Abu Jundal vs the people of India-Pakistan

If the Pakistani political class wants to engage with their counterparts in India, what could be better?

Jyoti Malhotra July 19, 2012

First, the story so far. Abu Jundal, alias Zabiuddin Ansari the Indian, alias Riyasat Ali the Pakistani, is packed off on a Saudi air flight to Delhi earlier this month, where he is picked up by the Delhi police. He has since been singing like a canary and believed to have told his interrogators that men like Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi were among those who masterminded the horrifying attacks in Mumbai in November, 2008.

India’s home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, and Pakistan’s adviser to the prime minister on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, break out into a full-scale war of words, with the media on both sides becoming their willing instruments in belief. Malik has now resorted to Twitter, probably in an attempt to directly communicate with the masses.

Meanwhile, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, Ranjan Mathai and Jalil Abbas Jilani, met in Delhi for the first time since each of them took over their respective assignments. Jilani knows Delhi well. He was the charge d’affaires there in 2003 — because Pakistan’s high commissioner at the time was expelled after the 2001 attacks on the Indian parliament — when he was asked to leave, ostensibly because he and/or his mission were allegedly paying off an Indian spy. The case against Jilani remains alive at the Chankyapuri police station in the Indian capital, which the Pakistani diplomat has visited often since 2003 but will come for the first time as foreign secretary.

Just as the Abu Jundal can was spilling out like a case of terribly bad worms, Pakistan released, unsung, 314 Indian fishermen who had found themselves on the other side of the shifting maritime border, along with the hapless Surjeet Singh, who served time in a Pakistani jail for 34 years. The establishment in Islamabad hoped that the gesture would prepare the ground for Jilani’s visit — that is, until Abu Jundal took over the airwaves.

Thing about the India-Pakistan universe in India is that it is divided into two black and white parts: those who sniff at the ‘guftagu-band-na-ho-baat-se-baat-chale’ stream of thought and those who believe that India should hold no talks with Pakistan until terrorism stops. You could call it the ‘Abu Jundal vs Surjeet and the fishermen’ school of thought. In Pakistan, meanwhile, a terrible fatigue seems to be taking over with Indians often accused of not being understanding enough towards the terrible challenges that ordinary people face in Pakistan.

But between the candle-lighting brigade at Wagah — itself a soppy, sentimental gesture that smacks of the incredible courage of the innocents — and those in favour of the tough guy approach, lies a middle path that both President Asif Ali Zardari and National Security Adviser and former high commissioner to Pakistan Shivshankar Menon seem to favour.

Menon brings an enormous influence to bear on India’s foreign policy. Naturally, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh depends heavily on him. For some time now, Menon has advocated a pragmatic approach that believes India should engage with several constituencies in Pakistan at the same time, in accordance with the character of that constituency. So, if the business communities in Karachi and Lahore believe that trade barriers must come down and that the ‘sabse-bara-rupaiya’ theme — as eloquently articulated by Karachi-based businessman Majyd Aziz — will move India-Pakistan relations forward, then so be it. If artists, Bollywood-wannabes and students want to explore the limits of their creativity on the other side, that’s great. If the Pakistani political class wants to engage with their counterparts in India, what could be better?

As for the Pakistan Army, whose relationship with the Pakistani political class is itself undergoing an incredible transformation, the proof of the pudding can only be in the eating. The public ranting against the Pakistan establishment — save for a few diehard Indian television channels — will stop, but trust and verification will go hand-in-hand.

There’s the other message from Delhi: credible action against the Mumbai accused will allow India to open its doors to Pakistan in ways both countries could never imagine. Will Pakistan seize the bait? Can President Zardari accept India’s conditional offer to reform the canvas at home, especially in these embattled times? The people of India-Pakistan wait patiently.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2012.

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