It is churlish on the part of a few Indian circles to oppose a visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh until Pakistan makes amends for the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. The matter is before the courts of both countries and everyone should wait till the process of justice is complete.
Similarly, I do not understand why some elements in Pakistan are making noise over an 18-hour visit to India by President Asif Ali Zardari. People should take into consideration that the ice has been broken after the Zardari-Manmohan Singh meeting. There is suddenly an atmosphere of give-and-take at the highest level. This will help peace efforts.
Two words that Manmohan Singh used after his meeting with Zardari at Delhi have been missed in the midst of media hype and extra caution on the part of officials. He said that they discussed all problems between India and Pakistan and found “pragmatic and practical” solutions. In other words, both leaders went beyond the official and public line on Kashmir and other pending issues.
Whether and how the solutions they discussed would be implemented is not possible to guess. Essentially, the steps they would take are dependent on the consensus they are able to build in their respective countries. The Zardari government has been left with less than a year before it faces fresh elections. It has many masters to placate to retain a majority in the National Assembly. And then the biggest party is the army, which is the country’s third chamber.
Zardari was himself conscious of the forces he had to reckon with. Therefore, he met the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at Lahore before leaving for Delhi. Zardari — by now an astute politician — must have been briefed about the contours within which he had to stay.
Manmohan Singh is adept in compulsions of the coalition dharma. The support accorded to Zardari’s visit by former Indian foreign minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha indicates that the party known to have an anti-Pakistan image also backs steps for normalisation. This makes things easier. Manmohan Singh’s problem will be from within his own party. One indication was the absence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi from the lunch given in honour of President Zardari. She — who monopolises the party — did not consider her participation important.
The most charitable explanation of her absence is that Sonia Gandhi wanted her son, Rahul Gandhi, to get all the limelight when he was introduced to the heir apparent, Bilawal Zardari, son of Benazir Bhutto and grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Maybe, she would have emerged in a better light if she had blessed the scions of the new generations of the two dynasties.
Zardari’s visit — which began with a pilgrimage to Ajmer and developed into a political event — has made Manmohan Singh’s trip to Pakistan easier. Both sides have discussed ways to accelerate the process of prosecution of LeT detainees in Pakistan. Yet, this legal or somewhat motivated delay must not come in the way of Manmohan Singh’s visit. At stake is missing the aperture which Zardari’s one-to-one 40-minute talk has provided.
It is apparent that the alleged mastermind of the 26/11 attacks, Hafiz Saeed, was discussed in detail. Zardari must have felt that action against Hafiz Saeed is a litmus test, which will enable India to measure whether Pakistan is really keen on punishing those who attacked Mumbai from its soil. Pakistan, too, is beleaguered by the elements which Hafiz Saeed has unleashed. This calls for a firm action. What is needed is a joint mechanism to eliminate the Taliban.
Now that the American and Nato forces would be leaving the region in another two years, it is imperative for New Delhi and Islamabad to think of filling the resultant vacuum. Kabul’s sovereignty is important, more so because it is bearing the brunt of the Taliban.
Pakistan has experienced how the Taliban behaved when they took over the Swat valley. Pakistan does not have the resources to fight this battle alone, particularly at a time when relations with the US are turning sour.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2012.