Welcome, Mr. President

There is Broad Consensus Across the Political Firmament on Ignoring India’s Dead

It’s that time of the year again. As Sushant Singh so succinctly puts it in Mid day: Time to eat, pray and love in the latest iteration of the never ending Indo-Pak soap opera. The visit of President Asif Ali Zardari on an ostensibly private visit to India has raised the hopes of detente  between the two traditional rivals and gladdened the hearts of professional peaceniks. The media has lovingly described the menu for the luncheon meeting between President Zardari and Prime Minister Singh and the security arrangements have been thoroughly dissected. And of course, it has facilitated a heartwarming meeting between the two yuvrajs: Angry Rahul meet crazy Bilawal .  Hope is in the air. Again.

In this air thick with optimism, cursed are those who remind of inconvenient terror attacks or demand accountability. What about the Mumbai attacks of 2008, squeaky voices ask? What about Hafiz Saeed the mastermind of Mumbai who restoring our collective faith in the transformative power of love and redemption is currently engaged in ‘de-radicalizing’ extremists—and that too gratis. (As an aside, this truly marks the high point of sophistry since its halcyon days when Goebbels ruled the airwaves).  Perhaps, all that remained to provide this soap opera a true Ekta Kapoor touch was for Saeed to make a dramatic entry, red rose in hand, while Singh and Zardari were engaged in lunch diplomacy.

But wait a minute. Despite indications to the contrary, Prime Minister Singh did raise the issue of Saeed during the luncheon meeting. President Zardari apparently replied that this required a separate long discussion. (On what exactly? Saeed’s fail-safe 10 point formula for turning hardened extremists into doves of love?). It can be safely construed that Dr. Singh did not press the issue considering the guest was engaged in a far more important task—partaking the multitudes of delicacies lined up for him. Now the perfunctory mention is done, we can all apparently move on to talking peace.

But these hawks just want war—love-wrought hearts would say. They have no idea about our shared history and entwined futures. No. All the ‘hawks’ ask for is the very minimal degree of accountability. And no, this isn’t about trade or trains or even Kashmir. In all countries, domestic political compulsions often force governments to make decisions which adversely affect relationship with friendly neighbors: Sample the brouhaha over the Keystone pipeline proposal even though US and Canada share a long peaceful history and open borders. So whether Pakistan maintains the most favored nation (MFN) status for India is a relatively minor pinprick. Pakistan can even continue its ‘diplomatic and moral’ support to the Kashmiri separatists as long as it does not train and equip Jihadi groups active in Kashmir.

The question here is of punishing the perpetuators of the worse terror attack on India. And let’s be charitable here and define punishment loosely: How about pushing Saeed and company out of national television? How about putting some curbs on his movement? If the Pakistani government cannot even deliver on even these very basic demands, what is the use of talking to them?

Apologists—and really these peaceniks are mostly just that—would argue that the Pakistan government is no shape to take on the Jihadists as they are protected by the all powerful military. But if they are so weak what purpose is to be served by inviting them for lunches masquerading as summits? Let’s just talk to the Army then as the Americans mostly do. Oh! but by talking to the civilian government, we are strengthening their hands. But we have been hearing the same argument for the last two decades. If it is another two decades before the Pakistani government is strong enough to take on the Jihadists, then how many more Mumbais are we prepared to tolerate and forgive? Indeed, many in India are now even embarrassed to mention the Mumbai attacks in a discussion on Indo-Pak relationship. If only the bastards in Mumbai had not managed to get themselves killed, we could be having ‘breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul.’

What is particularly disconcerting that who leads the Indian government matters little in this equation: It’s conduct remains virtually the same. If, for instance, Vajpayee or Advani were leading this country, would they have fawned any less on the visiting dignitary? Has anyone forgotten Vajpayee’s repeated attempts to forge peace with Pakistan despite being ‘repeatedly stabbed in the back.’  Even then the dead were ignored and no accountability was demanded in the fond hope that things would be different henceforth. But hope is no policy has India discovered to its chagrin multiple times. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

It is often said that sustainable peace in the subcontinent is not achievable till the partition generation is around. They have witnessed too much bloodshed and pain to forgive and forget. Perhaps, this truism needs a slight modification. Till the partition generation is in power in India, no dispassionate appraisal of Pakistan is possible and a romanticized vision would continue to dominate our political and intellectual discoursse. Inder Kumar Gujral shuts down India’s counter-intelligence capabilities for a ‘jaddu ki jhappi‘; Vajpayee marches across the border on a lark; and Manmohan Singh is perpetually in search of his native village. Perhaps, its time for wait for the next generation in India to take over.

Horror of horrors! Here’s looking at you, Rahul Gandhi, with hope!

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