Tag Archives | Pakistan

Of lies and literature

What is the real status of Jamaat ud Dawa’s ban in Pakistan?

Pakistan’s former foreign secretary — of the Indian evidence on Mumbai terror attacks is literature fame — and the new High Commissioner to India, Salman Bashir gave an interview to Karan Thapar. Here is a question about the Jamaat ud Dawa.

Karan Thapar: But you know why the Lahore court released him on September 2009 when he had actually been arrested under the antiterrorist act because his organisation Jamata-ul-Dawa was not banned under the act. That was the lacuna that permitted the Lahore court. And the said party is even today, the JuD is not banned under the act, so that lacuna continues.

Salman Bashir: On that aspect, I think, I ought to be explicit both the LeT and the JUD are restricted and prohibited under law.[Link]

Here is the media report of that September 2009 hearing. Judge for yourself what the truth is.

During the hearing, the court asked Punjab Assistant Advocate General Malik Abdul Aziz whether the JD was a banned organisation. The assistant advocate general sought half an hour to give answer to the court after getting proper information from the Federal Ministry of Interior. The court granted him the time.

On resumption of the hearing, the assistant advocate general told the court that the Punjab government had not issued any notification regarding ban on the JD and the Federal Ministry of Interior had restricted activities of the JD on the basis of resolution of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

He said the name of the JD was not included in the list of those organisations which were banned by the Federal Ministry of Interior under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.He said the name of JD had not been included in the list of proscribed organisations but was added on a watch list due to terrorism threats.[Link]

In December 2008, the United Nations Security Council had listed the Jamaat-ud-Dawa as an alias of the proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group, declaring it a terrorist group as part of Resolution 1267, which is also known as the al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee.

This was done after Pakistan’s ambassador to UN Abdullah Hussain Haroon said that his government would act against Jamaat-ud-Dawa if the UNSC added the group to the terrorist list.

“After the designation of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) under (resolution) 1267, the government on receiving communication from the Security Council shall proscribe the JUD and take other consequential actions, as required, including the freezing of assets,” Haroon said.[ToI]

Lies, promises and more lies. Rinse, wash, repeat. It defies commonsense that India can still attempt to repose trust in Pakistani diplomats and leaders. The facts are there for everyone to see, except the Indian government, which believes that playing cricket and allowing Pakistani propaganda on Indian TV channels will get justice for the victims of Mumbai terror attacks.

Here is another gem from Salman ‘literature’ Bashir:

Karan Thapar: So once again you are saying that Pakistan is doing everything it can to restrain Hafiz Saeed but you have to operate within your laws.

Salman Bashir: That is unfortunately the dilemma. The civil societies have to operate with in the limits of law.[Link]

Ha. The limits of the law or the unwillingness to use the law? In any case, what can you say about a country where a dreaded terrorist like Hafiz Saeed, with a $10 million bounty on information leading to his arrest or conviction –  to go along with a UNSC Resolution declaring him a terrorist — is considered a part of the “civil society”?

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Cricket… without balls?

Yes, Indians love cricket a lot. But do they love India less?

The Board for Control of Cricket in India has announced the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan.  Bilateral cricketing ties between the two were cut off following the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 — terror attacks which were controlled and executed by the Pakistani state, and the perpetrators have gone unpunished in Pakistan so far.

The Indian government has already given a go-ahead for these plans. As per Mr Rajiv Shukla, who wears many hats, but was probably speaking with the hat of the cricket administrator on:

“I have spoken to the home minister and he has said his ministry has no objection. The Ministry of External Affairs [India's foreign ministry] has also agreed to this tour.” [Link]

It is not just the government but the opposition is also on board. Mr Shukla also said that “the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley was a part of this decision and he supported the move.”

Let us look at the reasons that have prompted the resumption of the cricketing ties.

One, as per Mr Shukla, “the public has always wanted to watch India and Pakistan play.” If Mr Shukla, who is also a union minister, is referring to the Indian public, then Indian public also wants to see the perpetrators of 26-11 terror strikes punished immediately. It perhaps even wants Hafiz Saeed and a few of his jehadi comrades dead. If Mr Shukla is referring to the Pakistani public, it wants India to immediately give up Kashmir. A vast section may believe that India perhaps poses an existential threat to Pakistan and thus would be better nuked out. Will Mr Shukla or his government go about fulfilling these demands, either of the Indian public or the Pakistani public? This argument thus holds little water.

Second, sport should be above politics and if cricket can bring the two countries together, no one should oppose it. There are two parts to this argument. The first part goes to why the cricketing ties between the two were snapped in 2008. They were snapped after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks because of Pakistan’s unwillingness to punish the perpetrators of those attacks. Despite exchange of 25 dossiers — 12 from India and 13 from Pakistan — Pakistan’s unwillingness to prosecute the terrorists remains unchanged. Its new high commissioner to India last week asserted that “it is really unbelievable, incredible to allege that Pakistani state, institutes have been involved in” Mumbai terror attacks. If there has been no change in circumstances — and Pakistani attitude — why has India changed its stance?

That answer is also known. Pakistan Cricket Board has been under tremendous financial pressure and there have been several attempts by the Pakistan Cricket Board in recent months to convince the BCCI to resume cricketing ties.

But how is cricket related to Mumbai terror strikes? Please rewind to the cricket match played between India and England barely a fortnight after the Mumbai terror strikes where India chased a stiff fourth innings target, guided by an unbeaten Sachin Tendulkar century. Here is what Mr Tendulkar, who is now a nominated Rajya Sabha MP, said:

“From my point of view I look at it as an attack on India, not just on Mumbai. It is an attack on India and it should hurt every Indian. It’s not only for the people of Mumbai, it’s for all of us. We’re Indians and that is how I look at it and I’d like to dedicate this hundred to all the people who have gone through such terrible times.”[Link]

It wasn’t an emotional statement made by Mr Tendulkar in the heat of the moment. Even last month, Mr Tendulkar had ranked his century against England after Mumbai terror attack as his personal favourite among his 100 international hundreds. Anyone who thinks that cricket and 26-11 terror strikes are not related can go and listen to Mr Tendulkar.

Another Indian cricketing legend, Sunil Gavaskar has also echoed the sentiments of millions on resumption of cricketing ties:

“Being a Mumbaikar I feel, what is the urgency when there is no co-operation [regarding the probe into the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008] from the other side?”

It is not only cricket. Sport has always been related to, and controlled by politics. Ban on sporting teams from South Africa during the Apartheid era or the boycott of 1980 Moscow Olympics by the US and its allies, or the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by the Soviet block are vivid examples of politics trumping sports. Closer home, no team or person officially representing Pakistan has ever played an Israeli team or player. If politics should never interfere with politics, let us see Pakistan opening up its sporting ties with Israel. That is as unlikely as Hafiz Saeed being prosecuted in a Pakistani court for the Mumbai terror attacks.

When things are not normal between India and Pakistan, and they are contingent upon Pakistan acting against terrorists who have killed Indians, there is no need to put up an act of normalcy by resuming cricketing ties. Every measure must be initiated to isolate Pakistan internationally and drive home the cost of perpetrating terror on Indian soil. Stopping bilateral cricket matches has to be one such measure.

Indians love their cricket, and they would certainly appreciate Pakistani cricketers perform in the arena. But it can’t be at the cost of national interest. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Tis not that I lov’d Cricket less, but that I lov’d India more.”

P.S. – Let us not forget that Sajid Mir, as per Abu Jundal, came to India on a cricket-spectator visa for reconnoitering the sites for terror attacks. There is a genuine fear that this largeheartedness in playing cricket will be accompanied by largeheartedness in granting visas for “sports enthusiasts” like Sajid Mir.

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Facts don’t forget

The arsenal captured from terrorists in Kashmir in the last two decades

Among the many myths about the trouble the Kashmir, a few continue to be perpetuated by Pakistan and Pakistan-backed Kashmiri propagandists even today. One of them is that Kashmir was an indigenous insurgency, with Pakistan only providing its “moral, political and diplomatic support” (as it continues to do even today in the words of the new Pakistan PM on Thursday). Another one is that India unnecessarily responded with a military hand to a political problem, where a few misguided Kashmiri youth had picked up some weapons (the canard about the high ratio of Indian security forces to civilians in Kashmir has been rebutted in this blogpost).

Here are a few hard facts to demolish these myths.

Figures with Jammu and Kashmir’s home department say that security forces have seized 30,752 AK-series assault rifles, 11,431 pistol and revolvers, 1,027 universal machine guns, 2,262 rocket propelled grenade launchers, 391 sniper rifles and hundreds of other weapons, including light machine guns and self-loading rifles.The ammunition recovered includes more than 45,00,000 bullets and 63,000 grenades, besides 45,000kg explosives.

