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Will the glitter of a Nobel outshine common sense on Pak?

By T V R Shenoy
November 02, 2009 09:03 IST
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Every prime minister believes that peace with Pakistan is simply a matter of time -- after which an applauding world shall hang the Nobel Prize around his neck. Is it Dr Manmohan Singh's turn to add his name to the list, asks T V R Shenoy.

'Pro pace et fraternitate gentium'. Those five words seem to dance before the eyes of presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers once they have settled down in office.

Roughly translated, the Latin means 'For the peace and brotherhood of mankind'. It appears, as you might guess, on one side of the Nobel Peace Prize medal. Winning the right to hang that little gold trinket around one's neck seems to convince politicians that they can overturn the logic of history with a personal touch.

In the specific context of India it has led almost every prime minister to believe that peace with our beloved western neighbour is simply a matter of time -- after which an applauding world shall hang the Nobel Prize around his (or her) neck.

Jawaharlal Nehru, in the first of many follies, prevented the Indian Army from cleaning up the invasion of Kashmir, tossing the problem to the United Nations at Lord Mountbatten's suggestion. At Tashkent in 1966 and at Simla in 1972 Indian prime ministers refused to press home the advantage that their soldiers had won. Morarji Desai spurned an Israeli feeler to destroy Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the bus to Lahore. Is it Dr Manmohan Singh's turn to add his name to the list?

In July, the prime minister met his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, at Sharm-el-Shaikh in Egypt. The result was a curious joint statement that hinted at Indian involvement in Baluchistan yet said not a word about the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and its ilk acting against us.

The then foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, admitted that the joint statement was 'poorly drafted'. This is bureaucratic code for 'I had nothing to do with it so don't blame me!' Three months later, speculation is still rife in Delhi about who exactly provided the wording for the document. (Rumours abound about a call from Washington.)

The Sharm-el-Shaikh statement was a bit hard to digest even for Congressmen. Yet it now seems that it was not a flash in the pan but part of a strategic effort. The prime minister made public overtures to Pakistan on a visit to Jammu and Kashmir. (It would have been nice to hear about equal efforts to restore the Kashmiri Pandits to their homes!) He followed those up with more after his return to Delhi when he spoke at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

I have a simple question. Why?

Is there anything at all over the past sixty-two years to demonstrate that Pakistan will respond to India's calls for peace? Let us get two facts clear. First, Pakistan exists only because its people thought they could not live in peace with 'Hindu' India. Second, over six decades the Pakistani army has developed a vested interest in creating and maintaining tensions with India.

As regards the first, Pakistan has always been a little more honest than a self-deluding India. Even while Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in Lahore after that bus trip, a Pakistani appeared on television asking a pertinent question: 'If Pakistan and India can live as 'brothers' why did we have Partition at all?' And after General Musharraf returned home after the failed Agra summit he publicly admitted at a press conference that 'We hate each other!'

(How often do you hear a politician from North India speak of fellow Indians from the South or the North-East as 'brothers'? Yet the word trips off the tongue easily enough when addressing people across the border.)

Pakistan has denied its Indian roots to the extent where some of its history books start only with the Arab invasions of lower Sind, and many of its people trace their roots to Arabia, or Iran, or Turkey -- anything but India. To speak of fraternity is only to fool ourselves.

As for the Pakistani army, it is in its own interest to foment enmity. It claims a special position in Pakistan by presenting itself as the only body standing against India. Its officers live off the fat of the land, they run everything from banks to industries to schools to farms -- all because the protectors of Pakistan must enjoy special privileges.

Stoking discord may or may not be in the interests of Pakistan as whole but it serves the Pakistani army perfectly well.

How many readers could identify the chief of staff of the Indian Army without looking it up? His counterpart in Pakistan is as prominent a figure as its president or its prime minister -- and probably more powerful than both put together -- thanks to differences with India.

Apologists like the candle wavers at Wagah will undoubtedly argue that the 'people of Pakistan' want peace. I do not believe this but, for the sake of argument, what difference does it make how they feel? The Pakistani army runs policy, not the Pakistani people.

Coming back to Dr Manmohan Singh's bid for peace, it is possible that he does not want to put pressure on Pakistan when the Taliban and Al Qaeda seem to have turned on the Pakistani establishment. And I am absolutely certain that there is a great deal of American 'diplomacy' too just now.

If history offers any pointers, this too is a futile exercise. Pakistan will squeeze all that it can from the United States -- and then plant the bulk of all military aid on the Indian border. What else can you expect from a country with a minister so moronic that he will claim that India has joined hands with the Taliban to plot against Pakistan?

Rehman Malik, the Pakistani interior minister, who made that absurd statement, may be delusional but not more so than anyone in Delhi that entertains hopes of lasting friendship with Islamabad.

For the record, I do not want Pakistan to break up because of all the chaos that such a thing would cause, especially with the prospect of Pakistani nuclear arms falling into Muslim fundamentalist hands. Nor do I want any form of union with any part of Pakistan; given its six decades of servility and dictatorship, Pakistanis have no concept of living in a democratic society.

All I expect of any government in Delhi is to maintain a watch on the borders. I do not expect peace with Pakistan, much less 'generosity' by India. Will the glitter of a Nobel gold outshine common sense?

The Latin tag on the Nobel Peace Prize medal is inscribed around a peculiar image designed by Gustav Vigeland -- three men, the one in the one seemingly forcing the other two into an embrace. In today's context you could interpret the trio as India, the United States, and Pakistan.

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T V R Shenoy