Almost a year ago to the day, and in the wake of his convincing victory in the Pakistan general elections, Nawaz Sharif stretched out an exceptional hand of friendship to India, pointing to neither Kashmir nor India having been an election issue in Pakistan, seeking a resumption of intensive dialogue with India, and demonstrating his earnest by inviting the Indian prime minister to his swearing in. The invitation was not taken up then or subsequently, largely because of pressure against engaging sincerely and in depth with a Pakistan that had not brought Hafiz Saeed to book, nor proceeded with the expeditious trial of those involved in 26/11, nor handed over Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, besides being responsible for the beheading of Indian soldiers, the bludgeoning to death of Sarabjit Singh and more than one incursion into Kashmir across the Line of Control. None of that has changed. And yet, the very elements that most opposed even the courtesy invitation to lunch at 7, Race Course Road to outgoing Pakistan president, Asif Zardari, before he proceeded to perform ziarat at Ajmer Sharif, are now preening themselves at having pulled off the coup of getting the Pakistan PM to hop across to Rashtrapati Bhavan for what is being described as the “coronation” of the next Indian PM. They might have delusions about this being a repeat of the 1911 Durbar for the Laat Sahib with the feudatories all in attendance, but ours is a republic, not a monarchy, and the seven heads of government who have come are not salaam-ing maharajahs.
What then is the import of the visit? Has Pakistan changed its spots? Or has the Sangh Parivar undergone a lobotomy? I still remember with horror the twisted fury on the face of Arun Shourie, spokesman for the BJP in the Rajya Sabha on the morrow of 26/11, as he railed against the Pakistanis that we should not seek a tooth for a tooth but the entire jaw for a tooth in any Pakistani terrorist attack. Has that fury abated?
For Nawaz Sharif to accept the invitation is no more than consistency with the stand he has always taken: that any contact with India is welcome and that dialogue with India is a must. But without preconditions — that is fundamental. The Sangh Parivar, on the other hand, has thus far insisted that without Pakistan making amends for past outrages and giving iron-clad guarantees of no repeats, how can India engage with this monster to our west? Is, therefore, the invitation to Nawaz Sharif no more than yet another empty gesture in keeping with the event-management style of the BJP’s election campaign or does it mark the dropping of preconditions to dialogue that Pakistan can neither accept nor fulfil?
This is the year of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. The casus belli was the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s allegation of the Serbian government’s involvement in the assassination of the heir to their throne in Sarajevo by Serbian terrorists. It is now clear that although the Serbian government shared with the terrorists the broad national goal of uniting all Serbs under the roof of a single Serb state, the assassins were acting on their own and not at the instance, or under the direction of, the Serbian authorities. That is exactly what the Pakistanis say.
Short of bombarding Islamabad, as the Austrians bombed Belgrade to bend the Serbs to their will, there is nothing New Delhi can do to compel the Pakistani government to admit it is complicit in crimes against India it says it has had nothing to do with. And parallel to Hafiz Saeed in 2014, loomed in 1914 in Serbia the dreaded figure of Apis, the don of all Serb terrorists, who covered his tracks so well that the Serbian government never figured out, or was aghast at the thought of finding out, just how compromised individual officials of the Serb government in aiding or abetting the assassin Gavrilo Principe and his five teenage companions were. (Even in age, the assassins who fired the bullets in Sarajevo that sparked the death of a hundred million through the first half of the 20th century resemble the gang that spread its net of terror through Mumbai that ghastly night of 26/11).
Remember, Pakistan may be the hub of Islamist terror but it is even more a victim of its own terrorism than the outside world. It is futile to pretend, as some Indians who ought to know better do, that the terror groups who train their sights on India are different to those who train their sights on Pakistan; in effect, all these groups are inter-linked and share the same objectives and sources of sustenance, even if their different targets are nuanced. Nawaz Sharif is engaged simultaneously in defanging all of them. But the chances of his success are remote. If, therefore, the Pakistan government has to prove itself more successful at reining in its terrorists than India has been at reining in its own home-grown terrorists, whether in the jungles of Dandakaranya or in the Northeast, or even among the Indian Mujahideen, imagine how much more horrendous the challenge before the Pakistani government is in proving its anti-terrorist credentials to the Sangh Parivar’s satisfaction.
Pakistan just cannot do all that the Sangh Parivar demands before serious talks commence. Therefore, either the Parivar dilutes its demands or Nawaz Sharif pulls off the impossible. Neither is feasible. The only way out is an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue”, as I have been urging for decades. Pakistan, under Hina Khar of the PPP, accepted and articulated the proposal. The successor government of Nawaz Sharif has endorsed the phrase. Neither the previous UPA government nor the incoming one were or are ready to touch such a proposal with a barge pole. Thus, we are left stranded where we were — whether Nawaz Sharif prefers last night’s chicken chettinad to his own Lahori biryani or not. The swearing-in is but a prelude to the resumption of the swearing-at.
The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress