September 25, 2001


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Kuldip Nayar

The disease is mistrust

Every time India and Pakistan face a problem, they tend to look towards America as if its nod is all that matters. This has been particularly so after the end of the Cold War. The approach is demeaning and smacks of servility. Yet for illusory gains, the two countries try to catch Washington's eye.

The carnage in the US was an opportunity for both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf to have discussed common dangers. They should have been on the hotline. The theatre of war is going to be this part of the world and we, the two countries, will be hit directly, without knowing for how long and to what extent. But the reaction of both has, however, been otherwise.

New Delhi and Islamabad have been vying with each other in offering assistance to Washington. The manner in which Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has been going about the task -- a foreign television network even cut him short in his entreaties to support the US -- gives the impression as if New Delhi felt that it had been left out. Jaswant Singh is still at it, persuading the US to use India.

Yet initially, India did not figure among the countries President Bush feelingly mentioned for their prompt and generous assistance. It was obvious that Washington did not want to give India precedence over Pakistan or say something which would make Islamabad feel that it came next to New Delhi.

Of course, Washington's main consideration to get Pakistan on its side was the location of the country, a state bordering Afghanistan for miles. The American administration has always felt happier with military dictatorships than democracies which have to think about people's sentiments and parliament's endorsements. Since Pakistan took time to throw its weight behind America, US Secretary of State Colin Powell was late in attending to Jaswant Singh's injured feelings that America was not asking India for any assistance.

Islamabad's response has been on expected lines. It has taken no time in siding with Washington but has staged a drama for the public of being on the horns of a dilemma. Whether it has brought in Kashmir or not hardly matters. The problem is terrorism, not any territorial discussion. If Kashmir has any relevance at all, it is on the basis that terrorism in the state is financed, sustained and exported by Pakistan. Musharraf should have known by this time that the solution of Kashmir has to be found by the two countries, not a third party. From Tashkent to Lahore, all declarations and agreements speak about the principle of bilateralism and even the international community has accepted it.

In any case, the war declared against terrorism is not on the basis of principles. Had it been so, Washington would have helped New Delhi long ago when it had provided it with the documentary evidence to prove that terrorists were trained, armed and sheltered by Pakistan. America woke up only when the fire of terrorism began to engulf it.

Not long ago, India, Russia and America had announced their resolve to combat terrorism jointly. Washington established an FBI office in New Delhi. But all that was a mere exercise. Washington did not show any real interest. Several US think tanks, conscious of India's travails, also gave perfunctory sympathy. Now all of them are vociferous against terrorism. But they still do not point their finger at Musharraf who has given the name of jihad to terrorism.

As in the past, Islamabad has come to believe that the war against terrorism has given it a chance to extract the maximum military and economic assistance from America. General Zia-ul Haq did the same thing during the Soviet Union's attack on Afghanistan. India knows it too well how those arms reached the hands of jihadis and others who are still using them in their killings in Kashmir. America should realise that terrorism will continue to thrive if politics is the criterion to select the enemy.

It has taken several years but many in Pakistan have begun to realise how terrorists, primarily fundamentalists, have contaminated their society. And they feel that Pakistan has been playing with fire. But the people across the border are still not exposed to the democratic and secular India. The information reaching them is scanty and slanted. Some Pakistan journalists have gone back from Agra with a new image of India. Indian journalists themselves were surprised to find their counterparts from Pakistan so different from the stereotyped impression they had.

Such contacts, such efforts to know one another had to establish a rapport despite the differences between the two governments is all what the lighting of candles at the Wagah border on the night of August 14-15 is about. It is a tender message of peace in the jingoistic atmosphere. The establishments on both sides, including the governments, have stonewalled the relationship. It is only the people-to-people contact that will break the crust of suspicion and lessen the cliché-ridden image of one another.

A substantial part of the intelligentsia in India is against any joint Indo-Pak gathering or gestures like lighting candles at the Wagah border because it sees no difference between the government and the people. Officials have only strengthened the impression. A slow change is taking place in Pakistan but very slow. Still it is for the intelligentsia, which forms public opinion, to decide whether to tar people in Pakistan and the government with the same brush or do something to retrieve them. They do not have even an elected set-up.

We should not forget that a long, protracted anti-Pakistan feeling changes into anti-Muslim feelings. This not only puts our society under strain, but poses a challenge to our secular polity, which is still not strong enough to resist all the buffets of communalism. Certain parties and individuals want a Hindu rashtra. Hating Muslims as well as Pakistan is part of their agenda. But that was not the ethos of our national struggle in which people from all religions participated. Nor does it represent our composite culture.

After Partition, Mahatma Gandhi went on fast to make New Delhi pay some Rs 60 crore to Pakistan -- its share from the division of assets. The war in Kashmir was raging at that time and Sardar Patel, then home minister, was deadly opposed to giving the money. But the Mahatma stood by his conviction that Independent India would not violate its moral obligation or the solemn promise given, whatever the price. The money was paid. Of course, this is related to values and norms, which are beyond the comprehension of people dripping with hatred and parochialism.

Pakistan is going to be an intransigent neighbour for a long time to come. India has to learn how to live with such a country. Kashmir is only a symptom, not the disease. The disease is mistrust. This has to be dispelled. Events have meandered to a situation where, even if there is a conflict, there is no settlement; even if no hostility, no harmony and even if there is no war, there is no peace. We have to go beyond this. The lighting of candles may not shatter the darkness but the message of peace never goes to waste. In the land of Gandhi, we should never lose sight of this basic truth.

Kuldip Nayar

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