Dawn News

Peace process: retired hurt

WOULDN’T you find it confusing if at daybreak you read the news that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for ‘permanent reconciliation’ with Pakistan and a couple of hours later two senior Indian journalists caution you against reading too much into the statement?

You may have agreed if these colleagues from across the border had explained that their leader’s statement ought to be ignored for it was the result of a fit of statesmanship and rare grace brought on by the advance into the Cricket World Cup final of his country’s team. You would not only have understood but appreciated the kind gesture because in a zero-sum game, India’s gain came at Pakistan’s expense.

It wouldn’t have been out of place for you to applaud this statement of hope on a day you and your prime minister witnessed those half-a-dozen soul-destroying dropped catches.

Again and again, you are seeing those dropped catches, that batting display as you try and rub away the nightmare from your eyes. But then you are jolted back to today. That match was last night.

The two journalists are joined by a senior Indian academic in telling you with great confidence that their leader is completely isolated and is all but airing his personal views. They also say that apart from his national security adviser, nobody, including the leading lights of his governing Congress party, endorses the premier’s views.

Mr Singh is going it alone and, therefore, cannot be taken seriously. It is not that you are merely getting this sense but they are saying that effectively there is no peace constituency left in India.

What can you do in the face of these assertions? This is surely not cricket, you ask yourself. You wonder why if Mr Singh’s own party does not share his views on this rather important and sticky matter he continues to enjoy its support in parliament and remain prime minister. You recall that it is the Indian media itself which has repeatedly told you that the prime minister is so beholden to Congress leader Sonia Gandhi for making him the premier that he doesn’t initiate a single move without her blessing.

So, is Ms Gandhi’s presence at the Mohali cricket match, which the Pakistan prime minister attended at the invitation of his Indian counterpart, an indication of her disagreement with her own prime minister?

You’d agree that a day’s visit to watch cricket, a loss to the hosts and even Afridi’s speech wouldn’t have generated so much goodwill that a soft border in Kashmir would have been realised before Pakistan One took off from the Indian soil. Nevertheless the gesture and the statement appeared significant. For wasn’t the Mumbai carnage a reality? Where are you? Not in Mohali at the end of the match with leaden feet, dust-laden hair and tear-filled eyes. It is incredible and almost surreal that these thoughts are swirling in your head on a warm sunny day in London, in a high-ceilinged room with windows opening on to the glistening River Thames.

You are being blinded by the sun streaming through the ceiling-high windows as you attend a round-table on ‘India, Pakistan and Regional Stability’ hosted by the War Department of King’s College London which has brought together journalists and senior academics from, and with an interest in, the region.

But it isn’t significant where you are when you get the news of the death of the peace constituency in India. What is significant is the news itself. The obituary writers tell you that allegations of corruption have stripped Manmohan Singh — the re-initiator-in-chief of the peace process — of whatever little support he may have been left with after the Sharm El Sheikh ‘fiasco’. The last an obvious reference to the joint statement issued after the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met in the Egyptian resort in 2009. Indian nationalists/hard-liners viewed the statement as a sell-out, a wholly unwarranted concession, to Pakistan and expressed outrage.

The Indian prime minister was forced to backtrack in describing the language of the statement as a ‘drafting error’ rather than a concession. You’d agree that the assault on Mr Singh after the joint statement wouldn’t have left him unscathed.

Equally, the WikiLeaks that suggested that Congress bought votes to keep the Singh government intact after it lost its majority in parliament must also have damaged the prime minister. But wouldn’t you have serious worries about areas other than relations with Pakistan if the prime minister was a total lame duck as we speak? If he had no ability to see his decisions through then wouldn’t a question mark appear over the booming Indian economy among other things?

If over the next couple of years he sits with his hands folded and does nothing because of his ‘total’ isolation wouldn’t it potentially obliterate Congress’s chances to retain power at the next election? So, in writing off its own prime minister, is the Congress not shooting itself in the foot?

How would you know? You are so far from the thick of it. Your views, understanding and even questions regarding the dynamics of Indian politics may only betray how naïve, how ignorant you are.

Could it be you aren’t really naïve and ignorant? India and Pakistan have many similarities. Perhaps, we aren’t alone in having journalists who consider it their patriotic duty to peddle the hard line regardless of where it is coming from, to market personal prejudice and chauvinistic bias as public opinion and succumb to the narrowest definition of nationalism. But you can’t say for certain, can you?

What you can be sure of is that if Misbah, Yunus and the Akmal brothers had not thought catching Tendulkar was tantamount to dropping the peace process, we’d be getting up Bal Thackeray’s nose today. But that is life. The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com


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