A risky leap of faith

Smita PrakashThe Indian media delegation got a two-hour window of opportunity to do some sightseeing in Lahore after having covered the India-Pakistan foreign minister level talks for two days. Though I had been to the city earlier, I had not had the opportunity to visit the Sufi shrine of Data Darbar and the Minar-e-Pakistan. As our bus, protected by soldiers with assault weapons and the Police Superintendent of Lahore, approached Minar-e-Pakistan, a young journalist sitting in front of me said aloud, “What is this?” His South Indian colleague replied, “some Minar.”

In contrast I was feeling mildly disturbed, as I was visiting the spot which commemorates the Lahore Resolution, that was later interpreted as a demand for a separate Muslim state and resulted in the creation of Pakistan.

More than a monument: For many in contemporary India, Minar-e-Pakistan is probably just another architectural structure 

The significance of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visiting this monument in 1999 and once and for all laying to rest all Pakistani angst that India had never really come to terms with the creation of Pakistan came flooding into my mind. But clearly, I am a Delhi based media person for whom all things Pakistani and Partition are still significant. For many in contemporary India, Minar-e-Pakistan is probably just another architectural structure. But the angst is very much alive in Pakistan. Has India accepted the idea of Pakistan? Why is the Indian media so negative about Pakistan? Why do you ignore the core issue? And the new one: Why is your Prime Minister not coming to Pakistan? The last question followed Indian media and officials each step of the way in Islamabad and Lahore.

At every meeting that the Prime Minister or External Affairs minister has had this year with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, the invitation has been extended again and again.

Former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar who served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India (1992-97) told this reporter, “I would say to your PM — Take that leap of faith.” He added that India must go beyond just the ‘step-by-step’ approach’ and Pakistanis would respond with equal if not more warmth. It was time to forget the acrimony and bitterness of the past, he feels.

Foreign Minister Hina Khar echoed this sentiment rather eloquently, in her media interactions with Indian journalists. And then there were the several track-2 peaceniks who think that Guru Nanak Jayanti on November 28 this year would be a perfect date for Dr Manmohan Singh to make a quick pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib Gurudwara, stop by at Gah, his hometown and return to Delhi the same day.

But an Indian official said that the only foreign visit on the Prime Minister’s calendar this year is the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh. Moreover the Prime Minister himself seemed reluctant to commit to any date with Pakistan in Pakistan. It is fraught with risks at this stage.

Clearly Pakistan is desperate for a validation as a ‘normal country’ that can host heads of state and government. Even Iran, seen as a pariah nation, could host the Non Aligned Summit and have 120 representatives of governments in its capital. But Pakistan can’t even seem to get the Indian Prime Minister to visit!

A PPP official said that one of the missions of President Asif Ali Zardari was to set right India-Pakistan relations during his current term. Sometimes he would even lock horns with “those people” (read ISI). “But now, things have changed a bit, he asks us to get ‘clearance’ from…. those people.”

‘Those people’ are under tremendous pressure from the United States. So ‘those people’ have asked the charming Ms Khar to say that one of Pakistan’s achievements has been normalising relations with India and Afghanistan. By no means are India and Afghanistan saying that, but Pakistan often plays dead when the other side speaks.

“India and Pakistan will not be held hostage to history and move forward” does sound very captivating but it does not in any way mean that India has forgotten or delinked the Mumbai massacre from any engagement with Pakistan. Hina Khar’s statement could be interpreted in many ways: Has Pakistan then forgotten or delinked its so-called core issue-Kashmir from the India-Pakistan engagement? It hasn’t. The relationship is just 65 years old. In India that isn’t history, it is contemporary. ¬†

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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