Method in the madness

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Photo: AFP

IF IT was wrong to invite Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik to India because he prevaricates on investigations into the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and lets Hafiz Saeed make hate speeches against India unchecked, is it right to believe that Pakistan’s president and PM are welcome because they want to genuinely bring to justice expeditiously those Pakistanis involved in the Mumbai carnage, including Saeed, its mastermind?

Those against Malik’s visit should say whether being tough with the minister personally but dealing with Pakistan, per se, with benevolence will satisfy us on the terrorism issue. So far, despite many political concessions to Pakistan, such as breaking the link between dialogue and terrorism and recognising it as a victim of terrorism, Islamabad has not taken decisive steps to curb the terrorist threat. The extremist groups are alive and Saeed continues his jihadi tirades.

If the heart of the Pakistani government is in the right place on terrorism but it is characters like Malik who are stalling condign handling of the 26/11 case, then he is not a loud-mouth political non-entity as some make him out to be, but a truer face of Pakistan’s Deep State that seeks limited cooperation, not strategic reconciliation, with India.

We should understand that Malik, with roots in the system within which he functions, represents the pervasive thinking in Pakistan that as a victim of terrorism itself — even greater than India — it can hardly be involved in promoting terrorism outside. Our terrorism problem is thus seen as homegrown. According to this narrative, 26/11 was staged by non-State actors. If there is delay in trying those responsible, it is because legal procedures are dilatory not only in Pakistan but in India too, as the delay in providing information on the bombing of Samjhauta Express shows.

The dismay in New Delhi at Malik’s statements is hardly justified as they are consistent with those made in the past by Pakistan. During SM Krishna’s last visit, his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar made no mention of terrorism in her remarks at the joint press meet. Indeed, in a separate interview, she expressed surprise that the non-issue of terrorism was still being raised. Their erstwhile foreign secretary had dismissed our evidence on Saeed’s activity as “literature”. Their leaders have repeatedly said that proceeding against Saeed needs evidence that can stand scrutiny in court. They have repeatedly asserted that Pakistani authorities had no role whatsoever in the 26/11 attacks. All these statements have not deterred us from continuing our comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan, relaxing the visa regime, expanding trade links, and now, playing cricket.

Malik came here knowing that he could safely restate Pakistan’s standard position in response to our well-worn litany on terrorism and 26/11. He went further in ridiculing India’s case by equating 26/11 to Babri Masjid, implying that the latter was a terror attack against Muslims by Hindu elements, a sort of precursor to the Samjhauta bombing. He did not mention the Gujarat riots probably because of elections there. By claiming Abu Jundal is an Indian national who was in contact with Indian intelligence, he imputed that Pakistan was an unwitting victim of a larger conspiracy.

That an Indian intelligence contact like Jundal should be in Pakistan begs the question as to why known Indian terrorists are residing in that country and their extradition is being steadfastly refused. Even more egregiously, Malik claimed that infiltrators into Jammu & Kashmir are migrants, just like the Mexicans who migrate to the US across the border. That he wanted to convey the truth to the Indian public, which our government is supposedly hiding, shows how warped Pakistani thinking is on the terror issue.

Pakistan has taken our measure and knows what it can get away with. Our position that we have no option but to have a dialogue vastly reduces our manoeuvrability. No wonder our foreign minister had to downplay Malik’s remarks, calling them “packaging” that covers a modicum of progress. We think being hard-headed with Pakistan would prevent us from dealing with it imaginatively — the so-called out-of-the-box thinking. We prefer being soft-hearted and then begin dreaming.

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