Can the terrorists halt India's
peace deal with Pakistan?
Associate since 1991
Comments directly to
May 5, 2010
Indians are inured to violence and death. Yes and no. Over the years as far back into history as one can go there have been famines, wars, ethnic killings and plagues. At the time of independence there was the division of the country into two as Pakistan, a Muslim state, was created. The breakup of India led to massive pogroms.
In recent years in India there have been a regular if intermittent Muslim-Hindu clashes, some resulting in the deaths of hundreds or more. There was the murder of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards who were persuaded to commit their dastardly act by the militant movement fighting for a separate Sikh state. People who know India and have watched India and Pakistan go to war three times and be on the verge of a nuclear war in 1999 say that if the nationalist drum roll reached a certain crescendo public opinion would welcome an Indian nuclear attack on Pakistan, totally careless of the consequences. Today also there is the insurgency of the Maoists in eastern India, fuelled by the deep poverty of India's tribal peoples who rarely live beyond the age of forty.
Yet there is a strong other side of India. There is the Gandhian tradition of non-violence and the value of the worth of the individual which suits the world's largest democracy well. There is the continuing success of democracy, a functioning if very slow legal system and a free press that are much more than just a safety valve for anti-government anger. They are sophisticated instruments for the pacific settlement of disputes and resentments. There is the influence of the fast growing middle class which is educated enough to understand the futility of violence and has too much to lose if it gets out of control.
It is the interaction between these two currents that is determining the direction of India's most important foreign policy concern - its hostile relationship with Pakistan.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has always wanted to strike a peace deal with Pakistan that would end the chance of war over the disputed province of Kashmir which straddles the two countries.
The opponents of such a deal on the Pakistani side, a powerful minority that give their support to militant Islamic organisations, know that however much Indians tolerate and live with violence even a pin prick from the other side of the Pakistani border will rouse the wrath of the average Indian, educated or not.
The attack on the Taj Mahal hotel and other targets in Mumbai two years ago that killed 173 people stalled India's new effort to negotiate. Public opinion was exceedingly angry and Singh felt he had no choice but to step back.
But after two years of calm Singh has been prepared to try again. Indeed, he has almost gone overboard to be conciliatory, accepting that India needs to accept Pakistan's demand to talk as well about the alleged Indian support for the independence movement in Pakistan's remote Baluchistan province and putting on one side the former Indian demand that before negotiations Pakistan either prosecute or extradite the masterminds in the militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, behind the Mumbai attack.
Inevitably, as the diplomacy gathers speed, the militant movements in Pakistan step up their own plans to sabotage any deal. On Saturday the centre of Delhi was put on a government alert. The US embassy issued a warning of an 'imminent' attack in a number of inner city locations including Connaught Place at the heart of Delhi which includes three crowded metro stations.
I walked around Connaught Place. Police were everywhere in large numbers. Soldiers patrolled on every corner. But the markets were bustling and overcrowded in their usual Saturday way. Thousands of people were pouring in and out of Rajiv Chowck metro station, a major interchange. This was the insouciant side of India - a people who have grown up, if not accepting death, at least if it came, taking it more in their stride than westerners would. Any western city would have shut down these three stations.
But one knows too that if the bombers struck whatever the degree of fatalism there would be alongside outraged anger. The government would be frozen in its tracks.
The trouble with Singh's previous prevarications is that the terrorist tail in Pakistan knows it can wag the Indian dog. The terrorists can control the pace, switching off the dialogue whenever they want.
A deal is 98% negotiated. That has been true since the deposed military president, Pervez Musharraf, pushed negotiations almost to the point of conclusion in the early days of the Singh premiership, with Pakistan making most of the compromises. Singh let the opportunity drop through his fingers succumbing to pressure from the army and the foreign policy establishment.
When I told Musharraf that Singh had told me that he could not negotiate whilst terrorist acts continued Musharraf replied that this was putting the cart before the horse. Only once there was peace would the terrorists lose their support. To allow them to set the agenda meant there would never be peace.
If Singh wants peace with Pakistan he has to lead not to follow public opinion. He seems to be doing that now. But no outrage must break his stride.
Copyright © 2010 Jonathan
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