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|January 23, 2002||
T V R Shenoy
The limitations of a General
'It is better to keep your mouth shut and be taken for a fool,' said Mark Twain, 'rather than open it - and remove all doubt!' American authors are probably anathema to our home-grown Communists, but there is much they could learn from Twain's pithy admonition.
On January 12, 2002, most Indian organisations adopted a wait-n-watch policy when asked to react to General Musharraf's speech. Neither the Government of India nor the Congress (I), the chief Opposition party, commented immediately. When they did, the official spokesmen were abundantly cautious. The exception was the CPI (M)...
General-Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet wondered aloud whether it was truly necessary for the Government of India to send off all-party delegations to various capitals after the Pakistani dictator's address. Apparently the veteran Marxist thought that the atmosphere had changed overnight thanks to a few, not so conciliatory, words. How ironic then that the next stage of the war has begun with an attack on the American consulate in Kolkata, that bastion of the Left Front.
One cannot blame the incumbent chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, beyond a point. He has, in the past, been willing to tell the truth, as for instance when he admitted that there had been an alarming upsurge in illegal migration into his state. He also broke ranks with his blinkered comrades on the need for POTO in one form or another. And surely a quarter of a century of avoiding the facts cannot be undone in less than a year.
I am sorry to note that Comrade Surjeet is probably more representative of Leftist policy than Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. He is also more in keeping with Communist tradition. This is, let us not forget, the party which denounced India's independence as a sham in 1947. And has the CPI (M) ever acknowledged that Chinese troops invaded India in 1962?
Happily for India, Comrade Surjeet and his fellows are not in power in Delhi, nor, given their shrinking base are they ever likely to do so. (They won't even be the chief Opposition party!) I would be far more worried given signs of wavering in the Bharatiya Janata Party or of the Congress (I) falling into its old bad habits. (Talking about the Simla Agreement -- that monument to Indian naivete -- as the foundation of relations with Pakistan is foolish. Islamabad has repeatedly announced its disrespect for what was nothing more than a successful attempt to win some breathing space.)
Above all, I hope that the Indian authorities are not persuaded to withdraw troops from the border, nor to ease the pressure on Pakistan to reform. If the Pakistani authorities are concerned about the economic costs of such a stand-off, well, then there is a very simple solution: let them act in a way that will assure India of their good faith.
The action taken up to now has been, from an Indian perspective, singularly unimpressive. It is not enough to put a few hundred militants under what amounts to glorified house-arrest. (And I note that the puppet government in Occupied Kashmir has already pleaded with General Musharraf that there should be no action taken against some outfits!)
So, what is the minimum action that Islamabad can take? Well, I have my own opinions on that, but here is what I gleaned from informal conversations in Delhi: hand over Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, and a few other Indian criminals hiding in Pakistan.
Realistically, I do not think there is a hope of the Pakistani authorities sending Pakistani citizens to face the music in India. (Although given the snail's pace at which the system works, they are probably in greater danger of dying by boredom than through the hangman's noose.) But India would love to know why the likes of Dawood Ibrahim continue to be given sanctuary.
The Pakistani government tried to pull off another public-relations coup when it said it would send Delhi a list of Pakistani criminals supposedly living in India. To this, the official Indian response was that India would be only too glad to cooperate. There has been no further movement on that score. Instead, Pakistan now claims that the men wanted by India cannot be traced!
I do hope that the rest of the world is listening. A constant refrain over the past weeks has been that Indian forces should pull back from the frontier because if they don't Pakistan will be made to use soldiers currently guarding the Afghan border. But here is the Pakistan government admitting that it cannot trace people living in its cities. What, then, shall it do on the maze of roads going in and out of Afghanistan? Islamabad may as well withdraw its soldiers from the western frontier for all the good that they are doing there.
To be fair, it is my personal belief that General Musharraf would be happy to see the Dawood Ibrahims and the Chhota Shakeels depart. But it is open to question if he can force them to do so. As he admitted in that same January 12 speech, the authority of the Pakistani state has ceased to operate in parts of the country.
General Musharraf has spoken of "confidence building measures"; this is an opportunity to prove his sincerity. If not, I am afraid the tension in South Asia shall not come to an end in the near future. Not all Indians, general, are taken in as easily as Comrade Harkishen Singh Surjeet. And those who swallow these empty promises are in for a rude awakening...
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