The writer is a former ambassador.
When doomsday occurs and the world dissolves, and all places shall be hell that is not heaven, there will be an Indian standing amidst the ruins yelling that Pakistan is to blame. True, delusions and the ability to indulge in them are a part of a man’s life. “If you take away the life-lie from the average man you take away his happiness,” said Ibsen. But what if states have delusions? Can they too afford to indulge them?
India feels that it can. Home Minister P Chidambaram served notice the other day that immediately following the next terrorist attack, India will respond in a “swift and decisive” manner. Whatever Pakistanis may think of such a naked threat, Chidambaram is under a delusion if he imagines that Al Qaeda and their subcontinental ilk will be deterred. Actually, they must be over the moon with joy. One more attack of the Mumbai type and their cherished goal of triggering an India-Pakistan war would have been achieved. And if that was not enough good news for the terrorists, India’s Defence Minister, A K Antony, went as far as to hint at the likely Indian targets—“the 42 terror camps that Pakistan has taken no serious steps to destroy.”
Once India responds in the “swift and decisive” manner that Chidambaram has promised against the targets Antony has identified, events thereafter will either take the form of a Greek tragedy—in which we know the end but are powerless to prevent it—or that of subcontinental power-plays, where violence begets violence and peace is little more than the drudge of violence.
But what the violence against Pakistan will not hide will be India’s impotence to seek out and punish the real perpetrators of terror. Striking at, and diverting the attention of, the one force that could defeat the terrorists—the Pakistani army—is so obviously self-defeating that one suspects that the two Indian ministers must have developed halitosis of the intellect, if they have one.
It also shows that while Pakistan is trying to deal with terrorism perhaps clumsily, but bravely, India has given up. It is taking the easy way out. For it the Pakistani nation is the culprit. The Indian defence minister said as much when he remarked that India expected nothing from foreign-secretary-level talks, when and if they are held, and that, “barring a miracle,” they will fail. In other words, further negotiations are mere eyewash and India lays no great store by them. Left unsaid, but implied, was that by visiting further violence against a neighbour, already reeling under terror attacks, India will somehow be able to keep the terrorists out of India, which talking with Pakistan will not. As delusions go, this must be the mother of them all. It is improbable even as fiction.
Nevertheless, candid conversations with foreign diplomats in the know suggest that that actually is what India believes. If so, then we may as well hunker down to face the inevitable. After all, “there is no point in going to the woods any more, the laurels all our cut.”
In their dealings with each other India and Pakistan invariably make a fiction of the truth. To deploy facts with imagination is one thing, to imagine facts is another. The A bomb that was to secure India spawned that of Pakistan and made India far less secure than when neither possessed such weapons. India’s successful grab of Siachin made inevitable Pakistan’s attempt, albeit unsuccessful, to seize Kargil. Bangladesh, planned (since 1969, according to Shaikh Hasina) and midwifed by India will, in due course, as Islamic radicalisation grows, prove as great a thorn in India’s side, if not greater, as when Bangladesh was East Pakistan. And when it comes to engendering trust, so great is the present deficit that Vajpayee probably wishes that he had not visited the Minar-e-Pakistan but instead waited till the completion of the Mazaar-e-Pakistan, for the construction of which his party is readying plans.
After Kargil, Balochistan, Afghanistan; the scuttling of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, the Composite Dialogue and foreign-secretary-level talks and Mumbai and the water disputes, nothing remains. Not even the desire to manage this dangerous hostility; instead, only a race to promote it.
In the sphere of foreign affairs too, India and Pakistan are turning to old allies for the battle ahead; India to Russia, and especially Russian weaponry, and Pakistan to the US, for not only weapons but also a life-support system.
Militarily, the protagonists seem to be readying themselves. India has completed and Pakistan is in the midst of, air, sea and land exercises meant to coordinate responses against an attack from the other country. The use of live ammunition in these exercises speaks a lot for the seriousness and immediacy of the threat.
Coincidentally, a US think tank has just produced its latest estimate of what would be the consequences of a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India. It estimates 20 million dead and a fast-spreading nuclear cloud that could endanger world agricultural production, with dire repercussions.
What makes almost despondent those who once hoped that peace between India and Pakistan would somehow break out are the political limitations of the two countries’ leaderships.
In India we have Manmohan Singh, a well meaning Sikh in a Brahmin stronghold, with little political clout or independent political standing. A boffin turned politician. And however respected he deservedly is, as an economist and the leading spirit behind India’s economic revival, his hold on the hearts of the masses is non-existent. Besides, where Pakistan is concerned Manmohan Singh has shot his bolt. He has used up all his credit by refusing to attack Pakistan after Mumbai and has nothing left to oppose those who will bray for war when the next terror attack occurs.
His sponsor, Sonia Gandhi, is a foreigner who sensibly declined taking office as prime minister, knowing that India is a state where being fair is prized but being white is not. A former countryman of hers once said that “the practice of politics in India, as in Italy, has always been the systematic organisation of hatreds.” Sonia Gandhi cannot, even if she wants to, buck the “attack-Pakistan” consensus that has India in its grip.
In our case we have Mr Zardari who, for all the good and noble sentiments he has expressed about furthering relations with India, is about as credible as the proverbial male ant which, when discovered crawling up an elephant’s leg and asked of its intent replied: “Rape.”
Hence politicians and an establishment that have in the past preferred delusion to reality have the floor in both countries. Stopping them playing out their delusions will be hard. But not to do so would be disastrous.
Of course, the communal factor is the great and ever-present overhang. We have a surfeit of demented Indophobes, and so does India of men who bristle at the mere mention of Pakistan. And who have, over the course of the last six decades, reduced the status of Muslims in India to that of the “untouchables.” Not that Pakistan’s record when it comes to the welfare of its minorities is much better.
Notwithstanding the belated prattle of the Indian minister of state for defence denying that India proposes to conduct “surgical strikes” on Pakistan, the stage seems to be set for a conflict. And this time to hope that others will step in to pluck our chestnuts out of the fire is delusory. But what is not a delusion, but a stark, sad, idiotic reality, is that the power to decide war or peace has passed from governments to terrorists.
O Lord! With how little wisdom are we governed?