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Pakistan & prejudice

In the weeks that follow we will hear multiple and often contradictory voices from Pakistan. Of itself, that should not perturb us. After all, we’re no different. Karan Thapar elaborates.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2009 21:51 IST

How do you compliment some one you distrust without seeming to drop your guard? That may not be the perfect analogy but it pretty much approximates the position India finds itself in after Pakistan’s response to the Mumbai terror dossier. The Foreign Minister called it a “positive development”. But that taciturn phrase ignores both the detailed nature of the investigation Pakistan conducted and the candour with which it revealed its findings. In fact, Pranab Mukherjee’s language doesn’t even convey the sense of pleasant surprise with which most Indians greeted our neighbour’s response.

Pakistan may not have done all we want and there is, of course, a lot more it must do. But Pakistan has done much more than we anticipated. And if speculation from across the border can be trusted, it’s quite possible Pakistan has done more than it publicly revealed. Reports suggest Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik informed our High Commissioner of additional measures that were not communicated at his press conference. No doubt we’ll find out about them through deliberate leaks.

Meanwhile, the press is concerned about three issues Pakistan side-stepped and we need to ask how much they actually matter. First, it has refused to extradite the accused. Malik did not even mention the matter. But could we have expected anything else? India and Pakistan don’t have an extradition treaty and we know that handing over suspects could put the Zardari government in peril. Furthermore, neither the US nor Britain supports this demand.

Second, Pakistan has not accepted — and, certainly, it will not investigate our claim — that official agencies, possibly including the ISI, were involved. But then again, how could it have? That would be tantamount to the Pakistani government accepting guilt and prosecuting itself. This apart, the Indian dossier did not establish such a link and all the major powers who’ve seen it have said so publicly.

Third, it seems the trial will be in camera. As far as I can tell, that’s also how Ajmal Kasab is being handled in India. So why should similar treatment in Pakistan be deemed inadequate? Ultimately, what matters is bringing the accused to justice, and not the quality of the trial, provided, of course, it doesn’t lead to acquittal or the dropping of serious charges.

Next come the 30 questions Pakistan has posed and Malik’s comment that without receiving assistance from Delhi it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Islamabad to proceed with prosecution and ensure conviction. How can anyone doubt that? If we want the accused declared guilty and sentenced, we have to cooperate. It, therefore, follows that if Pakistan’s questions are not political or polemical they must be answered fully and reasonably quickly.

Finally, there is the issue of local involvement. Frankly, this matter should not have had to be raised by Islamabad. We
owe it to ourselves to be honest and upfront. It did not need Narendra Modi — whose motives might be questionable — to ask how something of this scale could have happened without someone in Mumbai being involved. Many others have raised the same question. No matter what the political compulsions, our government’s reticence is neither acceptable nor even expedient.

In the weeks that follow we will hear multiple and often contradictory voices from Pakistan. Of itself, that should not perturb us. After all, we’re no different.

Similarly, the media will carry countless stories of which many will be half-baked, a few deliberate disinformation and some pure lies. In fact, this will happen on both sides of the border. Again, we need to be careful about what we believe. Just because a Pakistani paper claims their government is contemplating X or Y doesn’t make it true. Don’t we read similar speculation in our own only to discover how untrue it is?

Above all, while it’s judicious to be sceptical, it’s not sensible to be prejudiced. If Pakistan shows it’s willing to act, we need to be encouraging. This means we should distinguish between those who could be friends and others who will always be inimical. Let’s appreciate the shades of grey — reality is rarely black or white.

First Published: Feb 21, 2009 20:27 IST