Hope triumphs over hopelessness

Apparently, things are no better now than what they were a year ago. President has again raised the Kashmir issue in the UNO referring to it as the key issue affecting Indo-Pak relations. In the absence of any agreement over it no progress can be achieved in any other sector, like Siachen, Sir Creek, or more liberal regulations concerning trade and travel.

When Indian foreign minister met his glamourous counterpart of Pakistan the latter was shrewd suavity personified who promised no¬thing about the punishment of those allegedly involved in the Mumbai mayhem of 26/11. On the other hand there had been, of late, a few exchanges of gun shots across the LoC, and a couple of Sarpanches have been killed that frightened scores of others to resign their posts, as dictated by the militants.

Still more recently, a couple of members of the Indian Mujaheedin have been arrested in Delhi who have reportedly admitted that they were planning an outrage in the capital as ordered by their ISI masters. At home too in Pakistan there has been no let up on Islamist pressure on all symbols and trends of liberalism. Following the explosion of emotion over the controversial film, a Vishnu temple in Karachi was vandalised. A cleric was found involved in setting a young Christian involved in a case of blasphemy, and the 14 years, old Malala Yousafazai was shot in the scenic Swat valley merely because she was going to school and encouraged others to do the same and to seek professional success and satisfaction.

However, like the proverbial card all these signs of hopelessness have their other side also, and if one has the eye to see that side appears to be the brighter one. True, the Pak president has tried to bring back the issue of Kashmir to life as an international issue, but that was evidently for domestic consumption and a life-support device by a beleaguered president. Neither he nor his scintillating foreign minister can afford to be visibly soft toward India when their government is under attack for tolerating the U.S. drone attacks in tribal territory, for the massive corruption involving those high-up, and from their own judiciary which, since the last days of Musharraf, has emerged as the chief spokesman of liberal opposition, and that too when they are going to face the election within a few months.

One should, in all fairness, bear in mind the electoral constraints of Islamabad. But, on the whole, there is a visible reduction in support for the militants in Kashmir which has prompted, even the most pro-Pak among them, the veteran S.A.Geelani to say that Pakistan has betrayed them. For nearly two decades the valley had never been so peaceful and tourist-friendly as it has been so far this summer.

Talks on liberalisation of wise regulations are moving smoothly, and many of the avoidable restrictions on travellers are likely to be removed in the near future. Punishment of those involved in the Mumbai mayhem of 26/11 should not be the only glass through which Indo-Pak relations are to be viewed. In fact, many things else have happened, in the meantime, which appear to me as more significant for a better future.

True, a Hindu temple was vandalised in Karachi. But, who could even imagine a few years ago that the Maulana and the gang of seven he had led would be arrested and charged of blasphemy because, they, in the words of the judge, had desecrated ‘the house of God’. If it was unfortunate that a cleric would seek the mean way to get a young Christian implicated in an alleged act of blasphemy. But, the silver lining of the dark cloud is that the case was properly investigated and the cleric has been found guilty.

The Pak press and public in general have condemned the cleric and have supported the court’s action on both the occasions. These demonstrate the favourable swing in Pak public opinion repelled as it is by the cruel obscruanticism of the so-called Jehadis. The cruel attack on the 14 year old Malala was, obviously, an act of desperation on the part of the cornered Talibans.

Though cruel and condemnable this attack did not come to any one as a surprise. What, however, is very pleasantly surprising is the outpouring of support for the cause young Malala was championing and condemnation for the attackers. Even the Pak minister for the interior, Rehman Malik, has hailed young Malala as the ‘pride of Pakistan’, and has sent her abroad for better treatment. Young Malala may or may not survive, but her sacrifice has elected the best in Pak sentiment, and has given as unforeseen boost to cause of women’s liberty. Triumph of liberalism affecting all the weaker sections of any society, like the minorities and women, is what we in India value not only at home but also elsewhere, especially in our less fortunate neighbouring countries. In this connection, it is worth taking note of that the Pak army, while opposing the U.S.-led drone attacks, is determined to prove that those are needless by going all out against the FATA-based Taliban groups.

Gen. Pervez Kayani has already, for the first time, withdrawn troops from the Indo-Pak border to concentrate all available force against the militants hiding there, and has reportedly given a carte blanche to the Zardari government to go to any extent they choose to ease relations with India so that the Pak army can successfully take on the Talibans. The U.S. administration has obviously appreciated Kayani’s effort, and has ultimately released the two billion USD aid they had suspended because of Islamabad’s double-faced approach toward all Jehadis. In Pakistan, it is said that the army the Allah, the America call the shots on all important occasions. Now, both the army America are one in seeking better relations with India and in fighting fundamentalism.

Finally, let me end my story of hope behind hopelessness by referring to it as symbolic act of great emotional value. The Shabad Chowk of Lahore has been renamed Sahid Bhagat Singh Chowk in memory of the great revolutionary who had ascended the gallows there in 1931 for the freedom of an undivided India.

Thus has the Pak authorities invoked the memory of our glorious common past. These are gestures that one must take proper note of. To sustain and encourage this spirit in Pakistan we in India should conduct ourselves with care and caution, and should not needle Pak sentiment in any way lest forces presently on their back-foot find support from elements disappointed with India’s response to their gestures and approach.

Friendly relations is a two-way process, and we must not fail our western neighbours when many there are eager to grasp our hand.