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'India should take the lead in resolving issues with Pakistan'

October 26, 2009 09:03 IST

The coordinated terrorist attacks against military installations as well as civilian bazaar areas across Pakistan over the last week seem to have thrown the country into such a nervous spin that ordinary Pakistanis are beginning to ask if better relations with India can help restore some desperately-needed normalcy to their country.

As terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group attacked the headquarters of the Pakistani army in Rawalpindi a week ago, challenging what remains Pakistan's most powerful institution, Rehana Hakim, the editor of the Pakistani magazine Newsline, attending a conference of women journalists in Lahore voiced the collective insecurity of the Pakistanis present: "If the army can be attacked, how safe can any one of us be in our own country?"

Across Lahore--in elite drawing rooms, journalist's soirees as well as among small traders and street hawkers in the city's busy Liberty Market area--a cross-section of Pakistanis confessed to rising uncertainty about the quality of governance, Asif Ali Zardari's unwillingness to take on the formidable power of the armed forces, dismay over Pakistan's international characterisation as the "epicentre of jehad" and even, the relationship between militancy and Islam.

There was one thread that united these conversations and it was articulated by Mian Ejaz ul-Hasan, an old-time member of the Pakistan People's Party: "If India believes it is the 'chaudhury' (big brother or hegemon) of the region," Hasan said, "then as the 'chaudhury' it should show take the lead in resolving issues across the sub-continent."

On top of the agenda, said Hasan, was the need to cooperate on fighting terror. "The terror unleashed against India in Mumbai and other cities is only a manifestation of the terror that Pakistanis face everyday at home," Hasan said.

Pakistani analysts pointed out that as the Pakistani army launched an assault against the strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban and the al Qaeda in South Waziristan, terror groups in the southern Punjab like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had united with terrorist groups like the Tehreek-i-Taliban in Pakistan's frontier areas to mount the string of terrorist attacks across Pakistan over the last week.

But in the run-up to the first anniversary of the Mumbai attacks next month, Pakistanis said they would like India to understand that they are as much victims of terrorism.

"The people of Pakistan have so much in common with India. Let us not stop talking to each other because of militancy and militant attacks. How can ordinary Pakistanis stop these attacks against India when we can't stop it against ourselves," asked Sarfaraz, a small trader in Lahore's Liberty Market.

Even Pakistan's information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, as he reiterated his government's position that Delhi had not "given enough evidence" to nail those India accuses to be behind the Mumbai attack, said, "The battle for Pakistan has escalated into a full-scale war. It is important to understand that these terrorists attacks are not episodic..the terror groups are sending the message that they are linked…Both India and Pakistan must fight this war against terrorism together."

Sarfaraz's commonly-held view that the hukumat (government) was "only interested in keeping the kursi (chair)" and would, therefore, never seriously challenge the widespread influence of the Pakistani army, ended with a plea: "If India won't talk to us, relations won't improve and traders like us, who live in the hope that open borders will galvanise our businesses, will have to learn that we can only sell to Pakistanis. But the truth is that the rich Pakistanis have already, mostly, left for America and London…" his voice trailed off.

Pakistani analysts pointed out that as bilateral relations improved under Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in around 2004 and the reopening of the Amritsar-Lahore land route showed promise, property prices in Lahore went up 300 per cent.

In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, as the official dialogue shut down, flights to Lahore and Karachi were drastically reduced, journalist visas dried up and New Delhi began to speak to Islamabad via Washington.

Meanwhile, as America shifted its war against terrorism to focus on Pakistan itself and investor confidence deteriorated, Pakistani officials said at least $ 40 billion had been lost over the last year due to terrorism.

According to Reuters, as the government and the army fought the terrorists in the Swat and Malakand valleys up north, GDP growth in Pakistan slid to 2 per cent in 2008-9.

The Asian Development Bank expected it to rise only to 3.3 per cent by June 2010.The dire straits in Pakistan's economy is compounded by the fact that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave it a $7.6-billion loan last November for two years, increasing it by $3.2 billion in July.

Last week, the Obama administration cleared the Kerry-Lugar Bill which promises $1.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan for the next five years.

But instead of welcoming the aid, the army publicly voiced dissent, the chief opposition in Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League party rejected it for imposing conditions that compromised Pakistan's "sovereignty" and Zardari rushed his foreign minister to Washington to voice the government's apprehensions.

So as the economy goes south and militant groups challenge the authority of the army, Ayesha Siddiqa, well-known author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy, points out that the Pakistani state remains unwilling to look inwards at the reasons which bred the terror. Terrorist groups in southern Punjab, says Siddiqa, who were once trained by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to wage terrorism in Kashmir, have recently developed contacts with the al Qaeda and the Taliban to mount attacks against the Pakistani state.

The state of confusion was clearly seen on the morning after the attacks on the military headquarters in Rawalpindi. On the front pages of Pakistan's respected Dawn newspaper, Zafar Abbas spoke of the need to dismantle the distinction between "good" and "bad" terrorists.

But Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik and Punjab's provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah pointed the finger at India for not only masterminding the continuing troubles in Balochistan but also having a hand in the blasts in both Peshawar and Rawalpindi.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani army source who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "The Pakistani army will go after the terrorists who challenge the army, but those terrorists who are fighting America or India, well, we will let them be."

Jyoti Malhotra in Lahore
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