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India must act firm with Pakistan and talk less

India must act firm with Pakistan and talk less

Author: Sunanda K. Datta-Ray
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: January 3, 2009

India must take the lead in its own defence if Dr Manmohan Singh expects the international community to pressure Pakistan to respect the United Nations security council resolutions on terrorism. That means less talk and more action.

Though Mr Rajnath Singh's suggestion of `joint military action' with the United States against Pakistan is unrealistic the Americans will never attack their most trusted ally in this part of the world the Bharatiya Janata Party president is certainly justified in demanding far stronger Indian action to eliminate persistent threats to this country's security and stability.

But direct strikes against the terrorists (as in Afghanistan) are not the answer for that would precipitate all-out war between two nuclear-armed neighbours and destroy both countries. Instead, India must take such political and economic steps that Islamabad is forced in its own interest to root out the `non-state actors' (Mr Asif Ali Zardari's term) whom Mr Pranab Mukherjee calls `elements in Pakistan'. It must do so through coercive pressure that stops short of outright hostilities, and which also do not affect the wellbeing of Indian Muslims who may already feel imperilled by the hysteria of some of our popular television anchors.

Far from being only the medium, TV is the overwhelming message that shapes the thinking of millions of viewers who have little time for the printed word. It can be misleading and mischievous. Commentators gloated, for instance, that China had slapped down Pakistan when China had slapped down India by equating the burgled with the burglar, a tactic the Americans also favour.. Again, when the screen showed the statement by Mr Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader, threatening to send `thousands of well-armed militants' to fight India, the commentator turned it into `thousands of wellarmed terrorists'. Television is the national circus, sacrificing accuracy and objectivity for effervescent entertainment.

Foreigners see the media as the disguised voice of official India and lost much of their respect for our radio and newspapers -TV was not a factor then in the run-up to the Bangladesh war because of glowing daily reports of the Mukti Bahini's glorious victories, territorial gains and destruction of Pakistani men and arms. The fiction of Mujibnagar capped these fairy tales. Though fully behind India and Bangladesh's liberation, the world's media ridiculed the hyperbole that reduced a good cause to exuberant jingoism. It wasn't only that patriotism ran away with professionalism. Authority called the tune, and I remember a briefing when the army spokesman want ed the same incident presented differently in Indian and foreign newspapers. India must not again compromise a sound case with propaganda overkill. Of course, we are not alone in weaving tales. The late J.N Dixit dismissed as `utter poppycock' American claims of averting an India-Pakistan war in 1990. Mr Richard Haass, who accompanied Mr Robert Gates to India in a special White House plane that the senior President George Bush sent to fetch him from Moscow, told me the subcontinent's intensely menacing atmosphere reminded him of Barbara Tuchman's evocative recreation of the eve of World War I in The Guns of August. One day, Ms Condoleezza Rice might also describe to another journalist how she rushed to Delhi in December 2008 to prevent India invading Pakistan. It would be a great feather in President George W. Bush's cap to boast that in the closing hours of an inglorious presidency he trumped Dad's achievement and dragged two nuclear powers back from the brink of Armageddon.

American commitment to Pakistan goes back to even before the British left the subcontinent and will not change unless there is a cataclysm such as turned Washington against its other protege, Iran. As for Chinese support, the more India grows, the greater will be China's need for a Trojan Horse in the subcontinent. These are the facts of life in a tough neighbourhood where the mix of hot air and inaction can only encourage Pakistanis to call India's bluff by mounting more guerrilla attacks.

History repeats itself. General Pervez Musharraf's Operation Badr replicated Ayub Khan's Operation Gibraltar, which had much in common with the 1947 invasion of Kashmir. Both Operations Gibraltar and Badr were drawn up many years before they were launched, showing a continuity in Pakistani thinking and planning even while signing water-sharing treaties, shaking hands in Shimla, operating the Samjhauta Express, wielding the willow or engaging in `composite' dialogues. There is no need for Indians to worry about endangering Pakistan's nascent democracy because there is no divergence between military and civilian authorities when it comes to India.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto often quoted Palmerston's famous dictum about countries not having eternal allies or perpetual enemies but only eternal and perpetual interests. We know what those interests are. Pakistan feels it was cheated at partition of territorial, riverine, military and financial assets, seeks to avenge Bangladesh, regain Siachen, and, above all, acquire the missing `k' in its name. What is not mentioned is that a politically stable, economically successful, secular democracy next door with 160 million Muslims whose leaders are confident enough like Mr A.R. Antulay to express unpopular opinions, challenges the basic premise of the `Islami Jamhuria-ePakistan'.

Since this minority could be India's invaluable ballast for secular stability, it is worrying that some Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal legislators calculated that rallying to Mr Antulay would appeal to Muslim voters. Across the communal divide, Hindu bigots do not understand that either India lives in multicultural harmony or doesn't live at all. There can be no `final solution' for the world's second or third largest Muslim community: it cannot be forcibly converted or driven into the Arabian Sea. The danger of irresponsible comments like Mr Antulay's is not Pakistani exploitation (that propaganda war needs no excuse) but that they play to the domestic Islamist gallery and ensure a Hindu backlash. It was heartening, therefore, when 6,000 ulema from all over the country condemned Islamist terrorism in Hyderabad. That, like the denunciations of many ordinary as well as stellar Muslims, should pacify Hindus who see Indian Muslims as a fifth column.

This is no time for divided loyalties or political posturing. Only a united India can respond to Pakistan with the vigour that should have been evident right at the start. Cancelling a cricket tour is neither here nor there unless it is part of an overall boycott. There can be no meaningful composite dialogue with people who are trying to destroy India; a joint terror mechanism perpetuates the pretence that Pakistan, too, is a victim of terrorism.. Its murderous internal politics which killed Benazir Bhutto is not the same as the Islamist terrorism that attacked Mumbai.

All governments know how far they can go with Taiwan or Tibet without provoking immediate Chinese retaliation. India would be accorded the same deference if it demonstrates its seriousness by drastically limiting ties with Pakistan, restricting trade and travel, implementing economic sanctions and urging friends in the international community to do the same or be exposed as abetting terrorism.

Israel shows there cannot be any half-measures when it comes to security. India must take the lead in its own defence if Dr Manmohan Singh expects the international community to pressure Pakistan to respect the United Nations security council resolutions on terrorism. That means less talk and more action.

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