With Sushil Kumar Shinde as the new home minister, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik probably felt he could force his way into India and get away with saying the sort of things he said on Indian soil without any fear of being put in his place, says Sushant Sareen
If ever there was any delusion among Indian policy-makers of Pakistan's changed policy towards India, or any expectation of receiving satisfaction on bringing the planners and perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks to justice, the visit of rowdy Rehman Malik to India last week should have rudely awakened them out of their self-created fantasy world.
Ironically, Malik insists that his visit has removed whatever trust deficit existed between India and Pakistan! Clearly, Mr Rowdy Rehman is either so thick-headed that he just doesn't get it that he has effectively blown apart the elaborate charade of his country being serious and sincere in improving relations with India; or else he was deliberately shooting his mouth off in India to play to the gallery back home and appease the militant-military alliance with his straight-from-the-shoulder remarks in India -- a repeat of Agra 2001.
That Malik is known for making the most ridiculous statements is hardly a secret. Sample this: at a time when Pakistan's commercial and business capital Karachi has been reeling under the phenomenon of politically and religiously motivated target killings -- hundreds of people have fallen victim to this phenomenon -- Malik came out with a gem blaming most of the killings on 'wives and girlfriends'. His bizarre utterances, which includes calling the terrorists who attacked the PNS Mehran naval base as being dressed in black 'like characters from Star Wars', have made him a figure of ridicule and the only reason he survives in his job is because he is a crony of President Asif Zardari.
Ostensibly, Malik was keen to come to India to ratify the new visa agreement between India and Pakistan. For some inexplicable reason, he considers this to be such a great achievement that he wanted to take credit for it. While the new agreement does relax the visa regime between the two countries marginally, it is hardly something that will prove to be a game-changer. Far from throwing open the Radcliffe Line for the peoples of the two countries, the new visa regime will affect only a very small number of people, if at all.
What great political capital Malik wanted to squeeze from putting his personal stamp on this agreement therefore remains something of a mystery, especially since the visa agreement is unlikely to sway any voter in Pakistan in the forthcoming general elections in Pakistan. What is more, Malik has absolutely no political constituency of his own that he could impress with this 'achievement'.
Perhaps the only rational explanation for his desperation to visit India was that he sees this visa agreement, which incidentally could have been signed just as well by some obscure bureaucrat, as his legacy to his country. But this begs the question: who, if anyone, remembers the name of the persons who negotiated or even signed the last visa agreement between India and Pakistan?
Be that as it may, Malik's desperation for visiting India was also motivated by two other factors which left a very small window of opportunity open for him to come to India.
One, there are reports that he might well be on the verge of losing his job because Asif Zardari is cut up with him and is looking for a suitable replacement. With the axe expected to fall, Malik could not afford to wait for much longer and hence forced himself on his somewhat reluctant hosts.
Two, there is a lot of speculation in Pakistan that the dates for the next election would be announced by the middle of January and a caretaker government would take office by around the same time. Thus, if Malik wanted to visit India, he could only do it during this time.
Fortunately for him, there was no longer any P Chidambaram in New Delhi who kept him at an arm's length and treated him with thinly disguised contempt that any self-respecting home minister reserves for a station house officer/deputy superintendent of police level police officer, which is what Malik really is. With Sushil Shinde as the new home minister, Malik probably felt he could force his way into India and get away with saying the sort of things he said on Indian soil without any fear of being put in his place.
And as it turns out, he proved correct in his assessment of his Indian counterpart who against the good advice of officials, and probably to curry favour with the prime minister, decided to provide Malik a stage from which he could abuse India.
If anything, Shinde's mealy-mouthed response to Malik's provocations are even more jarring than the message Malik was delivering. Malik has effectively signalled that India should forget about any satisfaction on 26/11 trials and other issues related to terrorism directed against India.
While a lot is being made about the judicial commission that will once again visit India from Pakistan to collect evidence from Indian officials, Malik has already let it be known that the judicial commission's proceedings are not going to make any difference because Kasab's testimony isn't enough to prosecute the Lashkar-e-Tayiba chief Hafiz Saeed or any of the others whom Kasab had named.
