Veteran columnist Irfan Hussain has written an excellent article on how the masses are the real victims of terrorism, extremism and war on the subcontinent. On the first anniversary of the attacks in Mumbai Irfan Hussain shows how it is in the interests of both countries – India and Pakistan – to not only fight terrorism but to also initiate dialogue and move towards peace.
AS I write this, it is one year to the day since the terrorist atrocity in Mumbai. I watched the city’s three-day ordeal with fascination and horror in Sri Lanka on various news channels.
A year later, perhaps we can look back on the attack with a greater degree of objectivity, and count the winners and the losers.
The real winners, of course, are militant groups, like the Lashkar-i-Taiba, and their shadowy backers in Pakistan. They have achieved what they set out to do: sabotage the peace talks between India and Pakistan. Although these negotiations had not achieved a breakthrough, they had greatly improved relations between India and Pakistan.
The second prize goes to the security establishments in both countries, although this is truer of Pakistan than it is of India where the military is firmly under civilian control. The reality is that soldiers and spies need enemies to justify their lavish budgets. Peace between traditional enemies means cuts in defence, and less toys for the boys.
Obviously, the biggest losers are the victims of the attack, and their friends and families. But the other big losers are the people of the subcontinent. Millions in the region will continue suffering, just because their leaders remain locked in a 60-year old conflict. And when there was a glimmer of hope of some kind of resolution, relations have plunged to a new low.
The solution to this, says Hussain, is for India and Pakistan to engage in direct talks to foster peace and cooperation between the two powers. Obviously, this is met with no small amount of skepticism from the public.
Each time I have written along these lines, I have been flooded with emails from India readers, blasting me for daring to make such a suggestion. According to them, Pakistan does not merit such a gesture because it is harbouring terrorists, and because it has long followed policies hostile to India. And for these reasons, they are also against the resumption of peace talks.
They miss the point that one negotiates with one’s adversaries, not one’s friends. And they have the bizarre notion that peace is a reward for good behaviour, not a mutual need. The fact is that India needs peace just as much as Pakistan does. True, it is Pakistan that is currently being battered by an unrelenting wave of terrorism. But a Pakistan destabilised by extremist violence should be New Delhi’s worst nightmare.
Those who think a victorious Taliban would stop their mayhem on Pakistan’s eastern border are living in cloud-cuckoo land. These thugs have no respect for international boundaries, and have repeatedly declared their intention to ‘liberate’ Kashmir. Many of them also want to re-establish Muslim rule over India. These insane goals will ensure that terrorist groups will go on trying to hit Indian targets.
Another reason for India to pursue talks is that as a major regional and global player, the last thing it needs is continuing tension on its borders. When in 2001, a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament caused tensions to rise sharply, a number of multinationals withdrew their executives from India. The bottom line is that the threat of a nuclear exchange is not good for business.
Clearly, then, it should be in India’s interest to support the peace process, irrespective of the attempts made by terrorists to derail it. Indeed, the bloody events of a year ago should act as a spur — not as a reason to suspend negotiations.
Peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan are quite clearly a prerequisite to sustainable peace in the subcontinent. By finding a common ground and building trust between the two powers – even if only small trust at the beginning that can build over time – both India and Pakistan would benefit enormously.
In order for this to happen, there must be some patience and understanding from the beginning. Both nations have radical factions that will try to disrupt the peace process and create tension between the two nations in order to serve their personal goals of achieving power in a chaotic state. But neither Islamic nor Hindu militants represent the mainstream attitudes in either nation, so why let them set the agenda for our relations?
Opening talks and working together to defeat militantism and violence will allow India to continue its economic growth and finally free Pakistan to achieve the same. Most importantly, though, it will spare us, the people of the subcontinent, from more suffering and atrocities like we witnessed a year ago in Mumbai, and continue to witness daily in Pakistan.