Beyond Mumbai 11/26

A group of responsible Indian citizens consisting of distinguished individuals like the well known Right to Information activist Aruna Roy, anti-communal activist Teesta Setalvad, former Prime Minister IK Gujral, writer-activist Rajmohan Gandhi and others has issued a statement affirming solidarity with the people of Pakistan (Dawn, April 29,2009).  Ever since the presentation of the Obama administration’s new strategy for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Pakistan has been the focus of US and international attention.  The mainstream US press is awash in hysterical statements of perceived threat to US national security from the situation in Pakistan.  Pakistan‘s military, intelligence and political elites are grappling with the tensions generated by renewed US pressure to break (yet again) with the country’s pro-Taliban policies and give battle to the advancing Islamic extremists.  Trapped in the social and political space defined by these contending forces, the rest of Pakistan struggles to survive or maintain a semblance of normalcy.  State agencies have been overwhelmed by a massive influx of refugees from the areas targeted by US Predator drone attacks.  A fear psychosis is said to have gripped the capital, Islamabad, as its inhabitants anticipate the military’s surrender to turbaned Taliban fighters who have occupied town after town in the northwest districts of Swat and Buner — as close as 60 miles from the city (Washington Post, April 27, 2009).  Issued against this background of turmoil in Pakistan, the Indian statement says that Indians must express total and unqualified support to all Pakistanis striving to preserve normal life in their country. 

The Indian statement of support for the people of Pakistan comes at a time when peace talks between the two governments have been suspended, and the bilateral ties appear to have been placed on hold indefinitely.  In the weeks immediately following the Nov 26-29, 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed the lives of more than 170 people, war clouds gathered and anti-Pakistan feeling, fanned by belligerent commentary in the electronic media, soared to hysteric levels on the Indian side.  In response the sympathy that was initially expressed by the Pakistani media gave way to defensiveness and denial that Pakistan-based outfits were responsible for the massacre. Subsequently both countries stepped back from the brink.  In January India submitted a detailed dossier on the involvement of Pakistani nationals in the Mumbai attacks.  Pakistan responded by posing a set of 30 questions to which India sent a reply in March.  Pakistan has nevertheless continued to request further information on the details of the 11/26 attacks and India has accused its neighbor of stonewalling.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted that Pakistan had been given sufficient information and that it was up to its enforcement agencies to take action.  By mid-April or so inter-governmental relations had reached a stalemate. 

Away from the media glare however a more promising interchange was taking place. Early in January 2009 prominent Pakistani human rights activists, women’s rights activists, teachers, labor leaders and journalists issued a statement condemning the Mumbai attacks, calling on their government to come out of denial, and advocating Pakistan-India cooperation based on the shared need to overcome the menace of terrorism (Hindu, January 5, 2009).  A group of Indian and Pakistani intellectuals came forward with a statement urging their governments not to allow the current stand off to affect people-to-people relations between the two countries (Hindu, January 9, 2009).  The same month a Pakistani delegation headed by noted civil rights lawyer Asma Jahangir visited India to explore the possibility of cooperating with Indian civil society in the struggle against war and terrorism.  An Indian delegation led by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar reciprocated by visiting Lahore and Islamabad in February and, touched  by the goodwill and hospitality it received across the border, returned with a renewed desire for peace between the two countries (Hindu, February 28, 2009).

In a recent essay (Frontline, March 14, 2009), Pervez Hoodbhoy, nuclear scientist and activist, has presented an optimistic vision that he explicitly recognizes as being merely a hypothesis:

Ultimately it will not matter whether we are Pakistanis, Indians, Kashmiris or whatever.  Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate people will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religion and nationalism.

In a similar vein Tariq Ali, historian and revolutionary activist, has seen a rapprochement between India and Pakistan and the creation of a South Asian Union (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal) as being in the long-term interests of the region as a whole (The Duel).  Can this imagined South Asia ever move beyond the realm of fantasy?  The obstacles to its realization are evident.  Still work must continue on the foundation that already exists for a new edifice.  The achievements to date of the people to people contacts that have been initiated by the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD), allied groups and individuals must be recognized, continued and expanded. 

Indian and Pakistani activists have shown the way.  Their governments must follow the example set by sane and responsible forces in their respective countries.  As a step toward resolving regional tensions, the relevant interlocutors should resume the back-channel or non-paper negotiations which have been described by the investigative reporter Steve Coll in a recent article in the New Yorker (March 2, 2009).  These secretive talks were initiated in the Nawaz Sharif years and reached an advanced stage by early 2007.  The talks stalled subsequently due to Musharraf’s political decline and then because of the Mumbai attacks.  India has insisted on suspending all talks until Pakistan takes steps to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre to justice.  In response, Pakistan‘s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has called on India to address its concerns by following the path of cooperation rather than accusation (Hindu, April 13, 2009).  The immediate challenge that lies ahead for India-Pakistan relations is finding a way of overcoming the current impasse and returning to the non-paper negotiations about which Kurshid Kasuri, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, said the following:  Even if it became necessary to hold off for months or years so much work had been done that it would not be lost.





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