Stuck in past

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Ai­jaz Zaka Syed

GIVEN the cloud of un­cer­tainty hov­er­ing over his gov­ern­ment and ad­vanc­ing years, it's doubt­ful if Man­mo­han Singh will re­alise his dream of vis­it­ing Pak­istan be­fore he leaves the South Block. Since the lead­er­ship of the great democ­racy was forced on him in rather un­usual cir­cum­stances in 2004, Dr Singh, born in Gah in present-day Pak­istan, hasn't made a se­cret of his wish to visit the land of his birth and achieve what has eluded his pre­de­ces­sors - a peace break­through with the neigh­bour.

Pak­istan's lead­er­ship, present and past, has bent over back­wards to in­vite the In­dian leader time and time again. Last month Pres­i­dent Zar­dari ex­tended the in­vi­ta­tion once again urg­ing him to at­tend Guru Nanak's an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions at Nankana Sahib only to be snubbed once again.

Mean­while as Dr Singh, like the Prince of Den­mark, takes his time to make up his mind in the last cou­ple of years in of­fice, some­one else has snatched the ini­tia­tive. Bi­har Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar, one of In­dia's most promis­ing politi­cians and emerg­ing con­tenders for Dr Singh's job, sur­prised many by undertaking a week-long trip to Pak­istan. The Bi­har leader, who lost lit­tle time in re­spond­ing to the in­vi­ta­tion of pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments of Sindh and Pun­jab and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, was mobbed like a rock star wher­ever he went in Pak­istan. The Hindu's Anita Joshua re­ports that the Bi­har leader, sport­ing a tra­di­tional Sindhi cap and ajrak for the greater part of the first day in Karachi, quickly won the hearts and minds of his hosts. He re­peat­edly bat­ted for stronger re­la­tions and greater eco­nomic and cul­tural part­ner­ship be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. Ku­mar also talked of the 'Bi­har growth story' to em­pha­sise why peace is es­sen­tial for pros­per­ity and growth, draw­ing ful­some praise from Im­ran Khan and oth­ers.

In­ter­est­ingly, Ku­mar's party, Janata Dal is a key mem­ber of the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance led by the BJP. That how­ever hasn't pre­vented him from pas­sion­ately pitch­ing for In­di­aPak­istan bon­homie and an in­clu­sive polity and tol­er­ance on both sides of the bor­der. Ku­mar was re­cently in the news for warn­ing his al­lies against pro­ject­ing Gu­jarat's Modi as a can­di­date for the top job in 2014, ar­gu­ing that a fu­ture leader must rep­re­sent the na­tion's sec­u­lar ethos and plu­ral­ism.

The Bi­har leader plumped for the same val­ues dur­ing his pas­sage to Pak­istan. On a visit to the Mo­hatta Palace Mu­seum in Karachi, he wrote in the vis­i­tors' book: "The visit to Mo­hatta Palace built in the tradition of stone palaces of Ra­jasthan has re­in­forced my be­lief that the cul­tural links be­tween our two nations are abid­ing which is cen­tral to our his­tory. If we shared a com­mon past, it's wise to share a com­mon fu­ture re­gard­less of ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries.''

True words of wis­dom there. But how many politi­cians, in power or out of it, in the two coun­tries share this courage of con­vic­tion and sin­cer­ity to bridge the im­pos­si­ble gulf be­tween the neigh­bours? If all of us, In­di­ans and Pak­ista­nis, re­ally be­lieved in this re­al­ity of a shared past and shared fu­ture, why are we still stuck in a time warp? Over the past 65 years, the more things change be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, the more they have re­mained the same.

Of late things have in­deed started to change though. A re­mark­able and lit­tle-no­ticed shift is tak­ing place in the sur­real world of In­dia-Pak­istan re­la­tions de­spite the best ef­forts of the guardian an­gels of for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ments on both sides to main­tain the sta­tus quo.

The red car­pet re­cep­tion rolled out to the Bi­har CM in Is­lam­abad with Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari ig­nor­ing all pro­to­col to host a spe­cial Di­wali din­ner in hon­our of the visi­tor was clearly meant to be a mes­sage to Delhi and PM Singh, who has al­lowed him­self to be dic­tated by cyn­i­cal South Block hawks on re­la­tions with the neigh­bour.

And the Bi­har leader is not the only one to get a rous­ing re­cep­tion. Ku­mar ar­rived in Pak­istan even as Sukhbir Singh Badal, deputy leader of In­dian Pun­jab, was cross­ing Wa­gah af­ter a re­mark­able visit to the other Pun­jab. Badal, the vir­tual head of the Akali gov­ern­ment, had ar­rived with some real big and bold ideas to take the re­la­tion­ship to a whole new level. The young leader pre­sented an am­bi­tious roadmap for eco­nomic part­ner­ship be­tween the two Pun­jabs in his talks with Chief Min­is­ter Shah­baz Sharif, who is to re­cip­ro­cate the visit in the next few weeks.

Be­sides push­ing for free trade zones and more trade routes and road links across the Rad­cliffe line, he has made an im­pas­sioned ap­peal ask­ing the neigh­bours to clear the neg­a­tive ef­fects of Par­ti­tion and hur­dles that pre­vent free move­ment of peo­ple who had not long ago been one. In do­ing so, Badal, whose party too is part of the NDA, may be voic­ing the sen­ti­ments of the silent mul­ti­tudes of the sub­con­ti­nent that have been con­sis­tently ig­nored by their gov­ern­ments. As C Raja Mo­han notes in the In­dian Ex­press, "If the BJP has aban­doned the peace legacy of Va­j­payee, the Congress hasn't had the courage of con­vic­tion to fol­low through its own ini­tia­tives. Con­ser­va­tives in the cab­i­net, like De­fence Min­is­ter Antony, have re­peat­edly blocked the PM's ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing his plans to visit Pak­istan. The Congress has ceded the ini­tia­tive not to the BJP, but to re­gional lead­ers." Clearly, Badal and Ku­mar are fill­ing the po­lit­i­cal and lead­er­ship vac­uum left open by Premier Singh and Congress Chief So­nia Gandhi. As on Kash­mir and other hot but­ton is­sues, the Congress lead­er­ship not­with­stand­ing its lib­eral im­age has be­trayed a sin­gu­lar lack of courage and vi­sion to take de­ci­sive steps even when of­fered his­toric op­por­tu­ni­ties. So what's Dr Singh afraid of? What would it take to take that bold step to­wards last­ing peace and nor­mal­i­sa­tion of ties with the neigh­bour? Even Va­j­payee, for all his flaws and ide­o­log­i­cal bag­gage, had been much more en­thu­si­as­tic about clear­ing the mess with Pak­istan.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.