The figures also reveal that that 21,449 militants were killed and 21,655 arrested during this period, taking the combined figures to over 43,000. Security forces lost over 5,300 soldiers and cops. The number of civilians killed crossed 16,000, officials said.[Telegraph]

The security forces in Kashmir have nearly completed their job, and contrary to what many would like us to believe, are on their way out. Reports indicate that the specialist counterinsurgency Rashtriya Rifles units are likely to be moved to the North-East while AFSPA is likely to be lifted from Jammu and Srinagar districts by the end of the year.

But with the decline in violence to its lowest levels ever, it is easy to forget the level and intensity of violence in Kashmir at the peak of insurgency. The spate of fedayeen attacks on army camps in the late 1990s are a distant memory now. These facts, brought out by the J&K state government now, are a reminder of the formidable challenge overcome by the Indian state in the last two decades. It is something we can afford to forget only at our peril. After all, in Durant’s words, “the present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.”

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Now we are just haggling over the price

What the price negotiations about NATO supply lines remind us of

Pakistan wants an additional $5000 for each truck that passes through its its territory carrying non-lethal supplies for NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. US is hoping to clinch the deal at $1500-1800 a truck of supplies. Pakistan also wants an indemnity waiver in case American cargo is damaged. US might end up discontinuing the Coalition Support Fund money it pays to Pakistan to balance out the new levy on supply trucks. And the haggling continues.

This reminds us of the story (often attributed to George Bernard Shaw) of a conversation between a very sophisticated gentleman and a very respectable lady at a party.

“Well,” says the gentleman, “just for the sake of our argument, suppose I offered you $100,000—would you spend the night with me?”

The lady, smiling coquettishly: “Who knows—I might very well!”

The gentleman: “Now suppose I offer you $10 for the night?”

The lady: “But what do you think I am?”

The gentleman: “We’ve already established what you are. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

One wonders if that is the line someone from the US actually uses during the negotiations when the Pakistan rhetoric over sovereignty gets too much to bear: “We’ve already established what you are. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

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Just do the maths

Of closing NATO supply lines through Pakistan

As per Washington Post, it costs the US $100 billion annually to keep 100,000 American troops on Afghan soil.

As per Dawn, using the Central Asian route for NATO supplies is costing the US an additional $38 million a month.

As per the Express Tribune, Pakistan has budgeted $1.1 billion in the next year’s budget as reimbursements from the United States on account of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The figure for the current fiscal year is $1.34 billion. And outstanding CSF dues at present amount to $2.5 billion.

Now do the maths. At $38 million a month, the losses sustained by not using supply routes in Pakistan over a year are $456 million. This is not even half a percent of the total amount being spent by the Pentagon in Afghanistan. Moreover, it is barely one-fifth of the CSF amount Pakistan wants from the US in the current and the next fiscal year. Do you still think the US is deeply hurt by the financial losses it is incurring by stoppage of NATO supply routes via Pakistan? In fact, Pakistan has done the US a favour by closing the supply lines. It is actually saving the US some money.

Perhaps this also explains John Kerry’s statement yesterday where he asked Pakistan to act against jehadi groups being provided sanctuary in that country. And he is the same John Kerry people expected would come and deliver a formal public apology to Pakistan.

[Hat Tip: @majorlyprofound for the idea]

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Plus ca change

The changing colours of ISI

In the latest issue of the Outlook magazine, there is a small piece (without the name of the author) about a dinner in Islamabad hosted by the ISI for a group of visiting Indian journalists.

With such a grim reputation, when your dinner host turns out to be a senior official of the ISI, as happened recently to the Indian media delegation that visited Pakistan, a faux pas or two was naturally par for the course. “Is it a think-tank?” asked one member of the Indian team innocently, after our host introduced himself as an ISI honcho. But once it was clear who was buying us dinner at the posh Islamabad restaurant, there was no stopping the barrage of questions.

“See, I have neither horns nor fangs,” the official smiled as way of assuring his Indian guests. But why was he there? Well, he informed the Indian media that he wanted to put across ISI’s point of view on the ongoing peace initiative. “We’ve realised that we cannot live in an environment of hostility with each other,” reasoned the official. For the rest of the dinner, he patiently answered questions on topics ranging from terrorism directed against India to the evolving situation in his country. Predictably, he didn’t take responsibility for much of the terrorist acts in India that originated from Pakistan, including 26/11. But he tried to convey that on the government’s attempt to have peace and normalise relations with India, the ISI was on the same page.[Outlook]

This should not surprise anyone, least of all this blogger, who had warned of this danger when these journalists were being taken on a guided tour of Pakistan (see this blogpost).

