Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said: “Hindus and Muslims would be the best of friends.” Only if they could get rid of dishonest media & politicians

Peace is the only way out

By Kuldip Nayar

IT is a shame that only 13 out of 760 MPs were present recently to pay tribute to the watch and ward personnel shot dead on Dec 13 in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. I was then a member of the Rajya Sabha. The house had finished question hour and some members had called it a day. I was one of them.

But before I could leave, I heard shots and shouts to stay inside. We were roughly 500 members who took refuge in the central hall of parliament. Outside the hall were the tall statues of Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. I recalled how much the two had sacrificed, not only for the country’s independence but also for India’s ethos of democracy and pluralism. The terrorists wanted to harm those values.

There was hardly any MP who did not suspect Pakistan’s hand. Subsequently, the attack was linked to the Lashkar-i-Taiba. Again, the attack on Mumbai where nearly 200 people were killed was linked to the Lashkar and its offshoot Jamaatud Dawa.

Previously, India’s reaction was to station troops on the borders for almost one year. This time, the anger has been deeper and wider. Yet the government has shown restraint. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s only request to his Pakistani counterpart was to send the ISI chief. The Pakistani government agreed to do so, but was apparently unable to convince the army. We know the limit to which elected rulers in Pakistan can go. On the other hand, they have domestic opinion to placate. But why is Islamabad reluctant to take action against terrorists who have been identified as having lived in Pakistan. Whatever it has done so far against the terrorists, it is not on India’s request but on Washington’s. And whatever is done will be under international pressure.

In India, with the exception of a few warmongers, there is a realisation that there is no option other than peace. Defence Minister A.K. Antony has publicly stated that there will be no war. Some television channels which queered the pitch in India have been ticked off. The Rajya Sabha committee has issued guidelines to indicate what should not be covered, i.e. “the repeated display in the media of human corpses in case of … incidents of bomb blasts, arson, etc., which causes a negative psychological impact on the viewers. News channels in many foreign countries do not telecast the footage of dead bodies.”

In the media itself, there is serious discussion whether all it did was within the limits of objective journalism. I hope the same examination takes place in Pakistan. Some time later, editors of television channels and newspapers of the two countries can sit across the table and debate the matter threadbare.

The first story that the terrorist arrested belonged to Faridkot in Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab was broken by Britain’s Observer. Dawn took the investigation further.

Subsequently, some Pakistani channels beamed interviews with Faridkot villagers. Why couldn’t this have been done before the Observer story? New Delhi has identified some of the dead terrorists and published their pictures. The Pakistan media should have pursued the story.

It is also time for the politicians of the two countries to undertake an introspection regarding their conduct. Even if they do not talk about war, their speeches and body language are far from friendly. They run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Why are they stoking the fires of hatred when people on both sides are charged? Whether there is a campaign in Pakistan not to watch Indian movies is not known. But the halls showing Indian films are practically empty according to reports. On this side, the minister for sports and youth affairs says that the cricket series with Pakistan cannot take place after what happened in Mumbai. Thus the recrimination between the two countries goes on.

France and Germany fought for hundreds of years. Today they are the best of friends. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah gave me this example when I asked him before Partition whether Hindus and Muslims would jump at each other’s throat once the British left. He said we would be the best of friends.

I have no doubt that one day this will happen. The assassinated Benazir Bhutto told me in London a few months before returning to Pakistan that she would have “a borderless subcontinent”. President Zardari has tried to go in the same direction, but has been rapped on the knuckles. Manmohan Singh has said many a time that destiny has thrown India and Pakistan together and they cannot but be good neighbours.

I admire the courage and commitment of people, even if a small group of them, in lighting candles in Karachi or taking out a procession in Lahore in memory of those who died in the Mumbai attack. This is the time when India needs understanding. This is also the time when faith in good relations between India and Pakistan is being tested.

Pakistan should understand India’s anger. Those who attacked Mumbai might be Al Qaeda or the Taliban who are playing havoc in Pakistan as well. But there are organisations which are helping, training and arming them. Why have such extremists remained beyond the pale of law? Even when some of them were ‘detained’ after the attack on India’s parliament, they were practically free to preach and spread poison.

Nobody has accused the Pakistan government for the attack on Mumbai. But Pakistan has not been able to insulate its territory which the terrorists continue to use as a launching pad as well as their refuge.

Unfortunately, some of the speeches in the Rajya Sabha were exactly on the lines of statements made in the US Congress after 9/11. President Bush attacked Iraq and Afghanistan and played havoc with America’s liberal values and traditions. It has taken all these years for the nation to assert itself through the election of Senator Barack Obama to the office of president. Civil societies in both countries should take note of this.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi. (Dawn, 19 Dec 2008)