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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 12, March 7, 2009

Wanted: A Measure of Statesmanship


Saturday 7 March 2009, by SC

As if the horrendous happenings in Dhaka barely a week ago (wherein the Bangladesh Rifles jawans killed at least 74 persons, including a large number of Army officers heading the BDR, even as the unofficial death toll far exceeds that figure) were not enough, Lahore has been witness to a new kind of terror-strike, the target this time being the game of cricket with the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team members miraculously escaping death since a grenade hurled at the bus they were travelling in did not explode (though a few cricketers did sustain injuries from gun-shots fired at them). And this occurred on March 3, just a day after the poll schedule for the general elections to the 15th Lok Sabha (the largest democratic exercise in the world) was announced in New Delhi.

This latest development in Pakistan, the first terror attack suffered by cricketers anywhere, has sent shock waves across the globe. While all political leaders in India expressed their sense of outrage at this dastardly assault on sportsmen in South Asia, Pakistan PM Yusuf Raza Gilani averred that it was a “conspiracy” to defame Pakistan, a contention backed by none else than former President Pervez Musharraf. Whereas some Pakistani Ministers referred to a “foreign hand” behind the incident without naming any country, the TV channels in our northwestern neighbour were not inhibited by any such diplo-matic constraint, and openly blamed the attack on India by suggesting that it was carried out by New Delhi’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analytical Wing (RAW), an allega-tion endorsed by some Pakistani officials as well as the former chief of Islamabad’s well-known secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), retired General Hamid Gul. Such accusations are, anyway, nothing surprising as similar statements blaming Pakistan and the ISI frequently come from the Indian authorities too in the event of terror attacks in this country; these are reflective of deep-rooted prejudices prevailing in both our countries against each other as well as the level of hostility between the two neighbouring states even if among the public in general the distrust is far less and there are visible signs of bonhomie as experienced by this writer during his not-so-infrequent trips to Pakistan.

However, by far the most significant statement following the Lahore attack on 3/3 came from the Governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer —maintaining that the mode of strike on the Sri Lankan cricket team near Lahore’s Ghaddafi Stadium was strikingly similar to what happened in Mumbai last November, he said: “It almost looked like an action replay (of Mumbai 11/26).” His views were echoed by the Punjab Police chief, Khaled Farooq—not only did he find resemblance in the two attacks, when asked to explain how the Lahore strike was no different from the one in Mumbai more than three months ago, he clarified: “That was a commando operation and this is also a commando operation.”

Such voices from across the border merit close consideration. Both the countries—India and Pakistan—are victims of terrorism. And the terrorists in question are the products of the same source. In such a situation it is pointless to indulge in apportioning blame. When a TV anchorperson in one of our channels haughtily asked a senior Pakistani official as to why Pakistan was shy in owning up responsibility for having nurtured such elements who have in due course turned out to be a veritable Frankenstein, the concerned gentleman quietly replied: “Isn’t the entire ‘free world’ responsible for this phenomenon? After all, didn’t the Americans and Europeans foster the same elements to the best of their ability while trying to dislodge the Soviets from Afghanistan?” This kind of frankness one seldom comes across these days in the corridors of power in South Block, so beholden our rulers are to the Western powers for all that they are doing to promote ‘our cause’!

Pakistan is on the edge of a precipice. The events within the country are a matter of deep concern for all of us. Terrorist strikes continue unabated—and let there be no mistake: Pakistani lives lost in the terror attacks outnumber those of Indians who have suffered the same fate—as the political leaders increasingly expose their disunity and ineptness in handling the domestic problems making it an ideal situation for a fresh military takeover ousting the elected civilian government (despite vociferous denial from the Army HQ in Rawalpindi of any such move, the danger of an Army coup has never been so potent in recent months).

This is the time when instead of gloating over the difficulties faced by Islamabad New Delhi must extend its hand of cooperation in order to lessen those difficulties to the extent possible rather than compounding them. After all, if a real explosion takes place in our neighbouring state can we remain immune from its after-effects? If nuclear weapons fall into the hands of extremist non-state actors like the Taliban or Al-Qaeda (no longer a figment of fertile imagination) that would cause havoc in the entire region—hence the need to cooperate with the Pakistani authorities to stabilise the country and preclude any such eventuality. (One is well aware of the compulsions of electoral politics now that the EC has announced the poll schedule and the Lok Sabha elections are imminent. And yet overcoming all such compulsions we need to adopt a farsighted approach for our own benefit.)

That is why joint efforts by both the countries to fight the terrorist menace that has already assumed massive and seemingly unmanageable proportions do not brook the slightest delay. The present-day leaders in New Delhi, egged on by bureaucrats and diplomats who cannot see anything beyond their nose, have time and again demonstrated their immaturity thereby proving that they are in effect pygmies in contrast to the stalwarts of yester-years. But can they not for once display a measure of statesmanship in the interest of peace, harmony and democracy in our neighbourhood as also the well-being of our peoples constituting the bulk of the South Asian populace?

March 5 S.C.

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