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July 21, 2001
The Lessons of Agra
There are five lessons to be drawn from the Agra summit:
1. Keep the Press away. Sensitive summits, like those held at Camp David between the Israelis and Palestinians, are off bound to the Press, except for a few photo ops and restricted briefings by official spokesman. The hype from the Indian press and the television channels did quite a lot of damage to the summit.
How many times did we hear about Pervez Musharraf's 'body language' and how many so-called 'experts' do you need to dissect whether he was smiling or not during his visit to the Taj Mahal? The Pakistanis, who are much better than Indians at public relations, used the Indian press to the hilt. Musharraf's conference was broadcast live on PTV for the benefit of the Pakistani audience. In this way Musharraf increased his legitimacy in Pakistan, where he is not an elected leader.
2. Prithviraj Chauhan is not dead. In 1191, Prithviraj spared Muhammad of Ghor's life, in the hope that the invader would see the light. But when Ghor defeated Prithviraj, he made no such mistake and had him executed. Today, the story is not much different. India still shows goodwill and generosity towards Pakistan -- and often gets stabbed in the back.
Whether in 1965 when Lal Bahadur Shastri surrendered the Haji Pir and Tithwa posts in exchange for a Pakistani pledge that it would never resort to arms against India; or at the Simla summit when Indira Gandhi gave away 93.000 Pakistani soldiers, an immense bargaining chip, and got nothing in return; or recently in Lahore, when Pakistan used Vajpayee's benevolence to sneak soldiers into Kargil.
This time again, the Indian government, the media and the public gave the Pakistani president and his entourage a fantastic welcome. Nothing was too good for him, there was no trace of resentment, bitterness or animosity in the attitude of his hosts. His wife was treated like a queen and feted everywhere, Pakistani journalists were made to feel like brothers by their Indian counterparts and invited at every television show to air their views.
On top of that, the summit was held at Agra, a symbol of Mughal domination of Hindu India, with the Taj Mahal as a background. It may be the seventh marvel of the world, but it was built by a man of infinite cruelty not only towards Hindus, but even towards his own family. Shah Jahan had his brother Shahryar blinded, two of his sons executed and Prince Lodi cut into small pieces …
Pakistani journalists treated India as if they were on conquered territory, heckling external affairs ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao after her midnight briefing at the end of the summit on Monday. Musharraf betrayed India's trust by springing a trap upon them at his press conference, something that must have been pre-planned. At the same time, maybe Prithviraj is dead after all. For the first time an Indian government stood firm and did not succumb to Pakistani blackmail, as Nehru, Shastri, and Indira Gandhi had done before. The Pakistanis had to go home empty handed.
3. Pakistanis should understand they are not the rulers any more. For more than 600 years, Muslim invaders ruled India at will and except for a Prithviraj or a Shivaji or a Guru Gobind Singh, Hindus took it lying down, retreating in the silence of their homes, or in some far-off Himalayan cave to keep their spirituality alive. It is because of that Hindu passivity that a handful of Muslims conquerors could hold such a vast nation at ransom for so long.
Today, whatever her problems, India is an emerging giant in Asia, with a respectable economic growth and 850 millions Hindus, who for the first time in their modern history are beginning to experience a tinge of nationalist pride.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is a tiny state, on the verge of bankruptcy, which lost the four wars (if one includes Kargil) it initiated against India. Islamabad is today threatening nuclear blackmail by saying, 'If Kashmir is not solved (to their advantage, of course), we might fight a nuclear war against India.' This is a terrible scenario which frightens us. But even if Pakistan manages to land one bomb on Delhi, it will be wiped out in the process. There will not be anything left worth the name, whereas, India because of its large size and manpower, will survive, as it survived for hundreds of years under Muslim rule.
When in 1399 Taimurlane killed 100,000 Hindus in one day, the psychological and physical impact it must have had on the families affected cannot be much worse than the impact of a single nuclear bomb. Finally, are Musharraf and the Pakistanis, who are hostile to India today, the descendants of Taimurlane or Aurangzeb or Ghor? Not at all. Most of them are the offspring of Hindus converted by force by Muslims; they are the ones who suffered the most at the hands of the soldiers of Allah. Why do they adopt a tone even more strident than the Mughals ?
4. Kashmir is the consequence, not the core issue. Pakistan wrecked this summit by insisting that Kashmir is the only issue. There are several flaws in this approach. Firstly, Kashmir, apart from being a symbol for Pakistan, does not have much value for them, apart from its tourist potential. True, Pakistan feels that in the logic of Partition, at least the Kashmir Valley should have come to it. They have a point, because having a Hindu maharaja did not necessarily mean the Valley should have come to India.
What neither Pakistan nor India realize is that Kashmir, like Ayodhya, Kargil, or the three Indo- Pak wars, is only the consequence of the madness of Partition, which was willed and forced upon the sub-continent by the British.
Remove Partition, and automatically all the problems will gradually get solved. The world is moving towards reunion. The two Germanys have reunited, so have the two Vietnams; tomorrow the two Koreas will do so, in spite of the intense hatred between them. Why not Pakistan and India, who share everything, except religion?
A Pakistani Punjabi does not look different from an Indian Punjabi; in Agra, one could not differentiate sometimes between a Pakistani journalist and an Indian one. India and Pakistan have got to start taking the first steps in that direction. Agra was such a small step; but first the two leaders have to start accepting this possibility in their own minds, before selling it to their people.
It is essential for peace in Asia and in the world, as Sri Aurobindo said 54 years ago: 'The whole communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that the Nation will not accept the settled fact as forever settled. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled; civil strife may remain always possible, possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. The partition of the country must go…'
5. Finally, President Musharraf would be a good man to do business with. During his three days in India, he came across as an articulate person. He was at ease, warm sometimes, and in his own way must be a man of his word, a soldier's word. His interaction with Indian journalists in Agra was masterly; he did not get flustered at the aggressive questions posed by some editors.
It would be History's way of being ironic if a dictator and a man regarded by the Western press as the head of a 'Hindu fundamentalist party' made History by initiating the indispensable confederation of the two lost brothers of South Asia.
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