India-Pakistan: unique opportunity

New Delhi has done right to make it clear that the agenda of the talks between India and Pakistan, which recommenced last month after many false starts, will remain unaffected by the death of Osama bin Laden. Since the killing of the al-Qaeda leader in a U.S. operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, many fanciful notions have gained ground in India, among them the suggestion that like the U.S., India must not hesitate to use force in the quest for justice for the victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Nothing can be more absurd. India and Pakistan are both joined and divided by history and geography; the sum of the ties between the two is different from that between Pakistan and the United States. There is no alternative to normalising relations between our two countries. Undoubtedly, the bin Laden episode has reinforced long-held Indian suspicions about the Pakistani establishment and its dubious role in nurturing militants on its territory. It has highlighted India’s own list of “wanted” in Pakistan that includes the Jamat-ud-dawa chief and the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks Hafiz Saeed and the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, suspected to be living in comfort in Karachi. It has reiterated in a unique way Indian doubts about Pakistani promises that it will not allow its territory to be used by terrorists. It has strengthened India’s demand that Pakistan should dismantle “the infrastructure of terror on its soil.” At the same time, it has also placed the Pakistan military on the defensive with its own people. Questions are being asked in Pakistan about how much the military and the intelligence agencies knew about bin Laden’s presence a short distance from a prestigious military academy, and why the security apparatus was kept out of the operation by the U.S. In the three years since a civilian government took office in Pakistan, the politicians have been blamed for much that has gone wrong, but it is a rare moment in the rocky civilian-military relations of the country when the khakis take the flak.For all these reasons, the death of bin Laden presents an opportunity for India and Pakistan to reshape their relations in a constructive way rather than for India to indulge in short-sighted triumphalism. Irrespective of how the al-Qaeda leader’s departure affects the war in Afghanistan, and what strategies Pakistan’s generals are planning in that country, this is India’s chance to persuade the people of Pakistan that it is not the mortal enemy that it has been made out to be by their security establishment. It implies a whole hearted engagement, not just with the government but also with the people of Pakistan on all issues that trouble bilateral relations. Such engagement will also pave the way towards justice for the victims of the Mumbai attacks.

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