The hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks four years ago, brings the curtains down on another agonised chapter in the turbulent history of the India-Pakistan relationship. However, it also shows how far both countries have come considering the tensions that have been a constant feature of our times.
Pakistani politicians and their people have soberly reacted to Ajmal Kasab’s hanging, refusing to rise to the bait of triumphalism that was on ridiculous display in parts of India. The overwhelming reaction has been of inevitability accompanied by a certain inward searching as if to ask, where did we go wrong? When and how did we put guns in the hands of our boys? How long is this fragmentation of Pakistan going to continue? Certainly, it’s much too soon to say that the wind is turning in Pakistan, especially when the sectarian violence in the country seems to take new, ‘creative’ turns every day. But if the spirit of inquiry and questioning that marks the Pakistani media on issues within were to be extended to Indian concerns, we could be turning a new page in the bilateral relationship.
Certainly, there are straws in the wind: Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a Mumbai attack mastermind, has been arrested and after pushing his Cabinet to activate the travel agreement with India, President Asif Ali Zardari has recently been calling for intensifying the fight against terrorism and religious fundamentalism. With kilogrammes of explosive material meant for targeting Muharram processions being found all over the country, the question that remains is if anybody’s listening.
From some accounts, Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani is paying heed. Foreign diplomatic sources say that Kayani has begun to realise the impact of this “creeping ideology” and is concerned that it will infect his beloved army and divide up the nation. The question is if he, as well as the people of Pakistan, can come to terms with the fact that those who are challenging the Pakistani state — for example, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan — have the same roots as those who are challenging the Indian state, for example, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaatud Dawa.
With Kasab out of the way, the Pakistani establishment must move in the direction of investigating Lakhvi and his comrades for their role in the Mumbai attacks. If serious and credible action is taken against them, it makes it much easier for Delhi to return the compliment. From Siachen to trade, India would be ready to break bread on all the issues confronting the relationship.
Kasab’s death was a foregone conclusion but it nevertheless coats the Manmohan Singh government with a veneer of strength, especially if you remember that the three men charged with killing former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi are still alive on death row, even after 21 years. It defangs the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, at least, momentarily, and allows the Congress party to display a couple of muscles.
But if the ongoing parliament session is as stormy as the last one and little or no business is transacted once again, both parties will lose face. In the ensuing political chaos, strongmen politicians like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will gather steam, as will anarchists like Arvind Kejriwal. Certainly, Modi will use his success in the forthcoming election in Gujarat next month to position himself to move to the centre as a prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections.
In Pakistan, the forthcoming election season won’t be without its moments of anti-India bashing if Imran Khan’s comments that Sarabjit Singh should be hanged are any indication. That kind of demagoguery does no one any good, least of all an educated man like Mr Khan.
Kasab’s hanging is already yesterday’s news but it provides an opportunity for both nations to take a deep breath and ask themselves what they can do next — next year, as well as in the next decade — for both of their peoples.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2012.