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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 34, August 8, 2009

Manmohan Singh breaks New Path in Indo-Pak Relations

Sunday 16 August 2009, by Sandeep Pandey

This article is based on the author’s weeklong trip to and discussions in Pakistan last month. It is being published as a point of view.

The worst fears of some of us have now been confirmed. Pakistani society, politicians and media have always been talking about the involvement of Indian intelligence agency RAW in fomenting trouble inside Pakistan. First it was in Sindh, particularly in Karachi. Now people say there is no doubt about Indian involvement in Balochistan and some say that the RAW is also supporting Baitullah Mehsud in the NWFP. Questions are being raised on an unusually high number of Consulate offices opened by India in Afghanistan. The involvement of the CIA and Mossad is also not ruled out. There is a speculation that Baitullah Mehsud could not have survived for so long since the US drone attacks began if it was not for the support of one or more of foreign intelligence agencies and/or military help.

Asif Ali Zardari has now openly admitted that the Taliban are the creation of Pakistan. The terror that Pakistan exported has now come back to it. Until it was limited to the NWFP it was not seen as a major problem. But now that it has the potential of taking over Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore even the military and intelligence which were not too keen on taking on the home-grown terrorists have been forced, partly because of US pressure but primarily due to the threat it poses to them, reluctantly but decisively to come around to confront them. When Zardari makes a bold statement he obviously has the approval of the military and intelligence.

The terrorist groups in Af-Pak region whether Al-Qaeda, Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba were propped up by the US and Pakistani governments. They received arms and ammunition, money and training from military professionals. The association of terrorist groups with the Pakistani Government during the military regime was so close that some former military officials are part of terrorist set-ups and terrorists have infiltrated the Pakistani establishment. One reason why the government, whether in Punjab or the Federal one, in Pakistan is reluctant to take action against Hafiz Saeed, the LeT founder, is that he can become a cause of much embarrassment for the establishment there if he decides to open his mouth.

But the question is: after the present Pakistani establishment has made up its mind to confront the terrorist groups and the US has relentlessly pursued the terrorists even going to the extent of launching attacks inside the sovereign territory of Pakistan, how are the terrorists holding fort? One would assume that the lot which was trained to fight the Russians would be old enough to be combatants now. So, even if there is supply of money from Saudi Arabia or somewhere or plenty of drug trafficking money is available, and there are youth from Central Asia, southern Punjab (Pakistan) and from all around the world ready to be trained as jehadis who is providing them the training in use of modern methods of warfare? Is the CIA playing a double-game? Peace in the area would make the justification of US military presence in the region untenable. And it is no secret that the US wants to be involved not only in the Af-Pak region but also in Kashmir. We’re not talking about George Bush. We’re talking about Barack Obama. Even before Obama’a victory results became public he had already announced his intention of appointing a Kashmir aide. Why on earth is an uninitiated US President interested more in Kashmir than his own country?

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But what would be disturbing for most educated self-righteous middle class Indians, who have
always seen India as a peaceful country and Pakistan as source of all trouble, is the revelation that India could have a role in instigating violence inside Pakistan. The joint bilateral statement issued from Sharm el-Sheikh has reference to Pakistan having information on threats to Balochistan. Pakistan sees it as a diplomatic victory. The response in India is that of shock, especially from the hawks. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has displayed rare courage and insight in saying that he is willing to discuss any issue with Pakistan. He has also encouraged Pakistan to take action against the perpetrators of the November 26, 2008 incident in Mumbai without linking it to resumption of composite dialogue. As a leader of the senior (in terms of experience with democracy) and bigger nation only he could have been expected to be magnanimous. And he has lived up to his role. He has breached the parochial approach which constrains progress on India-Pakistan official relations.

Manmohan Singh has merely acknowledged something which is common knowledge in Pakistan. But Pakistan will have to provide concrete proof of the RAW’s involvement in Balochistan or elsewhere in Pakistan just like India has done in the case of the Mumbai incident. But this is only a trivial matter. It is an open secret that the ISI and RAW have been working at cross-purposes.

What Manmohan Singh has achieved as a statesman is that he has set out to define a new paradigm in which India-Pakistan relations will be discussed. For the first time in the history of the two nations he has laid the grounds for India and Pakistan to work together to solve the common problems, including that of terrorism. The US has already given an indication of this by asking India to provide help to Pakistan. And why not? If India can develop close ties with Afghanistan and provide financial help to it and Pakistan can derive help from the US, India and Pakistan, if they can shed their historical baggage, can cooperate as friendly neighbours. Pakistan, where receiving US aid is a government policy now, can enjoy a more democratic relationship with India. Can we conceive of the RAW and ISI working together, with both of them having a working relationship with the CIA, to root out terrorism from the region? Pakistan, being the smaller and more insecure of the two nations, would warm up to India only if it feels comfortable. The long adversarial relationship between the two has dried up all the trust. Manmohan Singh has certainly made Yousuf Raza Gilani and Pakistan feel that they can do business with India.

The author is a noted social activist who received the Magsaysay award some years ago but returned it on learning of the US Government’s involvement in the award.

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