But what if this fear is unfounded? Or as Bharat Bhushan argues in his column in the same magazine, why is India refusing to respond to the change in Pakistan’s attitude. That is a very persuasive line to use, but how real is the change that we are witnessing. Can India afford to move merely on the words of someone like Mahmood Durrani, a regular participant in India-Pakistan Track-2 jamborees, who was sacked as the National Security Advisor by the current setup in Pakistan after Mumbai terror strikes in 2008?

Whether it be the relationship with US or the state of its economy or its perilous internal security situation or a lack of help from China, all observers, including those in India, can see that Pakistan is currently squeezed from all sides. This, counterintuitively, makes it even more difficult for India to trust Pakistan’s words: this peace-talk could be a posture to seek temporary relief till Pakistan army reverts to its perennial anti-India stance. The onus is thus upon Pakistan to prove its sincerity by taking suitable actions — closing terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai terror strike to justice, to begin with — so that India can reciprocate. Trust can’t be generated by words alone. It has to come from actions, and actions that can be verified (read Vikram Sood in the Mid-day to understand the point).

Many people will remember a similar crescendo of public opinion in India before the Shimla summit between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the 1971 war. A large number of Indian commentators were then asking India, as victors of the war, to be large-hearted and trust Bhutto’s words. That large-heartedness towards a civilian ruler in Pakistan when its army was weak, many contended, would beget permanent peace between India and Pakistan. We all know how it actually played out. Mr Bhutto went on to ensure that Pakistan gets an Islamic nuclear bomb even if Pakistanis ate grass. India got terror strikes in Kashmir, Punjab and at myriad places across the country: it is under the shadow of the nuclear bomb that jehadis have hurt India and Indians. If we are so oblivious today to our own history from just four decades ago, we will pay a similar price that we have paid in the recent decades.

Getting back to the ISI, what do these nice gestures towards the Indian journalists by the ISI convey? The answer comes from this story in the Washington Post about ISI and the Osama bin Laden raid:

On Friday evening, over iced tea at a hotel cafe, two ISI officials offered a narrative that they say puts Pakistan in a better light. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

One noted that the ISI’s new head, Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, is taking a “proactive” approach to public relations to improve the international image of the much-maligned intelligence service.[WaPo]

This is it. The dinner table talk and the post-dinner gift of books at Islamabad are nothing but a part of the new ISI chief’s “proactive” approach to public relations to improve the international image of ISI.

Enjoy the meal, relish the conversation and read the book but do not get carried away. Remember. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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The abduction of Hindu teenage girls in Pakistan

What India and Indians can do, and why they should do that

The story of teenage Hindu girls being kidnapped in Pakistan, converting to Islam, getting married to Muslims and turning up in courts after a few weeks and accepting the new religion have been making the rounds for many years now. But the recent spate of kidnappings and forced marriages raised a shindig and went up to the Pakistan Supreme Court. It has now started attracting the attention of the international media. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Hindus say the forcible conversions follow the same script: The victim, abducted by a young man related to or working for a feudal boss, is taken to a mosque where clerics, along with the prospective groom’s family, threaten to harm her and her relatives if she resists.

Almost always, the girl complies, and not long afterward, she is brought to a local court, where a judge, usually a Muslim, rubber-stamps the conversion and marriage, according to Hindu community members who have attended such hearings. Often the young Muslim man is accompanied by backers armed with rifles. Few members of the girl’s family are allowed to appear, and the victim, seeing no way out, signs papers affirming her conversion and marriage.[LAT]

There are estimated to be around 2.5 million Hindus in Pakistan. Of them, 94% live in the Sindh province, mostly in the northern districts bordering India. Pakistani human rights activists report as many as 25 cases of kidnappings, forced conversion and weddings of teenage Hindu girls every month. For those who question the veracity of these reports, here’s a simple question: Why do only young Hindu girls of marriageable age get kidnapped and convert to Islam in Pakistan, and not young men or older women?

More disturbingly, India and Indians have largely been apathetic to persecution of Pakistani Hindus.

But all the minorities in Pakistan are targeted, whether it be Christians or Shias. How is the persecution of Hindus different and why should it concern Indians?

