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How to seduce the Taliban

The US has taken war into the Taliban’s land by periodically bombing them. For India and Pakistan, the problem is much more complicated. Khushwant Singh elaborates.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 13:48 IST

Richard Holbrooke, special US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, was right in warning our Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee that “India, the USA and Pakistan, all have a common threat and a common enemy, which poses a direct threat to our leadership, people and capitals”. However, he did not spell out how we three fight this common enemy.

The US has taken war into the Taliban’s land by periodically bombing them. For India and Pakistan, the problem is much more complicated. Although after 26/11 we have increased our border vigilance, we still have a porous frontier and the enemy can sneak in. Unfortunately, the infiltrators also manage to find local supporters. We have to identify them in advance and keep them under surveillance.

The main responsibility for taming the Taliban rests on Pakistan. At the moment, it seems to be fighting a losing battle.

It has already surrendered its north-western territories extending from Swat to Waziristan to them and allowed them to impose an archaic Shariat code and medieval forms of punishment on the people. Even in the rest of Pakistan, the number of people who see nothing wrong in Taliban ideology — chief of army General Kayani being one of them — is substantial and rising. If, heaven forbid, Pakistan becomes a Talibanistan, our problem will increase manifold. We must prepare ourselves for this eventuality.

On no account should we slow down the pace of liberalisation. We must take our Muslim brethren with us in whatever we do and give our womenfolk equal rights and freedom to choose their way of life. There must be no imposition of the Shariat code on Indian Muslims.

Laws that apply to other Indians must apply to them. Men like Zakir Naik, who has a sizeable following among Muslims and speaks in favour of the Shariat, must be met by counter-arguments to support liberating Muslim women from constrictions of the hijab and the humiliation imposed by bigamy. The most effective way of taming the Taliban is to prove to them that there are better ways of living than envisaged by them.

Down and out with Natwar
When a man’s ambitions exceed his capabilities, he takes short cuts to fill the gap and often stumbles on his path. That sums up the career of Natwar Singh. He wanted to be a blue-blooded aristocrat, so he married a Patiala princess. He wanted to be an intellectual, so he claimed to have been friends with E.M. Forster and R.K.Narayan, wrote a couple of quick biographies and compiled a collection of Indian short stories. He even had his picture on the jacket and took all the credit and royalties himself. He made it to the Foreign Service. But that was not good enough for him. He quit and went into politics, joined the Congress and won his way to the Parliament.

He cultivated leaders who mattered and became Foreign Minister. One would have thought he had achieved the pinnacle of his ambitions. Not so. He also wanted to promote his son Jagat Singh who was up to no good. So he allowed the boy and his close friend Andalib Sehgal (Jagat later married Sehgal’s sister) to make lots of money in ‘oil for food’ deals with President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

The scam was discovered and a series of committees found that the boys could not have got away with it, without Natwar’s blessings. He paid the price by being relieved of his office.

Then, he turned bitter, resigned from the Congress, then the BSP, looking for a Rajya Sabha membership. He found no takers.
He had earned the reputation of being unscrupulous and disloyal when it suited him. He now chews the cud of bitterness and is busy writing his memoirs.

Arun K.Agarwal has published a book exposing the ‘oil for food’ scam entitled Reliance: The Real Natwar (Manas) with an introduction by former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan. Agrawal’s real target is Reliance; Natwar, his son and friend are treated as small fry.

Unfortunately, despite the lucid preface and introduction, the book consists largely of findings of commissions and debates on the scam in the two Houses of Parliament with lawyers of the calibre of Kapil Sibal, Arun Jaitley and Ram Jethmalani poking holes in each other’s arguments. All this could have been made more readable if composed in simple prose.

The Kashmir dispute solved
A representative from India at the UN Assembly began: “Before beginning my talk, I want to tell you something about Rishi Kashyap of Kashmir, after whom Kashmir is named. When Rishi Kashyap struck a rock and it brought forth water, he thought, ‘What a good opportunity to have a bath.’ He took off his clothes, put them aside on the rock and entered the water. When he got out and wanted to dress, his clothes had vanished. A Pakistani had stolen them.”

The Pakistani representative jumped up furiously and shouted, “What are you talking about? The Pakistanis weren’t there then.”

The Indian smiled and said, “And now that we have made that clear, I will begin my speech saying that Kashmir has been an integral part of India all along.”

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)

First Published: Feb 27, 2009 22:43 IST