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What a visit to Pakistan revealed
June 12, 2007
The initiative had the blessings of both governments and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC. But the long shadow of recent events in Karachi fell on this effort and unlike last year, the guest list from Pakistan was very small.
The initiative, launched with much hope and hype last year, seems to be meeting the same fate as many such initiatives. It is thus a good time to take a long hard look at the peace process and examine likely scenarios.
On May 22 last year, a 33-member Pakistani delegation from Karachi arrived in Mumbai on a four-day visit. On the first day, the delegates kept mostly to themselves and seemed reluctant to even strike up conversations with Indians.
But from the second day, as they got used to freedom in India, all of them, with an odd exception, behaved as if they had just entered a ' de-compression' chamber, doing all the things that are prohibited in a strict Islamic society, from eating ham and bacon at breakfast to guzzling down whisky.
The dominant impressions of the interaction were:
A Indian delegation, led by Murlidhar Chaini, Chairman, Reliance Industries [Get Quote] and President, Maharashtra Economic Development Council (a kind of state Planning Commission) paid a return trip to Karachi from June 10 to 14, 2006.
Other members of the delegation included Dr Ravi Bapat, former vice-chancellor, Medical University, Dr Nikhil Datar, a leading gynaecologist, Dr Sunil Deshmukh of Bombay University, Chandrashekhar Nene, VP, Kingfisher Airlines, Sulaxana Mahajan, an architect and three journalists from local newspapers. Some delegates were accompanied by their spouses. Loksatta Editor Kumar Ketkar of SAFMA was the coordinator of the delegation. I was part of the delegation as a representative of an NGO involved with the peace process.
Six other persons, mainly artistes from various fields (like poet Javed Akhtar, singer Faiyyaz) were denied visas by the Pakistani high commission in Delhi. All were Indian Muslims.
Conclusions from that visit:
The overall situation in Karachi, and by proxy, Pakistan, is unstable and any trigger like the capture/killing of Al Qaeda [Images] chieftain Osama bin Laden or Musharraf extending his presidency could trigger events which could threaten the continuance of military rule. The ongoing violence in Waziristan, Baluchistan and Afghanistan only adds to the volatility.
Next: Some possible scenarios