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.


Manoj Joshi | 10 years ago | Reply Indo-Pak relations if perceived from a point of view that is unbiased and purely objective without any subjective strings attached to it with regard to the present context are in a difficult situation. Perceiving the bilateral relationship between the two neighbours as not very cordial may not be the appropriate view or perception about the issue nevertheless the pace of progress has slowed down with regard to bilateral relationship. Although, the level of trust and amity when compared to the past has improved between the two neighbours which is no doubt an achievement in itself however, the route towards cordial and a very close friendship is still long enough to be covered. In general, the Indian perception about the Federal Government of Pakistan has been and continues to be distrustful and antipathic and the present too is perceived by the majority of Indians with the same eye of scepticism and antagonism. Statements like teaching the Islamic neighbour a lesson or declaring a full blown war against Pakistan are commonly heard. There will be similar reactions within Pakistan with regard to India as the antipathy and distrust still persists in the minds of the citizens of that country as much as it persists within India. Speaking about the Indian External Affairs minister's statement that Pakistan must cooperate with India on the 26/11 issue and a silence from the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan emits certain distinct and blurred signals. The release of Surjeet Singh has been a positive gesture shown by Pakistan but, on the subject of terrorism there is an apparent weakness that is evident in the case of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan which they are trying to conceal from not just India but from the entire world and this not with any wrong or malafide intention but, a face saving act that probably any nation in there place would have tried to do so. The Government of Pakistan although elected by popular mandate does not have the required hold over the the army; which is the most powerful institution in Pakistan; wherein they can issue directions to the institution to take stern measures against terrorist organisations. At this point technically speaking, the Government of Pakistan can be squarely blamed for their failure to check terrorism and their inability to cooperate upto the desired levels with India on the 26/11 issue, however their compulsions and constraints in which they are working needing to be given to thought to and understood in the desired perspective. Certainly Pakistan and their government cannot and should not be given any clean on the issue of terrorism and 26/11 nevertheless the Government of India needs to act with a great deal of caution, exercise the desired diplomatic maturity as far as the issue of Pakistan is concerned. There are considerable constraints under which the Federal Government of Pakistan is probably functioning that need to be understood in this context. The citizens of India too, must analyse and share their opinions on the issue of Indo-Pak relations with reasoning and without any bias. This is difficult and not very palatable but the only way.
Winky | 10 years ago | Reply @Nand: I have already placed orders for a variety of sweets in advance from the local halwai for next year. Will be time to distribute mithais soon.
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