July 8, 2012 12:11:54 am
On the day that the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan met in Delhi last week,I had a personal cross-border encounter that left me worried about whether there can ever be peace with the Islamist republic next door. I use the word Islamist consciously because I believe we will not be able to talk to Pakistan purposefully until we first understand that the mindset of that country has gone from Islamic to Islamist. I say this with sadness because as a proud Punjabi,whose origins lie on that side of the border,I have always believed that the innate pragmatism and sense of humour of the average Punjabi would eventually vanquish the militant mullahs and military men who have poisoned the air of Pakistan. I believe this less today.
My cross-border encounter happened on Nidhi Razdans show. I was in the NDTV studio in Delhi with two Indian panelists and from Pakistan she invited a former air vice marshal called Shahzad Choudhury and a former diplomat called Akram Zaki. When Nidhi asked my view on the talks between the foreign secretaries held that morning I told her truthfully that I believed 26/11 was an act of war,and should not be discussed as mere terrorism,since we have confirmation that Pakistani military men were involved in planning it.
On the Indian side we agreed about the need for justice to be done to bring closure to 26/11. The Pakistani panelists disagreed belligerently. The former air vice marshal said how long will you continue milking 26/11 which was so offensive a remark that it left little room for sweet talk. I said I was disgusted but in a polite tone but it was not polite enough for the Pakistani diplomat. He started yelling that they wanted only to talk about the future and not the past and had not come to talk to people stuck in 2008. One of them then accused the Indian Home Minister of deliberately sabotaging the talks by bringing up Abu Jundal.
Is there any point in talking to Pakistan until the wise denizens of South Block first recognise that this country has changed? It has become a country in which most ordinary people believe that Islamism is the solution to their problems. Last week,a deranged man was burned alive by a mob in Bhawalpur because they suspected him of burning a Koran. When the police tried to shelter him in a police station the mob attacked the police station and dragged their victim out.
The ideology of Islamism has certain fundamental rules and the first is that you must kill those you think have insulted the Prophet Mohammed or the Koran. The second is that you must hate Americans,Jews and Hindus and blame them for causing all the trouble in the Islamic world. You then have to accept that the only way for peaceful coexistence in the world is for Islam to prevail.
In a Pakistani context what is frightening is that my old friend,Imran Khan,who hopes to become the next prime minister of his benighted country,shares this worldview and regularly blames everything that has gone wrong in his country on America. What is even more disturbing is his choice of friends. He shares the stage with such vicious Islamists as Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Lieutenant General Hamid Gul. When General Gul was head of the ISI in the late eighties he started the process of exporting jihadi terrorism to India and when I met him some years ago proudly admitted creating the Taliban. So if polls in Pakistan indicate that Imran Khan has the support of more than seventy per cent of the population what does it tell us?
It should tell us a great deal. But,the high officials who make foreign policy in South Block are impervious to changes on the ground,so our response to Pakistan is to carry on as usual. There will be another round of talks between our foreign secretaries soon and then at some point in the not too distant future our Prime Minister will go to Islamabad on a mission of peace and we will continue fooling ourselves into believing that what happened on 26/11 was just another terrorist incident. Only when we recognise that it was an act of war will we begin to start evolving a new strategy to do to deal with the Islamist republic next door.
Of course,the process of dialogue must continue but we must talk from a position of strength and it must be dialogue on our terms because in this ugly,cowardly war India is the victim. Islamists do not fight wars on battlefields against armed soldiers they fight them in the streets of cities against unarmed women and children because they believe that Allah is on their side.
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