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July 1, 1999

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For a reaction that befits the occasion

The Wags of Wagah have, all of a sudden, fallen silent. After marching up to the checkpost last year in style, seeking friendship and normalcy with Pakistan as if India was the reason why things were not all right between the two countries, the progressive crowd staged a spectacular torchlight rally which the cue artistes in the media picked up like it was the greatest media event since the Fall of Man.

One could have had a different viewpoint then, and opposed normalising relations with Pakistan so long as there was hard evidence that all that country was interested in was in dismembering India, in revenge for 1971, but that would have only ensured a straight ticket to the ranks of the Hindu brigade, even if one's political leanings were as far from saffron as Kargil is from Kanyakumari. But so low is the level of political debate in this country that opposing relations with an inimical nation, a Muslim nation, makes one 'anti-secular' and 'pro-saffron'.

Luckily, ironical as it may seem, one is beholden to Nawaz Sharief for changing the ground rules, and opening eyes at least on this side of the border. He has sold out his cheerleaders in India with nary a thought for their sentiments, or face. He has, by unilaterally attempting to alter the Line of Control, proved right folk like Bal Thackeray, who has always questioned Pakistan's commitment to normalisation of ties.

The secular brigade, in particular, owes Thackeray an apology, for equating his criticism of Pakistan with anti-Muslim feeling.

Post-Kargil, it is very clear just what Pakistan's intentions vis--vis India are, and that these are not a basis for friendly relations between the two countries. Only nations that have a commonality of interests can be friends. Now, I wonder if even the Wagah Brigade would push their cause unduly; no wonder they can't find their tongue.

It is possible that the Vajpayee government knew, beforehand, that despite extending a hand of friendship at Lahore, via a bus ride that was internationally cheered, this is just what Pakistan would do, and that there was no other way to expose the treachery, betrayal inherent in our western neighbour than to undertake what in retrospect has been a futile exercise.

But what I cannot understand is the refusal, call it pusillanimity if you will, to formulate action based upon perception.

Today, it is a given that Pakistan is an inimical state. That, despite protestations of friendship and the like, it will continue to encourage, in every manner possible, those who are working for the undoing of the Indian State. That it is, in an entirely negative sense, India-centric. That a unified India is anathema to it.

Post-Kargil, it is making no secret of the fact that it covets Indian territory, to which end it will unleash Islamic terrorists on Indian soil to commit murder and mayhem, never mind if such activities give the very community whose interests it professes to uphold a very bad name.

In simple words, Pakistan is an enemy state, so why do we hesitate to treat it as such?

Why do we hide behind euphemisms like 'the enemy' when describing the Kargil desperadoes when there is more proof of active Pakistani involvement than there is of the Neanderthal man? Who are we trying to please, cosset, by refusing to take action against Pakistan as one would against any enemy state?

No, this is not a plea to cross the LoC, even though I can't for the life of me figure out what sanctity is there to this putative line when one side has shown utter contempt for it. But I also believe India should not cross the LoC, at least not yet, not out of any glorious demonstration of the famed Hindu self-restraint, forbearance etc, but because we will simply be playing to the script drawn up in Islamabad if we did so.

I am sure a time will come when international opinion -- something that seems to matter more than domestic opinion in what is purely an internal matter of a country -- will itself veer around to the view that yes, India is left with no option but to go over the LoC in order to secure its territory from invaders and intruders. Till then, we will continue to lose our men in khaki, since bodybags today are the ultimate diplomatic weapon, more persuasive than any envoy could ever be.

Till the time that happens with India, what I would like to see is the establishment taking steps that are in consonance with what Pakistan really means to us.

If it is considered an enemy state -- there really can't be two opinions on this, not even among the Wags of Wagah -- then treat it as such.

Specifically, close your missions in that country, and send the Pakistani diplomatic corps back where they come from. Block travel to and from that country. Yes, scrap that ridiculous bus service to Lahore, and the inaptly named Samjhauta Express. Boycott that nation at all levels -- culture, sports, you name it -- for we lose our self-respect if we don't.

This is how nations treat enemies. This is how that mother of democracies, a country with which we celebrate our likeness, the US of A, treated Cuba, for far lesser crimes. At the height of the Cold War, when not one bullet was fired by the two protagonists at each other, this is how they treated each other.

Or, is it that our cricket team's encounters with Pakistan on the field are so dear to us, that we are willing to overlook a few square kilometres of our territory? After all, the squatters are all Mussalman, our dear brothers as the Mahatma called them.

Or is it that we are so hung up on our dollops of ghazals and Sufi pop that we can be Dritharashtra to a little incursion?

What I fear is that, once the present set of intruders are forcefully evicted from our territory, things will go back to the same hunky-doriness. The two cricket teams will start whacking the cherry around, there will be sudden outpouring of Urdu poetry, and the fossils born on that side of the border pre-1947 will stand up and be counted about what togetherness is all about. The usual tripe about how precious a commodity peace is, the economic fallout of normalisation, will all be trotted out in seminar after seminar, as the Wagah Brigade will once again find its voice.

But will that be justice to the fallen jawans of India, the families bereaved for no other reason than wearing khaki? What use are the millions of rupees collected across the land for the martyrs of Kargil, when the cause they fought for will have been trampled upon, by the very same people who ought to know better? Or, is the effusion of rupees the nation's way of sublimating guilt, since we know that thanks to our collective stupidity, there will be many more Kargils, many more bodybags, in the future?

Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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