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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Disengaging with Pakistan

It is useless talking to Pakistan’s civilian leaders about what happened in Mumbai. They are not in charge of that unfortunate country’s foreign policy....

Written by Tavleen Singh | February 1, 2009 12:53:08 am

It is useless talking to Pakistan’s civilian leaders about what happened in Mumbai. They are not in charge of that unfortunate country’s foreign policy. This is the sad conclusion I have drawn from two encounters with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in Davos last week. As someone who has always believed that the only hope for peace on our troubled sub-continent is for Pakistan to have democratically elected leaders,it is with real sadness that I admit I was wrong.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister came to Davos as a salesman for his country. We want trade not aid,he said with a proud smile. And,we deserve ‘trade’ because we are the gateway to central Asia and a good country with good institutions. It is understandable that the Prime Minister would want to talk about economic matters because Pakistan is broke and its economy in shambles. But,nobody bought his sales pitch.

At a session called ‘Pakistan and its Neighbours’,at which India remained mysteriously unmentioned,most questions he was asked were about terrorism. Was Pakistan a failed state and dangerous because it had nuclear weapons and was home to some of the worst terrorist groups in the world? The Prime Minister responded by waffling. Was it not true

that the civilian government had no control over the ISI? No. Pakistan’s government is a cohesive whole. He sounded like someone had made him learn his answers by heart,he sounded like a spokesman for the Pakistani army.

The day after this session,I went to the Pakistani breakfast that has become a Davos fixture. Breakfasts past at which General Pervez Musharraf was the star have been attended by large numbers of Indians. This time you could count us on the fingers of one hand. Not because we preferred a military dictator to a democratically elected Prime Minister but because of Mumbai. Indians I talked to said they did not have the heart to have breakfast with the Pakistani Prime Minister with memories of Mumbai still fresh and painful.

The Prime Minister was careful in his long,rambling sales pitch not to mention the word Mumbai and to leave terrorism to one paragraph at the end of his dissertation. We are victims of terrorism,he said,we are paying a heavy price for being on the frontline of the fight against terrorism. Our soldiers are dying. We are fighting for you not just for us. Blah,blah,blah. When he finished,I asked why if it was serious about fighting terrorism,did Pakistan continue to deny proof of Pakistani involvement in the attack on Mumbai despite evidence being provided by Indian and American investigative agencies? Why had his High Commissioner to the United Kingdom said only last week that the dossier of evidence provided by India was fabricated? The Prime Minister gave a long confused reply about relations with India and talking to Dr Manmohan Singh but did not answer the question except to say that it was ‘information’ and not evidence.

What came through loudly and clearly to your humble columnist was that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has about as much power as the Mayor of Mumbai. If Asif Ali Zardari has a little more it’s probably only a very little more. Pakistan remains a country that is controlled by the one institution that has controlled it for nearly all its decades of existence: the army. So what should we do?

We could stop wasting our time on dossiers and spend it on building up our frighteningly weak defences. The process must start not at the top but at the bottom. Our new Home Minister,who everyone says is doing a good job,needs to come up with a dossier on police reform that should be offered to all state governments. Mr Chidambaram,meanwhile,should concentrate on rebuilding our intelligence services and on finding out what went wrong in Mumbai. Why did the commandos not get there in two hours instead of eight? Why did the Navy not notice the boat that came from Karachi? Why did it take three days for us to take Mumbai back from a handful of terrorists? What has been done since to ensure that something like this never happens again?

As for Pakistan,we should consider breaking diplomatic relations. What is the point in having a High Commissioner in Islamabad when everything we say falls on deaf ears? India has done a good job in showing the world that Pakistan is the epicentre of Islamist terrorism. It should build on this good work and if it wants to continue putting together dossiers of evidence,then it would be better to present them to the new American President.

Giving them to Islamabad is an exercise in futility.

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