India is in the throes of a debate over the nature of the ‘civil society” that should head the campaign to eliminate corruption in the country, with one self-described Gandhian in white and another man in saffron leading the fray, while the Congress-led government pulls from a second side and right-wing Hindu fundamentalist forces tug from a third.
By now, each of the parties have abused each other with some impunity. And now, in the middle of this sound and fury, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is expected to soon travel to Pakistan to keep alive the conversation between the two countries that began again in Thimphu last year.
The trouble with the India-Pakistan dialogue is that it is tuned to the smallest shift in political perception, and has not been able to insulate itself from the roller-coaster ride that the subcontinent occasionally takes.
With the Mumbai attacks, the relationship understandably nose-dived and the dialogue went into cold storage. At Mohali, the talks between the two prime ministers competed with the cricket for attention. And when Tahawwur Rana confessed in a Chicago court recently that he had more or less taken orders from the ISI in reconnoitering the destruction of Mumbai, it seemed as if India’s worst nightmare had come true.
Except, the question remains, what do Delhi and Islamabad now do about it. Is it enough for Islamabad to say that the wheels of justice grind slowly and, therefore, like Lady Macbeth, wash its hands off the whole affair? Should Delhi press the point that Islamabad is both guilty and culpable and therefore it is up to Pakistan to address the trust deficit?
There’s enough criticism of the Pakistani establishment at the hands of its own media — and indeed, its civil society — for the Indian visitors to add more. But Delhi could look ahead and offer several initiatives that take away the sting of ‘I told you so’: Such as regular conversations between politically-elected representatives on both sides, both sub-regional as well as national, as well as between the intelligence agencies and even between senior army officials.
I know the well-worn adage, that Pakistan is governed by the three As : Army, Allah and America, although the latter increasingly looks like its wearing thin, and so the Army must, somehow, be at the centre of any bilateral dialogue if anything substantive has to come out of it.
But what about when things are falling apart? In my mind, there’s nothing like an elected member of parliament telling his/her counterpart the bald truth, including how in parts of India — for example in the southern states — the whole Pakistan story, except for the terrorism question, holds little resonance.
The whole point of a political conversation is that it is a great leveller. For India and Pakistan to have a more normal relationship, an ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue’ is also necessary to take the sting of presumed uniqueness out of it.
Only civil societies can do that, of course. Perhaps now may be a good time to debate whether my civil society is better than yours.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