the US leaves and even before the US leaves.

It is only too true that the governments (and armies) of India and Pakistan are not yet ready to enter into a purposeful partnership. Stubborn suspicions and prejudices will not disappear in days or weeks.

But patent self-interest may conquer suspicion and override prejudice. India will not be able to fold its arms and remain a detached witness of the struggle within Pakistan between the vast majority who cherish life, safety, friendships and liberty, and a small minority that wants to squeeze all life into the narrow barrel of a gun.
Any successes for that minority will injure India. Most Indians therefore would want the Pakistani majority to win out. At this important moment, Pakistanis must reject the temptation to fear India, and Indians must reject any urge to curse Pakistan. A country’s battle against extremism can never be won by outsiders.

The necessary moral, ideological and military effort has to come from within. Neither America nor India nor Pakistan can save Afghanistan if Afghans themselves are unable to resist extremism.

Nor can America win Pakistan’s hard battle against extremism. But Pakistanis have too much to lose in not fighting the battle, or in playing the blame game, and they have the capability to win the battle. Indians should be rooting for them.

The writer is a research professor at the University of Illinois, US.


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