Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s high commissioner to Delhi, deserves the gratitude of India. Ever since Mumbai was besieged by Pakistani agents of terror in 2008, India has been consoling itself with lies. We told ourselves that Pakistan was capable of atonement. We made ourselves reliant on the very establishment that spawned and sponsored the Mumbai attackers to hold them accountable for their crimes. On Monday, Basit shattered the comforting illusions India has cultivated about Pakistan when he defended the unrestricted movement of Hafiz Saeed. “Hafiz Saeed is a Pakistan national, so he is free to roam around”, Basit asserted, before asking: “So what is the problem?”
The problem is that Saeed is much more than an ordinary citizen of Pakistan. He is the chief of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, an army of the faithful created by Pakistan’s military-intelligence camorra and consecrated to the destruction of India. There’s a $10 million US State Department bounty on Saeed’s head. He is named in the United Nations’ sanctions list as an al Qaeda affiliate. Evidence of his culpability in the Mumbai massacres is detailed vividly in the multiple dossiers India has handed in good faith to Pakistan since 2008. Yet, half a decade later, what does India have to show for its patience?
India’s dogmatic adherence to “uninterruptible dialogue” with Pakistan has yielded only uninterrupted insults. In clarifying Pakistan’s position on Saeed, Basit has effectively put a lid on India’s quest for justice. India executed Ajmal Kasab in a pitiful attempt to appear tough. But none of the handlers who recruited, trained and dispatched Kasab & Co to Mumbai – and who continue to suffuse young Pakistani minds with hatred of India – has been punished. They have all along been, to borrow Basit’s phrase, “free to roam around” in Pakistan.
In 2009, I interviewed one of Saeed’s deputies in Lahore. The international spotlight was still on Pakistan and Saeed, in what could only be described as a placatory performance for Islamabad’s paymasters in the West, was being paraded through the courts. Lashkar’s heavily fortified compound, in the middle of Lahore, was rebranded as a charity. Saeed’s man, Yahya Mujahid, arrived in a chauffeured car with an armed guard to meet me in a Subway restaurant on Mall Road. He asked to share a salad: he was diabetic, watching his weight. His grievances ranged widely – Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine. But although seemingly alert to the suffering of ordinary people and practised in the use of borrowed words – “imperialism”, “occupation”, “colonialism” – he was incapable of empathising with the victims of the assault on Mumbai. The operations “have gone somewhat cold”, he admitted. But he spoke assuredly and strode confidently.
Three weeks later his boss, Hafiz Saeed, was freed. Among the reasons cited by the Lahore High Court in ordering Saeed’s release was this: “The security laws and anti-terrorism laws of Pakistan are silent on al-Qaeda being a terrorist organisation." In other words, Saeed could not be penalised for his association with al Qaeda not because there was no evidence of such a nexus, but because the court was not satisfied that al Qaeda had been explicitly designated as a terrorist outfit by the government of Pakistan. This is the system on which India depended for justice.
Near the end of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the novel’s self-pitying narrator, Changez, complains to the American visitor in Lahore that, after 9/11, Americans “retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums”. India, following the Mumbai attacks, did not so much as mobilise its troops. Despite the scale of the horror, its conduct toward Pakistan was exceedingly polite, pedantically mindful of “protocols” and full of deference for diplomatic conventions.
Such niceties have earned India only the contempt of Pakistan. Yet the self-wounding belief that India can soften with dialogue the forces that religiously seek India’s destruction remains pervasive. We are repeatedly exhorted by Pakistan to “move on”, to “engage” with its ramshackle government, and to make “progress” on other issues. Far from an acknowledgement of India’s wounds, five years on from the Mumbai attacks even the simplest demands of justice for the victims engender scornful accusations of hawkishness from Pakistan. A moral equivalence has successfully been established between the victim and the aggressor.
Basit’s spectacular insensitivity has afforded India the opportunity to redeem itself. Even those of us who rejected Narendra Modi’s domestic politics welcomed his swift shelving of foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan in retaliation for Basit’s meeting last month, in spite of strenuous Indian objections, with Kashmiri separatists. The consequences of exculpating the masterminds behind the crimes of Mumbai must be even more severe. Basit must first be invited to admit unequivocally that the attack on Mumbai was conceived in, and orchestrated from, Pakistan. If he rejects this reasonable request, he should, with compliments, be declared persona non grata and told to leave India. Predictably, there will be those who will denounce such a move as excessive – but it is they who must then do the hard work of explaining what the proportionate response to the massacre of 138 Indian citizens is. After all, there’s something much worse than a strong reaction to mass murder, and that is being a wilful accomplice in your own humiliation.
Kapil Komireddi has written from South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.