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Losing the 'Seeing Eye'

June 17, 2003

Barely two months after it was launched at Srinagar, India's nth effort to sign peace with Pakistan has gone kaput. Or so it should be via by the insulting interview of Pakistan's President to an Indian television channel last week.

'We don't trust you [India] when you say we should focus on trade. We see it as an attempt to sideline the main issue of Kashmir.' That one sound byte from Pervez Musharraf tells all -- about his abusive abrasiveness and dripping hatred towards India. The words confirm that the man is not a diplomat but a demon when it comes to India.

Look at his gall. Despite the 44 per cent turnout in the J&K assembly polls last October being internationally regarded as free and fair, he says he is clear on one thing: 'The people of Kashmir do not want to be part of India.' Then there's that vicarious contempt about resumption of cricket ties: 'Let me tell you that my players don't want to play with India.' To rub salt in, Musharraf doesn't rule out a repeat of Kargil '99.

One had hoped that our ministry of external affairs would react to this bile with a strong protest note to Islamabad and the rest of the world, condemning the uncouth remarks of the head of a sovereign country, and calling for an unconditional apology from him, failing which, India's nth initiative for peace with Pakistan would lie filed away for mere record.

But it was a fond hope really. Genteel India, ever the sucker, had a spokesman of the MEA voice mere 'dissent' over Musharraf's comments. The prime minister of the insulted nation had chosen to remain silent and, strangely, the media didn't apparently approach him for reaction.

It took our loh purush in far away London to almost convulse at Musharraf's affront -- and never mind that it was nearly 48 hours late. Speaking to a BBC Hindi programme on Monday, June 16, he interpreted Musharraf's comment on Kargil to mean 'fruitful talks will not be possible' with Pakistan.

Strangely, the strong reaction from L K Advani, the country's deputy prime minister, mind you, did not make the headlines of Mumbai's two leading English-language newspapers of the next day, June 17.

But why the 'talks' at all Mr Advani? Why not admit that our nth peace initiative was itself ill-timed and ill-judged?

Consider the facts of the last two months.

Right from the bolt-from-the-blue offer of friendship at Srinagar on April 18, India, genteel India, decided to bend backwards to smoke the peace pipe with Pakistan. We had quickly reappointed a high commissioner in Islamabad, offered the resumption of the Delhi-Lahore bus service, and diluted our earlier pre-condition regarding elimination of cross-border terrorism before talks could begin.

Even as the detailed road map of step-by-step approach mentioned by our foreign minister was far from being put in practice, The Hindu of May 28, 2003 reported Prime Minister Vajpayee in New Delhi declaring that India wanted to start talks with Pakistan 'as soon as possible.'

On May 28, in Berlin, Vajpayee went on to concede that resolving the Kashmir issue would require 'serious compromises' which he was 'prepared to negotiate' -- with not even a hint that Pakistan must first allow over-flight on its territory to Indian aircrafts, must reciprocate the Most Favoured Nation status to trade with India, must close its terrorist training camps and stop cross-border infiltration altogether. (UNI report in The Hindu, May 29, 2003).

In Chicago last Friday, Advani echoed his master's voice. 'There has to be give and take in negotiations,' he said in a public speech. (The Times of India, Mumbai, June 14, 2003). Pradeep Kaushal of The Indian Express was more explicit. In his despatch datelined Chicago June 13, he reported Advani as saying that India was ready for a compromise on Jammu and Kashmir and quoted him as saying: 'We have to see what kind of compromises are possible even now,' adding that talks could help one decide these compromises.

Why this unholy hurry to sit across the summit table with Pakistan? Is there some deadline of history set for Vajpayee's hat trick? Or has President Bush set a deadline -- in exchange for what? No one knows, for no one but no one is opening his mouth on that, and the media is just not investigating, so engulfed and euphoric as it has been in the 'peace with Pakistan' initiative. All, it would seem, are simply itching for India's 'talk' with Pakistan, even if it be in poetry newly composed for the special occasion.

It's really been appalling, this whole turn-around of ours in dealing with Pakistan -- from 'We don't want to see your face' for 18 months since that attack on our Parliament to 'Come, come, I want to so badly talk to you' presently. Sonia Gandhi was right when she recently attacked the Vajpayee government's Pak policy as lacking in 'clarity, consistency and conviction.'

It's been incomprehensible -- this talk of 'talks as soon as possible,' of 'give and take in negotiations,' of the need for 'serious compromises,' of 'talks to decide the compromises' -- even as Pakistan has said that it will not budge on its stance on Kashmir, that it will not accept the Line of Control as the new border, that it will not reciprocate India's gesture with the Most Favoured Nation benefit as yet, that it will not allow us to fly over its territory as yet and that it will not deport 20 hardened criminals wanted by us; Nor has it stopped its constant infiltration of our borders and its frequent-artillery-fire across-the Line of Control scheme. Yet, talk with it, we will, we have decided it.

The contrast in the attitudes of India and Pakistan to peace was so stark in recent weeks that it was almost demeaning for a nation that is much bigger in numbers and territory and GDP, much more endowed in resources, much more respected internationally and much more versatile than its neighbour, which the world at large has silently pronounced as a 'rogue state.' Or have Vajpayee and Advani been cocky in believing that whatever be Pakistan's rhetoric (for 'domestic consumption' as is usually stated), they can still work out an honourable pact with that country?

In a press release issued in Chennai on May 30, Subramanian Swamy, the Janata Party president, made the point that Vajpayee could not talk of a partition of Kashmir along the LoC without seeking Parliament's approval. (The Hindu, May 31, 2003). As a matter of fact, the constitutional requirements of bringing about any 'compromise' on the alteration of the existing boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir were pointed out in this column of May 6, 2003. But the BJP-led government that otherwise talks of a 'consensus' on almost anything and everything -- from the setting up of a judicial commission and labour reforms to the women's reservation bill -- does not even talk of talking to Parliament on 'serious compromises' with Pakistan.

Even after Musharraf's latest rebuff expressing lack of trust in India, Advani still talks about 'talks' with Pakistan, his only concern being that they will not be 'fruitful' -- whatever that means. The basic question remains: why these 'talks' at all until Pakistan sheds its organic hostility towards India?

One suspects that the meek, tolerant and idealistic Hindu mind is at work here once again -- like the Shankaracharya of Puri saying at Srinagar the other day that whatever the Supreme Court's verdict on the Ayodhya case, Hindus will build a mosque on the land adjoining that on which the Muslims will build a temple for Ram.

If that is indeed so, it's apt to remind the venerable three, Vajpayee, Advani and the Shankaracharya, of the book Thoughts On Pakistan (Thacker & Co, Bombay, 1941) written by a certain Dr B R Ambedkar, MA, PhD and barrister of law.

Debunking the Hindus of his time who forgot the history of the Indian Muslims' psyche and therefore opposed the carving out of Pakistan as a separate nation, Ambedkar believed that 'those Hindus who are guiding the destinies of their fellows have lost what Carlyle calls the Seeing Eye and are walking in the glamour of certain vain illusions.'

Unless that sort of blindness is indeed the condition of our venerable trinity, Musharraf's latest missile ought to make them see light and some stunning stars as well.

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Arvind Lavakare

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