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Geo-Political Fail-Safe

With the US demanding after 9/11 that its friends stand up and be counted, Pervez Musharraf came through at risk of personal life and limb, not to speak of the credibility of Pakistan as an independent sovereign entity. The weekend at Camp David recognises the Pakistani President’s pre-eminent role (and performance) as a US ally at a very troubled time, it is also a brilliant US diplomatic sleight of hand meant to keep everyone happy. While bestowing a rare privilege meant for the most trusted of US friends, it avoids receiving a Head of State still in uniform with all the pomp and show associated with the White House. This mechanism assuages domestic US sensibilities about democratic mores, externally it salves India’s feelings in the light of the developing US-India relationship.

Musharraf expects the US to “reward” Pakistan more for its still continuing support for the war in Afghanistan and against the cells of international terrorism imbedded in Pakistan. A generous US gesture is expected with about $1.8 billion debt forgiveness (and some debt re-scheduling) besides outright grant and aid, this will shore up Pakistan economically and Musharraf politically, mollifying those critics who feel Pakistan has been short-changed. Trade bargains are also in the works, these could eventually lead to a Free Trade Agreement. The icing on the cake would be two squadrons of F-16s to bring the PAF to a credible conventional air defence capability. The relatively “small” economic support that we did get earlier was a good enough signal for other western donor countries as well as Japan to give us succour across the board. Pakistan’s economy became a net-gainer because of 9/11, a few more days and we would have been in the “default” category.


Roadmap to Peace?

Agra 2001 was one of the periodic highpoints of the India-Pakistan relationship, a similar climax of expectations was Vajpayee’s Lahore bus trip in 1999. The Indians had reason to feel aggrieved because of Kargil, when they received President Pervez Musharraf with open arms in New Delhi two years later that became a moot point. Or was their welcome feigned? There was expectation and excitement in the air in Agra that morning when the agreed draft was initialled, the gloom came later when it did not see the light of day, signalling a massive relationship slide. After 9/11 the world’s catchword was “terrorism”, the Indians soon realized that Pakistan’s stupidity in supporting the Taliban regime beyond a fail-safe point was being glossed over because of Pakistan’s primarily role as a US ally in the war against terrorism. The Indians hurriedly re-drew their gameplan to emasculate Pakistan, the raison d’etre the still unexplained attack on India’s Parliament. At the end of Dec 2001 the entire Indian Armed Forces (including the formations withdrawn from facing China and Bangladesh) was stationed en bloc in an offensive posture along Pakistan’s eastern border and along the LOC in Kashmir, subsequently the Indian High Commissioner was recalled permanently and in reciprocation his Pakistani counterpart was asked to leave. There was a further low-point, the Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner was expelled because of concocted and childish allegations, subsequently proven patently false by Indian courts.


Suicide Bombing?

On 8 May a powerful car bomb ripped apart the coaster carrying French technicians working on the Agosta submarine project in Karachi, leaving 11 French and 4 Pakistanis dead, injuring more than 2 dozen others. First reports indicated it was suicide bombing, later it transpired that instead of ramming the coaster the car had moved adjacent to its right side before blowing up. Whether the explosives, attached to the engine block, were detonated by the driver or it was remotely detonated, is still a matter of conjecture. Because of the recent spate of “suicide bombings” in Israel by the Palestinians and the repeated threats of Al-Qaeda about retaliatory attacks against the “war against terrorism” Coalition partners, expert opinion seemed to coincide with general public perception. For all practical purposes, “suicide bombings”, hitherto associated with Tamil Tigers and Palestinian activists of various kind, had come to Pakistan.

Staying in the Pearl Continental across the road from the Sheraton, a number of New Zealand and Pakistani cricketers were jolted, even in their rooms, besides being on the receiving end of flying debris. The New Zealanders were particularly lucky, most players were finishing breakfast, ready to depart for the National Stadium for the Second Cricket test. Their physiotherapist, standing next to their coaster parked behind the Pearl, took cuts and bruises in his right hand. Another few minutes and the car bomber would have had a full load of international cricketers in his bomb-sights. Having earlier cancelled their October 2001 trip because of Sep 11, the New Zealanders were in Pakistan more or less under duress. A bomb in their midst would have been an unmitigated disaster for cricket in particular and sports in general, for Pakistan, the repercussions would have gone far beyond that for the poor French technicians. Botham would never have sent his mother-in-law here, as a sporting venue Pakistan would have become a desert!