Before I answer this question, let us get a few things out of the way. India is a secular republic and endorses no state religion. That is the way it has been since 1950 and that is the way it should remain. Thus the argument being made here is not about making India a Hindu Rashtra or a grand Hindu Republic where followers of other religions do not have equal rights. Most importantly, the mistake of conflating Pakistan with Indian Muslims, because it involves Hindus in Pakistan, must be avoided at all costs. This is an argument about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and not about the citizens, irrespective of the religion they follow, of the Republic of India.

With these caveats behind us, here is how the problem of Hindus is slightly different from those of Christians or Shias. When Christians are targeted in Pakistan, the western countries and many Christian organisations, starting from the Vatican, bring pressure upon the Pakistani government to mend its ways. In the case of Shias, leave alone the Republic of Iran, there are various Shia parties and organisations which are willing to stand up for their cause. But who speaks for the Hindus in Pakistan? Even Nepal is no longer a Hindu Republic, and no one would have listened to Nepal even if it was one. Pakistan doesn’t even have a statutory National Human Rights Commission, it no longer has a Federal minister for minorities since Shahbaz Bhatti’s brutal murder and the Supreme Court has not given Hindus any confidence with its actions in the recent case.

Can a secular republic like India afford to speak for Hindus in Pakistan? Strictly speaking, the answer is a No. But India has spoken for Sikhs in Europe and for Tamils in Sri Lanka who were not Indian citizens. And there are ways in it which it can do the same in Pakistan too. Before we look at those ways, leave the government apart, why has the Indian media, Indian NGOs, Indian human rights groups, Indian activists and even Indian social and religious organisations been silent about the atrocities on Hindus in Pakistan. If they can raise issues about Myanmar and Syria, they can surely focus the spotlight upon neighbouring Pakistan too.

There is another reason why non-political, non-governmental groups and media in India must take up this issue on priority. Because if they don’t, the issue will eventually be taken up by a political party and the inflammatory mix of politics, religion and nationalism — imagine India, Pakistan, Hindu and Muslims being used in the same breath by a fiery politician — can have potentially dangerous social consequences. That is something India can ill-afford at this juncture.

What can the government of India do? Seema Sirohi suggests that India can raise it officially as a minor talking point during the next bilateral talks with Pakistan. But my good friend Primary_Red perhaps has a more diplomatic and politically correct suggestion:  India should make progress in bilateral talks with Pakistan contingent on improved human rights environment across Pakistan. Moreover, India can also offer asylum — on a case by case basis — to Pakistanis in grave danger on the basis of their faith.

Yes, Pakistan’s Hindu community made a choice many decades ago — to stay in Pakistan. It endures extortion, disenfranchisement and other forms of discrimination in that country. But that doesn’t mean that they are condemned to live a life of persecution and misery as religious extremism rises in Pakistan. There are ways in which India and Indians can help them. As fellow humans in a neighbouring country, we should not shy away from lending that helping hand.

Update: Thanks to my discussion with Constantino Xavier, it’d be better to clarify a few things here. This is not about making an exclusive case for Hindus in Pakistan, and leaving other groups such as the Ahmedis, Shias, Christians, Balochs or Hazaras to face persecution there. This is more about understanding that because of the history of partition, the case for Hindus in Pakistan will always be a delicate one for India to make. Notwithstanding the difficult nature of the case, it still needs to be made, both by India and Indians.

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Spot the difference (US-Pakistan version)

US budget requests for Pakistan for FY 2012 and FY 2013

First the US budget request for aid to Pakistan and objectives for FY 2012:

The United States seeks to advance U.S. national security by deepening its long-term bilateral strategic partnership with Pakistan. This effort will support the U.S. goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in the region, as well as deny safe haven for the Taliban by helping to build a stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous country. The United States will partner with Pakistan to strengthen the capacity of the democratic government to meet the needs of its citizens better by rehabilitating critical infrastructure, stabilizing key areas contested by violent extremists, and fostering private-sector-led economic growth. [The Congressional Budget Justification Foreign Operations Annex: Regional Perspectives, FY2012, p. 660]

And the US budget request for aid to Pakistan and objectives for FY 2013:

The United States seeks to foster economic and political stability in Pakistan through sustained assistance, which directly supports the core U.S. national security objective to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaida, as well as to deny safe haven to it and its affiliates in the region. Despite recent challenges in the relationship, the United States and Pakistan must continue to identify shared interests and cooperate on joint actions that will help achieve these objectives. [The Congressional Budget Justification Foreign Operations Annex: Regional Perspectives, FY2013, p. 687]

As far as the US is concerned, all the talk about deepening a bilateral strategic partnership with Pakistan is dead and buried. It isn’t there even on paper now. The dreams of building a stable, secure, democratic and prosperous Pakistan have also been replaced by more modest goals of identifying shared interests and cooperating on joint actions against Al Qaida and its affiliates. Such a difference a year makes in Washington DC!

