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Our terror, now theirs too

Our terror, now theirs too

Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 28, 2003

The end of the year seems always to bring either war or peace between India and Pakistan. This time it is a hesitant, nervous sort of peace that appears to be breaking out. We talk of cross-border trains and flights, instead of terrorism, and hear words like 'bold and flexible' from the General across the border. Even hints that other words like 'plebiscite' should be dropped from the terms of dialogue. That was before the two attempts on Pervez Musharraf's life which, who knows, could have been inspired by his ostensible (dare we hope) desire to end his Kashmir jehad. Clearly, even his own government was worried or his Prime Minister would not have had to deny his remarks almost instantly. How ironic that the General who has used terrorism as his main instrument of foreign policy on the sub-continent should now be in danger of becoming its victim.

India knows better than anyone the price of that foreign policy. Think of that other December, two years ago, when the attack on Parliament brought us to the verge of war and that Christmas just before the millennium changed when IC 814 was hijacked from Kathmandu to force the Indian government to release two of the most vicious terrorists known to mankind: Omar Sheikh and Masood Azhar. Sheikh went on to plan the inhuman, unforgivable murder of Daniel Pearl and Maulana Masood continues to spread the wickedest kind of terrorist Islam through organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammad. When Jaish and Lashkar get onto American State Department terrorist lists they reincarnate themselves under new names that are announced on the internet. This would not happen if the General was serious about abandoning terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy and it would not happen if the United States understood that its policy on the Indian sub-continent needs to go beyond backing one, shaky General. It needs to acknowledge that said shaky General is fully aware that the Pakistan government, specifically the Pakistani Army, is deeply involved with the promotion of terrorism and militant Islam.

It needs also to acknowledge that Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, would not have been able to sell nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea without the sanction of the Pakistani government. But, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says, ''There are indications that certain individuals might have been motivated by personal ambition or greed,'' and Musharraf continues to be counted a trustworthy ally.

We in India understand him better and understand better the nature of the Pakistani state but our problem is that it is becoming increasingly hard to tell where the state ends and what V S Naipaul called 'a criminal enterprise' begins. Where does the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) fit in? And, if Musharraf is the modern, Islamic leader he would like the world to believe he is then why were Sheikh and Masood not immediately jailed when they crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan? Why is there such a strong nexus between the ISI and terrorist groups in Kashmir that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them?

The foreign policy experts who sit in South Block believe that democratic Pakistani leaders are better. Whenever Pakistan has a democratically elected Prime Minister in charge, they like to say, peace becomes more possible. Really? It happens that when Benazir Bhutto was in Delhi a couple of weeks ago I was at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's ashram in Bangalore and came upon a clip of one of the speeches she made on Kashmir as Prime Minister. In a voice hysterical with hatred she shouted abuse against India and urged her Islamic brethren to rally to the defence of Kashmir because the Kashmiris were Muslims 'like us' and like us descendants of those who fought in the Prophet's armies. It was a more racist speech than any Musharraf has made. Let us please remember that it was Benazir's Kashmir policy that caused such terrible violence in the Valley that more than 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus fled for their lives in the worst instance of ethnic cleansing the sub-continent has seen.

The fact that, despite a Hindutva government in Delhi, these desperate people continue to live in makeshift camps in Jammu is disgraceful and even more disgraceful is the fact that no human rights group in India takes up their cause. All those of you who have been so passionate in defence of Muslim victims in Gujarat where are you when it comes to Kashmiri pandits? And, Benazir do you remember your speeches? Do you remember that it was under your government that the so-called Kashmir jehad began?

So if democracy in Pakistan will not bring peace either what is the solution? Personally, I believe we need to make a distinction between the Pakistani people and the Pakistani state. We need to encourage ordinary Pakistanis to come to India because it is only when they come here that they realise that its reality is very different to the lies and propaganda they have been bred on. We need to encourage trade, even if we take unilateral measures, because it is another way of getting ordinary Pakistanis to travel to India and build up a vested interest in peace.

Peace with Pakistan was the first item on Atal Behari Vajpayee's foreign policy agenda when he became Prime Minister. It remains there right at the top as he enters the last year of his government. It may not be possible to achieve in a year but what is possible is to lay the foundations for it by making it easier for Pakistani civil society to discover that it has much more in common with India than it has with its own military government. Unilaterally making the visa system easier would be a good first step.

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