Thursday, January 08, 2009

You talkin’ to me?

क़यामत हो के होवे मुद्दई का हमसफ़र ग़ालिब
वो काफ़िर जो खुदा को भी ना सौंपा जाए है मुझसे

Take action, says India. Nothing doing, says Pakistan. Then Uncle Sam tells New Delhi to take a step back and Islamabad to take a step forward. One step back and one forward means you walk, but don’t really move. This is the sum of all that has happened since what happened in Mumbai on November 26. Don’t you have a feeling that this game of overt posturing and covert pleading will end in a big nothing, that the not-so-merry merry-go-round is doomed to get lost in a maze of mockery? Amazing, how predictable the twins of August 1947 have become in dealings with each other! Primarily because the two have never really dealt with each other. India has dealt with either puppets with no real authority to make a deal or dictators with no moral authority to make a deal. Pakistan itself has been a puppet to Washington all its life and most of India's life was spent in snubbing Washington. Only that our recent tango with Capitol makes us expect more from the US. And some from Pakistan.

Who’s the boss?
When India asks Pakistan to act, who exactly does it intend to address? On the face of it, the question is directed at the head of the Pakistani state. Unfortunately, for both India and Pakistan, the democratically elected heads of state in Pakistan have had little authority. The writ of President Asaf Ali Zardari doesn’t run beyond his office. There is nothing unofficial about that now. His hand-picked National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani has just been sacked by his hand-picked Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Zardari’s left hand is wondering what his right is up to. Ask Sherry Rahman about what Gilani’s left hand has been up to or just check Youtube (do not if you are easily offended). His right hand has now slipped into the Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s left, as the Punjabi elite of the Army tries to show the Sindhi elite in Zardari its place in Pakistani power structure. Tribal Pashtuns, Waziris and Baluchis fight it out with Kalashnikovs, intrigue is the favourite weapon in the Punjab-Sindh war in Islamabad. This war within may cost Gilani his job, but Zardari is going to get weaker as days pass, making it more difficult for India to do business with Islamabad.

Kayani’s hand-picked ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha told German magazine Der Spiegel that he was ready to visit India post-Mumbai attacks, as sought by Manmohan Singh and approved by Asif Ali Zardari. The next day, Pasha was found to be too senior to be sent to India. Everybody knows how that turnaround came. The Army tightened the screw on the zealous Zardari. No wonder, Gilani wants to be closer to the real power centre, instead of the fake one. He has the option. India has to deal with Zardari, who is increasingly helpless and profoundly clueless in Islamabad. Benazir’s death propelled Zardari to the top but just being the Mohtarma’s widower can’t ensure he stays there. The day is not far away when he hurtles down Margalla Hills kicking and screaming with nobody interested in his cries. Ask Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

What are the options?
India has had the option to deal with the real power centre in Islamabad. After initial hesitation, it has done so most recently during Parvez Musharraf’s presidency. The villain of Kargil was welcomed, greeted and feted in India. The two countries made a lot of progress, the peace train moved and ties improved significantly. Then ennui set in this side of the border, while the other side became increasingly volatile as Pakistanis fought Pakistanis in America’s war. The country went into a spin; the dictator had overstayed his welcome in Islamabad; he handpicked Kayani and handed over the uniform, Nawaz Sharif came home and was promptly deported, Benazir came home and was promptly slaughtered. The drama ended with changed lead actors.

A democratic India sang paeans to the comeback of democracy and hailed Zardari who reciprocated by saying India lives in a corner of every Pakistani heart! Both forgot that democracy in Pakistan is an aberration; it visits the land of the pure in fits and starts. The latest fit has started to return to normality. This means blow-hot-blow-cold diplomatic ties with a neighbour you not only cannot choose but also cannot change, in either sense of the term change.

That’s no option
So is Islamabad’s return to dictatorship India’s best option? Well, you cannot dictate that. The second-best option is to let the Americans dictate all that. Make it clear to the world that we may not go to war but peace won’t get a chance until Pakistan turns off the terror tap. No free hugs and pointless talks. No cricket in Pakistan. Some Indian thinkers want the high commissioner recalled, a valid option, however harsh that may sound. All this has to essentially be the voice of New Delhi, not routed through a third party. India seeks a third party, in this case the US, to crack down on Pakistan while keeping its bilateral ties intact. Washington may be a newfound friend of India, but it’s the longest-time ally of Pakistan. Things aren’t any hunky dory to Islamabad’s west, so the West still has to keep Pakistan happy with dollars and other dangles. Do not expect London or Washington to do your dirty job. India must stop pleading to the US and posturing to Pakistan. It has to start doing. Action doesn’t always need to be military. We are at war in any case. Mumbai was an act of war but without the direct involvement of the Pakistani military. Hence, India needs to keep military out of its reaction. The country needs to be punished economically and isolated diplomatically. Stop doing business and be miser on sharing river water. About the guarantee of safety to Indian cities, remember the good old Indian Railways signage: Yaatri apne saaman ki suraksha swayam karein.

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