But for whatever reason, this reminds me of that Goethe quote: “When ideas fail, words come in very handy.”

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Kayani’s pharisaic words don’t matter

Let General Kayani prove with his actions that he has had a change of heart

“Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people.”

“Both countries should sit together to resolve all the issues including Siachen.”

“We in the army understand very well that there should be a very good balance between defence and development. You cannot be spending on defence alone and forgetting about development.”

“Ultimately the security of a country is not only that you secure boundaries and borders but it is when people that live in the country feel happy, their needs are being met. Only in that case will a country be truly safe.”

What can be wrong with these statements coming from the Pakistan army chief, General Kayani? Nothing. They must be welcomed but the context in which they have been made must not be ignored.

General Kayani made these statements to a media contingent which contained many foreign reporters. The optics of making the statement targeted at an international audience and sending a positive message about himself should be taken into account. He must be wanting to present a nicer image of Pakistan army in the buildup to the important NATO conference on Afghanistan, scheduled to be held in Chicago early next month. After all the badgering Pakistan army and ISI has received in the international media in the past year, it could do with some positive coverage now.

Though fundamentally, General Kayani seems to be making a virtue out of necessity. Pakistan army is finding it hard to stay at the posts near the Siachen glacier, where India holds all the dominating positions on the glacier. Pakistani army would like to withdraw from there but can only do so if India agrees to a deal. India has little reason to vacate dominating military positions on the glacier.

In any case, it is hard to take Kayani at face-value after what his officials told a group of visiting Indian journalists yesterday.

“It is sad that India is not agreeing to go back to the pre-1984 position and then mark the line. Indian army position on Siachen is unjust as our interpretation of the Simla Agreement is that the border beyond NJ 9842 is not marked. It’s a matter of interpretation. The two sides had agreed in 1989 to go back to the pre-84 position”, security officials told a group of visiting Indian journalists in a special briefing.[The News]

Let us sit together and talk as much as we want but the positions of both sides are well-entrenched now: Pakistan says pre-1984 positions and India says validation of the AGPL. With the experience of Pakistan army’s incursions across the LoC in Kargil in 1999, India will find it hard to trust Pakistan, even if it were to validate the AGPL. That is the harsh reality.

Peaceful relations between India and Pakistan are not being held hostage to Siachen. After all, it was General Kayani who famously said that Pakistan army ‘remains an “India-centric” institution and that reality will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved.’ He is also the one who nixed the civilian government’s offer to send the ISI chief, Lt General Pasha to India after the 26-11 terror strikes.

What if General Kayani has had a change of heart now? Possible. Perhaps he understands Pakistan’s precarious economic condition and its international isolation, and is thus willing to make some concessions to India. But then the onus is upon General Kayani to prove that he has had a change of heart. How about bringing the perpetrators of 26-11 terror strike, Hafiz Saeed and company to book, for a start? Or closing the many terror camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir ready to push jehadis into Kashmir?

Before proceeding with this any further, it is best to remember what General Kayani himself said two years ago: “We plan on adversaries’ capabilities, not intentions.” If that be so, Pakistan’s capabilities to hurt India remain undiminished, and any change in its intentions unproven. Let General Kayani prove it otherwise with his actions. Then only will these words matter.

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From Potemkin to Pakistan

On Indian journalists being taken on a guided tour in Pakistan

So a bus carrying 50 foreign reporters took a wrong turn in North Korea –

and suddenly, everything changed in the official showcase of North Korean achievement.

A cloud of dust swirled down deeply potholed streets, past concrete apartment buildings crumbling at the edges. Elderly people trudged along the pavement, some with handmade backpacks crafted from canvas bags. Two men in wheelchairs waited at a bus stop. There were shops with no lights, and unsurfaced sidestreets.

