Why not go to Gah?
It is really a Delhi fixation. More so, a Delhi power corridor fixation. Gah is a small village in Chakwal district about a 100 kilometres from Islamabad. Before partition it was the hometown of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Ever since Dr Singh became Prime Minister, peaceniks from both sides of the border have been repeatedly saying that Dr Singh should visit his birthplace, a journey that would improve relations between India and Pakistan. This demand has become stronger after the so-called personal visit by President Asif Ali Zardari to India and the invitation delivered at the Prime Minister’s residence to visit Pakistan.
To pragmatic policy wonks, this clamour for a private visit seems more a romantic notion than a solid step in improving ties. But when it comes to India-Pakistan relations sometimes an emotional and spontaneous move makes a greater mark than carefully plotted ones. For example the bus yatra that former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee undertook to Lahore was supposed to give a jump-start to India-Pakistan relations, which were moribund for long. But there was a Pakistani army general who had other plans and the Kargil conflict happened.
A private visit by former deputy prime minister L K Advani proved disastrous to his political career, though it was hailed as momentous in Pakistan. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani made a surprise visit last year to see the World Cup semi-final match in which Pakistan lost to India. Dr Singh, not really a cricket enthusiast reciprocated by going to Mohali and sitting through the match.
General Zia ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf have made private visits to India, so why not Dr Manmohan Singh? Is it not possible for Dr Singh to make a private visit, go to Gah and return to Delhi, signifying that people to people contact even at the highest level should be possible even if we disagree on most matters with Pakistan?
The danger would be if the government thinks that it is necessary to have a big-ticket item on such a visit regardless of the fact that we seem to disagree on all major matters under discussion: Sir Creek, Siachen, terror.
While it is indeed sad that over a hundred Pakistani soldiers lost their lives last week on the Siachen mountain peak, it is also a fact that nobody is coercing Pakistan to stay on. India should merely ignore the clamour for withdrawal from Siachen. Which country draws away from a battlefield because the other side faces casualties?
On Sir Creek, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Giving away even an inch of land, marshy though it may be, would be political harakiri. There is an election in Gujarat this year and the BJP would go to town saying the Congress government has given away territory, yet again, to Pakistan. Yes, we did that. In Kashmir, returning the Haji Pir pass after it was recaptured in 1965 due to a Russian-brokered peace process, and in 1972 after the Bangladesh War of Liberation, we unilaterally returned territory that we had captured.
Today, we don’t need more territory and we do not fight wars to capture territory. But what we have and is rightfully ours and has been preserved with great loss of precious lives of our soldiers cannot be endangered by cosmetic peace moves.
The minor but significant achievements in the past few months have been on trade related issues. Announcement of relaxation of the visa regime is another positive. The Prime Minister could claim that as achievements of his administration and undertake a private visit to Gah. This might win him brownie points internationally but on the domestic front it achieves little.
The people of India would rather have his administration focus on domestic issues like price rise, curbing corruption and crime against women and children, delivering on education, health care, employment, sanitation, drinking water and civic issues. With two years left before the next election, there is a lot of talk on the legacy of Dr Singh.
It should and must be second-generation economic reforms rather than some idealistic journey towards an uncertain peace with a neighbour who has a history of betrayals and treachery.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash