Mar 11, 2009

Do different Pakistanis, different Indians have a shared quest?

By Jawed Naqvi

GEN Pervez Musharraf is someone India’s political class hates, reviles and mistrusts but still loves to be charmed by. He too enjoys their company, their copious invectives not withstanding. On Saturday, he revelled in one such gathering in Delhi, hostility writ large on the jeering faces of his audience. A 19th century poet had wryly described the transition from an abusing companion to a grimacing one thus:

Lagey moonh bhi chidhaaney dete dete gaaliyaan saahab Zubaa’n bigdi to bigdi thi, khabar leejay dahan bigda

(Your abusive ways were fine though bereft of social graces Now your visage is at risk since you turned to making faces)

Pro-democracy partisans in Pakistan who toiled hard to eject Gen Musharraf from power do not like this irritating banter. They mistrust India’s intentions in treating a military dictator with an admixture of cordiality and aloofness. When he was about to be thrown out by a combination of American betrayal and Pakistani street power, senior Indian officials were still confident of the general’s invincibility. Last week, speaker after speaker at the India Today conclave, even those who plastered him with criticism, was eager to have him back in the saddle in Pakistan. There is something perverse, bordering on decadent, about this relationship.

It is said Americans don’t like civilian rule in Pakistan because it retards their agenda in the country and the wider region. I do not know what India’s stake is in military rule there. It didn’t use to be like this. Indira Gandhi, for all her tough bargaining with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, preferred him any day to Ziaul Haq. Perhaps the end of Cold War changed the equilibrium. Now it seems what is good for America is good for India. But that still does not explain why, in spite of all the insulting things people like Narendra Modi say about him, there are the large pockets where Musharraf is admired. The host, India Today’s owner-editor Aroon Purie said so. He lavished praise on the general, lauding his easy ability to charm Indians with his communicative skills and candour.

The love-hate energy was at its peak at the conclave he hosted, and which Gen Musharraf addressed in Delhi on Saturday after being advised by his daughter not to. The packed banquet hall at the Taj Palace hotel was bristling with high voltage rage, apprehension and revenge. The choice of the hotel was deliberately ironical. It was its sister hotel in Mumbai that was ransacked in November last year by terrorists of whom at least one has been identified as a Pakistani.

I thought the general acquitted himself well and fielded most of the questions with aplomb barring the vital one about Kashmiri Pandits of whose plight he seemed to be more or less oblivious. I suspect it was partly a consequence of little or no discussion in the public domain within Pakistan about one of the most tragic outcomes of the militancy in Kashmir. Gen Musharraf was asked by a Kashmiri woman, a Pandit, to give her just one reason why she should be in love with Pakistan. Implicit in her comment was the accusation that Pakistan’s support to Kashmiri militants had destroyed the region’s syncretic culture by driving most of the Hindus from the Valley.

According to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, about 51,000 Pandit families fled their homes in Jammu and Kashmir due to the violence between 1990 and 1993. Of these, 4,674 families are living in refugee camps in Jammu, 235 families are in camps in Delhi, and 18 families are in Chandigarh. The rest still are displaced, but are living outside of the camps in Jammu and Delhi. An American analysis of religious freedoms in India describes how the Pandit community faces bleak physical, educational, and economic conditions in the camps and fears that a negotiated solution giving greater autonomy to the Muslim majority might threaten its own survival in Jammu and Kashmir as a culturally and historically distinctive group.

I lost a dear friend in H.N. Wanchoo, a communist Pandit, who was killed by terrorists in 1992. He was a unique man in the communally riven region that had put a bust of Lenin prominently in his living room. The human rights activist and trade unionist was a popular figure among Kashmir’s Muslim communities as he was within his own and had chosen to stay back in Srinagar when most others of his community had fled for fear of death. It was not until last year that the local police, admitting that militants killed 209 Kashmiri Pandits since 1989, compiled the first report. Chargesheets were filed in 24 cases while killers in 115 cases remained unidentified or untraced. The police report said 140 cases of killing of Kashmiri Pandits by militants had been registered at police stations across the Valley. The police had booked 31 local militants for the killings in 24 cases in which the charge-sheets have been filed. It was a relief that finally three local militants involved in the killing of Wanchoo were convicted.

Of course many times more Kashmiri Muslims have been killed in the bloodbath that is still not over, but that was no reason to ignore the enormity of the tragedy that befell a defenceless people. So it was surprising that Gen Musharraf appeared surprised when told by his questioner how she was unable to return to her ancestral home in Srinagar. However, as is his wont he turned his apparent lack of insight into an asset. “I have never been to Srinagar, but I want to work for peace so that I can walk you to your house one day,” he assured the lady. If nothing else his encounter with a vocal Kashmiri Pandit at the conclave will hopefully help generate a meaningful discussion in Pakistan on the issue of fundamental rights of a practically exiled community.

One of the failings of India’s democracy is its inability to face criticism over issues that it finds embarrassing to discuss publicly. A newly-released film was reported to be in for further censorship this week because it showed the scourge of social untouchability being still prevalent despite the official ban on the practice. Likewise, the Indian intelligentsia of the variety that interacted with Gen Musharraf was not prepared for his evaluation of the reasons for growing tendency towards violence among Pakistani Muslims and among their Indian counterparts.

He spoke of prejudice, mistreatment and alienation as possible factors that needed to be looked into, on both sides of the border. To counter that charge an official mascot of Indian Muslims, Maulana Mahmood Madani of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, was fielded.

It was a strange contrast. Here was a professional clergyman reminding the controversially secular general how Indian Muslims were doing fine and didn’t need his intervention. The applause for the mullah by the well-heeled intellectuals was indicative of how far the country had to travel before getting the basic social equations right.

It was odd that Gen Musharraf was critical of the Indian media when one of the reasons for the failure of the Agra summit with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was that he had successfully convinced senior Indian editors to share his point of view over the way ahead for peace. But when did fear of failure deter the general from Pakistan? His theme at the conclave was about forgetting the past, in order to begin anew. As he always does, he made the task of fighting terrorism look easy, or perhaps too easy. But that’s why they like him, that’s why they hate him.

Another frequent visitor to New Delhi is Pakistan’s former finance minister Mubashir Hasan. He too has strong views about Indian and Pakistani societies, but being an uncompromising democrat his views and target audiences are at variance with Gen Musharraf’s.

Here is what he told a seminar in New Delhi a few days ago. “Democracy at any level global, regional, national or at the level of communities means above all, peace and justice, filled stomachs, health, education, shelter; all regulated by an organisation in which citizens collectively regulate their political, social and economic affairs themselves in a manner that their individual freedoms are not restricted and liberty is enhanced.” I doubt that Dr Hasan will ever provoke hostility among his Indian interlocutors. It is because there is another India that he interacts with, which is quite different to the one that Gen Musharraf likes to wade into. But then the two visitors from Pakistan are also very different individuals.

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