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Could Nawaz Sharif deliver Dawood Ibrahim?

October 01, 2013 10:45 IST

Dawood Ibrahim, the fugitive gangsterJust for a moment, says Kamaraj Gopalan, consider the possibility: Dawood Ibrahim captured a few days before the next general election. It would be Dr Singh and the Congress's Osama moment. What answer could Narendra Modi possibly have to that?

Ionesco can rest assured in his Parisian grave.

The Theatre of the Absurd is alive and doing very well in India, thank you.

All you need to do is flick television channels during a developing story like the prime minister's meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, and you can enjoy absurdities that could give Rhinoceros a run for its money.

On Sunday, one anchor demanded to know if Dr Singh would confront Nawaz Sharif and ask why the Pakistani leader had called him a dehati aurat.

For Arnab's sake! Do the prime ministers of the world's most bitter enemies have nothing better to discuss?

The meeting was difficult to set up as it is. What with the military scrutinising one leader's every move and word, and the other's people allergic to any interaction with the prime minister of a country who had waged an insidious war for over 30 years.

The inanities on television and in the Twitterverse flowed almost instantly after the New York encounter ended, with commentators quick to pass judgment that it was a flop, of no consequence, a waste of time.

Diplomacy is best conducted away from the media glare, and Dr Singh's government has been clever in disguising its many moves to improve India's relations -- be it the 2005 opening up with the United States; the Track II discussions with General Musharraf that ensured a corresponding reduction in violence in the Kashmir valley; or the persuasive negotiations in Riyadh to let go of Indian terrorists, to cite but three instances.

Prime Minister Vajpayee memorably mentioned once that one could choose one's friends, but not one's neighbours. Dr Singh's diplomacy has been underscored by the philosophy that if India's borders remain tranquil, his government can concentrate on the economy and improving the lot of the Indian people.

This is not to say, that all has gone according to plan. Like neighbours in a Mumbai building, there have been many provocations and countless squabbles, but one of the Singh government's unheralded triumphs has been the diplomatic victories it has scored in the neighbourhood, without tom-tomming it.

So it is unlikely that we will know what really transpired at the New York Plaza hotel on Sunday. More likely, the two prime ministers gave their broad assent to what had been worked out in advance between their negotiating teams. The move to restore calm on the Line of Control was the only actionable initiative the two sides could have gone public with.

Afghanistan would certainly have been discussed -- nothing worries India's national security establishment more than what will unfold in Kabul after the Americans leave next year. India is determined that the moderates in Kabul -- whom New Delhi has backed vigorously and invested in -- do not cede any ground to the Taliban or the Haqqani Network.

Indian diplomats and national security mavens are also apprehensive that the terrorists whom Pakistan's military control and do not control will drift eastward and cause India's security environment to deteriorate badly.

Nawaz Sharif, as the discourse in this country does not often recognise, is truly the last man standing in Pakistan. His government stands between some semblance of stability in that country and terrifying chaos. Even though the Pakistan military is still suspicious of Sharif (after all, he was ousted in a military coup 14 years this month), it knows that among all of Pakistan's politicians -- Imran Khan included -- he has, given his past relationship with the Islamists, the best chance of reining them in somewhat.

Ironically, for a man who began his political career under General Zia-ul Haq, the dictator who wove Islamism into the tapestry of Pakistani society, Nawaz Sharif has consistently sought a better relationship with India, perhaps recognising, like the businessman that he is, that that would make it possible for Pakistan to focus on the economy and growth.

So what can we expect in the short term from the New York guftagu?

Likely, some more action from the Pakistanis in delivering Indian terrorists who have caused mayhem here in recent years but outlived their utility to the ISI. Men like Abdul Karim Tunda, for instance, or Yasin Bhatkal.

There is talk that the next big capture for India's intelligence agencies may be India's MOST WANTED himself. Will the ISI ever let go of Dawood Ibrahim, who has been privy to so much of its diabolic plans against India, or will the ISI thwart the civilian government and bump the gangster off, the way he murdered so many?

Just for a moment, consider the possibility: Dawood Ibrahim captured a few days before the next general election. It would be Dr Singh and the Congress's Osama moment. What answer could Narendra Modi possibly have to that?

Image: Dawood Ibrahim, the fugitive gangster, seen over 30 years ago in his Dubai office.

Kamaraj Gopalan