Three bomb blasts took place in Mumbai on July 13, killing 21, but so far the India-Pakistan equation has not derailed. The recent trend of improving relations was positive for a change, and so it was feared that someone might try to ruin it by striking again in Mumbai. (We know that the last Mumbai attack was carried out to bring the two states to ‘border alert’, with the possibility of war.) This time, the post-attack symptoms are different. There was no media war as in 2008 — definitely not the finest hour of TV channels on both sides. The Indian official reaction was restrained and ‘suspected parties’ were not seen as coming from Pakistan. In India, once you locate the terrorists on Indian soil, the next thought is that RSJ/WIP/BJP extremism in Gujarat and elsewhere in India has finally caused many Indian muslims to redicalise.
Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, anything but soft-spoken in the post-Mumbai period of 2008, has this time refused to bite the bait such as the one thrown by a New York Times story that the Pakistani military establishment was keeping in reserve an army of trained Kashmiri militants numbering 14,000 to be unleashed on India at a future date. His reaction was that it was “highly exaggerated”. Furthermore, one will have to say that he has been statesman-like in ignoring some of the assessments made by RAW that are even more lurid.
From the Pakistani side, an interesting ‘first’ was achieved this month when Prime Minister Gilani went to Mingora, Swat, together with army chief General Kayani, and pledged that his government would seek normalisation of relations with India. Everyone knows what was meant when the Indian prime minister said he hoped that Pakistan had forgotten about Kashmir. But Mr Gilani was undaunted. Before the Mingora overture, the chief of the ISPR had already signalled in his statement that the army would not mind if Pakistan pursued cooperation and trade with India, clearly hinting that the ‘conditionality’ of Kashmir was no longer so important.
The Mingora statement has been well-received in India. Mr Gilani said: “Pakistan views India as its most important neighbour and desires a sustained, substantive and result-oriented process of dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. We sincerely hope that the ongoing process of comprehensive engagement will be fruitful. However, India will have to play a more positive and accommodating role and respond to Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns”. Although, on the face of it, he yielded no new ground that would offend the serried ranks of anti-India lobbies in Pakistan, India has decided to glean positive meanings out of it.
The Indian position has been that it doesn’t want a seriously destabilised Pakistan on its western border. Pakistan has never recognised this, focusing instead on India’s acquisition of new weapon systems which it then assumes would be used offensively against Pakistan. Yet the fact is that the state that builds a ‘separating wall’ doesn’t want its neighbour undone, it wants to secure itself against the consequences of a disturbed population across the border, the kind Pakistan has had to suffer after the scattering of the Afghan population across the Durand Line. Additionally, the Manmohan doctrine — if one can call it that — holds that a pacified Pakistan next door is essential to India’s rise in the region as an economic power.
In Pakistan, economists have read the signals right but textbook nationalists have not. To fight the elements threatening its internal security, Pakistan needs to unplug from its hostile posture towards India, giving rise to ridiculous US-India-Israel conspiracy theories. It has to change its posture towards Afghanistan too, relying on a regional consensus after discussions with Iran and India by the end of the year. The Mumbai bombings will be investigated in the fullness of time and one should wish that no unsavoury revelations are made of the 2008 variety. This time, the peace process should win against the drums of war.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2011.
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