In essence, Malik has told the Indian government that regardless of the evidence that is given to Pakistan, it will never be enough and that if India doesn't like this it can lump it, which the incumbent government in Delhi seems more than willing to do.
Malik not only dismissed the testimony of David Headley but also was brazen enough to wash his hands off Abu Jundal, calling him an Indian agent. Of course, no one on the Indian side bothered to ask him what this 'Indian agent' was doing in Pakistan for so many years, why he was present in the 'control room' guiding the monsters of Mumbai to carry out their grisly task, or why the Pakistani intelligence agencies were trying so hard to dissuade the Saudis from deporting him to India.
On Lt Saurav Kalia's torture, murder and the mutilation of his body, Malik responded with typical disingenuousness by blaming it on the weather. But if anything the weather on the LoC in Kargil sector should preserve bodies rather than lead to their decomposition. In any case, bad weather doesn't gouge out eyes, chop off genitals, place marks of cigarette burns or leave torture marks on bodies.
While Malik did what was entirely in his character, the big question is why the government of India refuses to learn from past experience. What has changed in Pakistan's attitude towards India that makes the Indian prime minister so keen on pushing for normalised relations with Pakistan? Except for a whole lot of sweet-talk, in tangible terms what has Pakistan done to indicate that it is serious and sincere in cultivating good relations with India?
None of the metrics which would indicate a paradigm change on part of Pakistan -- shutting down terror training camps, effectively curbing the activities of terror groups operating against India, ending the recruitment of Indian Muslims to carry out subversive activities inside India, clamping down on infiltration across the border, ending the export of counterfeit currency, stopping the flow of narcotics into India (despite Rahul Gandhi correctly pointing out that an entire generation of young people in Punjab is being destroyed by drugs, his party's government continues to insist on embracing Pakistan), putting the Khalistani terrorists out of business, ceasing hostile anti-India propaganda on the issue of Balochistan, Afghanistan and water, getting off the Kashmir hobby-horse, it's an endless list -- have been met.
And yet, the turn-the-other-cheek liberals and professional track-II activists are unquestioningly lapping up the Pakistani line and pressing the Government of India to make concessions on issues like Sir Creek and Siachen to reach out to the Pakistanis. In their defence, these characters point to the opening up of trade by Pakistan as a sign of change. But since when has opening trade become a concession? Trade by definition is something that benefits both parties. Pakistan is no United States or European Union that can give trade concessions to India. If anything Pakistan needs trade with India more than India needs it with Pakistan. After all, India's trade with Pakistan will be less than one per cent of our total foreign trade of around $ 600 billion.
What is more, for Pakistan to grant India MFN status is no favour; rather it is an obligation under WTO rules. And even this status remains elusive because politicians in Pakistan are afraid that if Pakistan lives up to its commitment to grant India MFN status by the end of the year, they could lose votes in the forthcoming general elections. If indeed this is the case, then it begs the question as to how opening visas is politically popular but opening trade is not?
Quite frankly, the only sensible thing that this government has so far done on Pakistan is refuse the PM's visit to that country. For Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan on Guru Nanak's birth anniversary would have been rather unseemly not just because the dates corresponded to the fourth anniversary of the 26/11 attacks but also because it would have been deeply embarrassing for Dr Singh to be seen in company of Khalistani terrorists who are always present at the gurdwaras to abuse India, incite Sikh pilgrims and if possible recruit them for carrying out terrorist acts inside India.
And after Malik's bull-in-a-China-shop performance in India, which has left the Manmohan Singh government cringing with embarrassment, chances are that the prime ministerial visit is for all practical purposes off.
What this does to Dr Singh's expressed desire that he will think he has done a good job if India-Pakistan ties normalise is altogether another matter. One only wishes that instead of wanting to normalise relations with Pakistan, Dr Singh was to consider removing crony capitalism and rampant corruption in which his government is deeply immersed, improving the state of the Indian economy, providing quality education and health services to the people of India as part of his job.