“Perhaps this is an incorrect road?” mumbled one of the North Korean minders, well-dressed government officials who restrict reporters to meticulously staged presentations that inevitably centre on praise for the three generations of the Kim family, which has ruled the country since 1948.[Link]

Remember the tale of Potemkin villages in Russia. Catherine II, who ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796,  made her former lover Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin the governor-general of “New Russia” (southern Ukraine and the Crimea). Potemkin resolved to make Crimea the showpiece of Catherine’s empire. When Catherine made a grand tour of the Ukraine and the Crimea in 1787, Potemkin spruced things up in time for her arrival. He ordered the construction of entire pasteboard villages on the banks of the Dnieper (much of the royal progress was conducted via riverboat); imported peasants, flocks, and herds from a thousand other villages to make a show of prosperity, thereby triggering famine in the depopulated hinterlands; and, once the procession had passed, dismantled the entire meretricious apparatus and reconstructed it several miles downstream in order to deceive the imperial court anew.

If you think Potemkin villages are history or happen only  in Communist countries, think again. It will soon be repeated in Pakistan. As part of the Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan, Pakistan is sponsoring an Indian media delegation to that country. This media delegation “in a rare development will be taken to Chakoti (Azad Kashmir) and also to Swat for a visit.”

This is not a ‘rare development’. In June last year, Pakistan army had sponsored an Indian media delegation which was again taken to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and even briefed inside the ISI headquarters. This delegation was also taken to Swat, all on Pakistan army helicopters. After the guided tour, many journalists came with a rose-tinted view of the places they were taken too. So Pakistan-occupied Kashmir suddenly became Pakistani-Kashmir in their reportage and they found Pakistan to be a mirror-image of India.

No one can deny that India and Pakistan are similar in many ways. But these similarities are merely superficial since the two countries chose separate paths in 1947. In fact, the two countries continue to move on divergent paths in polity, economy, society, education and culture, while their similarities in food, dressing and lifestyle reduce with each passing day. Highlighting similarities between the two wins these journalist many brownie points with their hosts but it does a great disservice to the bold Indian democratic experiment of the last 64 years. For many decades after 1947, India was seen as a democratic, secular laggard while a military-ruled Islamic Pakistan was hailed for moving ahead on a path of high growth. Only in the last two decades has India really pulled ahead, and pulled ahead so far that any comparison with Pakistan now is to contrast the two countries’ different trajectories. This Indian success must not be belittled.

In any case, you can still be polite and respectful about Pakistan without comparing it to India. Or as I said in a related context: Nationalism should not be an anathema to Indian commentators.

The current delegation will be no different from the previous one. These journalists will enjoy the hospitality of Pakistan army and sing its praises for the amazing ‘deradicalisation’ work it has done in Swat (read Marvi Sirmed on the reality behind deradicalisation in Swat). Of course, they won’t be taken to Gilgit-Baltistan or to Balochistan or to the tribal areas where Pakistan army is overseeing the massacre of Shias. Nor will they be taken to the sprawling complexes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Southern Punjab where assembly-line production of anti-India jehadis is in full flow. Yes, this is a propaganda campaign by Pakistan army — one it is fully entitled to undertake.

Should the Indian journalists then not accept such invitations to Pakistan? No, that would be pointless. Instead, the onus is upon the Indian journalists to be careful in their reportage — to differentiate between Potemkin villages and real villages. A disclosure in their reportage that it is from a ‘guided tour’ conducted by Pakistan army will allow the readers to draw the right conclusions. Such disclosures are common-place in many business journalists’ reports when their visits are sponsored by a commercial entity. These disclosures would at least partially negate the propaganda of Pakistan army.

But the danger is not only in the immediate. Many of these journalists, who go on sponsored trips, end up joining the merry-go-round of India-Pakistan Track-2 sojourns in exotic locales. They also write columns and op-eds in newspapers and magazines, parroting out Pakistan army’s line, even if it is couched in politically correct language of diplomacy and national interest. Not for a moment is anyone suggesting that they are complicit in an anti-India conspiracy but it does raise questions about their professionalism.

No one seems to have learnt anything from l’affaire Fai. Many Indian scholars, journalists, activists and prominent public figures were identified by the ISI. They were then offered hospitality and air-tickets by the now-convicted ISI agent, Ghulam Nabi Fai to attend anti-India conferences on Kashmir in the US. Better discretion exercised in accepting invitations from Fai, with full disclosures, would have saved many a people a lot of embarrassment. Using the same principle — of better discretion and full disclosure — while on a sponsored trip to Pakistan can prevent a similar embarrassment for many others in the future.

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