Provocation and Patience

Barely one week of the Ahmedabad carnage taking human toll of hundreds of muslims in India, the Alice-in-Wonderland speeches at the SAARC Information Ministers Conference in Islamabad about the need for amity and friendship in South Asia provides small solace for the dead and dying in Gujerat. Apropos of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, we are hypocritical about how we wish each other eternal bliss. Given that the bulk of India’s Armed Forces are on our doorstep with intentions of grievous bodily harm (or at least threatening it) for over two months now, this charade we could have done without. Only morons would wish war with India but we must be joking if we are happy to see L K Advani’s pet guided missile Pakistan. As hopes and aspirations among the assembled media persons rose to a peak on the second day of the Agra Summit last June, “iron butterfly” Sushma Swaraj was sent by the “hardliners” to do a mid-morning “walkabout” Press Conference through the corridors of the Agra Sheraton, making it quite clear to whosoever would listen that notwithstanding whatever Atal-ji and Jaswant Singh might promise to Gen Pervez Musharraf on Kashmir, it cut no ice with her (and India’s) real boss, the Home Minister. By late the same night, contrary to all expectations, a rather astounded Pakistani President was in the air on his way home without any agreement.

It started with a muslim mob at Godhra Railway Station setting fire to a train carrying slogan chanting VHP activists back home from Ayodhya, the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid. Kindly explain how a mob got onto a moving train before it reached the railway platform? Try these facts for size, the train pulls into Godhra, the chanting pilgrims, on a high after their Ayodha visit, demanded tea from the 6 or 7 tea-sellers. The tea-sellers, all muslim, refused the tea and a verbal brawl turned into a free-for-all, the fracas turned into a riot. Outnumbered by the local muslim mob, the driver backed the train off from the Station. The tea-sellers hurled burning kerosene stoves through the compartment windows. The momentum of the train fanning the flames, it spread rapidly and the Hindu pilgrims were trapped inside. The provocation notwithstanding, the muslim action setting the train on fire was atrocious, condemnable and led to a far greater tragedy. They lacked the common sense to realise they would be condemning hundreds of their helpless fellow muslims, outnumbered badly in the BJP-ruled State, to death. The extremists needed a plausible excuse, the tea-sellers at Godhra Railway Station provided that excuse.


With Enemies like Advani

Believe it or not, it is increasingly becoming a fact that India’s Home Minister L K Advani is Pakistan’s biggest asset in the struggle to counter India’s motivated propaganda to declare Pakistan “a terrorist State”. His place on this pedestal would be a dead heat with George Fernandes but Fernandes is a Christian and despite his best efforts to sound like a Hindu revivalist, he lacks the venom that Advani generates inherently due to the basic character quirk in the conservative Hindu psyche bedevilling Hindu-Muslim relationship in the South Asian sub-continent. It is no coincidence that Sindhi Advani feels that his ancestors let the side down by allowing Muhammad Bin Qasim establish a foothold for Islam in the sub-continent in the first place. He has made eradication of Muslim rule anywhere in the regional hemisphere his personal war to wage, there being no comparable word in the Hindu religion for “Jehad” or “crusade”.


India’s Overkill

The thousands of years old “Kautiliya Arthasastra” is a complete code of Hindu statecraft, duplicity being a main plank of its regime for state conduct. Other than poison, use of women, false propaganda, etc, in Chapter 2 of Book 12 it says “secret agents should spread rumours among the citizens and country people and when spread far and wide, assassins should rob citizens at night and slay chiefs, saying” thus are dealt with those who do not obey the Regent”. They should leave blood-stained weapons, articles and binding ropes in the quarter of the Regent and secret agents should proclaim, “the Regent is slaying and robbing the subjects” – they should set fire to royal palaces and city gates, to stores of articles and grains and kill the officers there, saying piteously that it has been done by the Regent. Anything sound familiar here?

While blaming of the Dec 13 attack on the Indian Parliament on Pakistan was dubious at best, accusing Pakistan for the attack on the American Center in Kolkata was outrageous. By now we are familiar with the pattern, and it is not surprising that most of the accusations emanate from L K Advani, India’s Home Minister. His life’s ambition seems to be to have Pakistan declared “a terrorist state”. There are those among the Indian hierarchy who know that the accusations have no basis, it is also not surprising that they are almost apologetic in supporting their Home Minister. They should be paying attention to the allegations under oath made against him by his own daughter-in-law, a person who was his “Special Assistant” for years before getting married to his son. Among other disclosures, she has also accused him of meticulously planning the destruction of the Babri Masjid. With respect to the recent incident, how come some “Farhan” from Dubai rang him up directly claiming responsibility, and can’t this be traced back? Moreover how is it that the attack seems to coincide with whenever any high official from the US or Europe is visiting India. Since the US President’s Special Envoy on Counter-terrorism and the FBI Director General were in India at that time, it was most convenient to have the terrorist attack during this period. It served to underscore India as “a full partner of the US as a major target of terrorism”. Or is it so? Are the US officials naive or gullible to fall for these recurring coincidences? US officials close to “ground zero” in Kolkata (and away in the US), quietly disassociated themselves from the thrust of Indian accusations, saying the attack did not seem to be directed against the US and that there was no real evidence of any involvement of Pakistani-sponsored terrorist groups.