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The stakes are high

It is necessary for India and Pakistan to put aside their mutual distrust and move forward, writes Prem Shankar Jha.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2006 17:32 IST

"We must develop a level of trust," said Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, during a brief private visit to New Delhi earlier this week.

This is an admirable sentiment, but trust between nations cannot depend upon the personal chemistry between two leaders, because leaders change.

Trust develops, and can be sustained, only when there is a long-term convergence of interests.

That presupposes an understanding not only of one’s own national interest, but the way it is likely to evolve in the future.

For five decades, trust was conspicuous by its absence. And it was Pakistan, the new nation in the subcontinent, that had taken the lead in widening the cleavage of interest.

For Kasuri to have said what he did this week shows how profoundly Pakistan’s perception of its long-term interests has changed.

But despite that, the prospects for an increase in trust between the two nations are not bright since today, it is Delhi that remains firmly mired in the suspicions of the past.

Neither country seems to have grasped the threat that the future holds out to both of them, and the urgent need for them to face it together.

Even less do they understand the opportunity that beckons if they succeed in doing so.

This threat comes from the accelerating break-up of the 360-year-old Westphalian international order.

The formal assault on it began in 2002 when the Bush administration announced its national security doctrine of preventive attack on States that harboured terrorists.

This was a direct rejection of the three principles on which the Westphalian order had been built — sovereignty of States; non-intervention in their internal affairs; and reliance upon deterrence to maintain peace between States.

Four years later, few people seriously deny that the decision to invade Iraq without any kind of sanction from the UN Security Council undermined these central pillars not only of the Westphalian order but of the UN charter that embodied them.

The aftershocks of this huge departure from international law have rippled through the international State system, destroying one institution after another in its wake, leaving behind a growing pile of rubble.

Four years after the Bush doctrine was promulgated and five years after it was applied to Afghanistan, the pile is threatening to tip over. Pakistan and India lie directly in the path of the debris.

The last four years have seen the world spinning slowly but surely out of control. There are now not one, not even two, but six centres of conflict in the world. Wars have been fought in three of these — Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

In all three, the victors find themselves in a situation without precedent. They have declared war, they have fought, they have won, but they cannot make peace.

The reason is that there is no one left to make peace with. Under the Westphalian system, the very concepts of war and peace presupposed the continued existence of States.

But in Iraq and Afghanistan, the victors set out to destroy the existing State and fabricate a brand new one, which is more to their liking, to take its place.

As a result, they are now trapped in a war without end, from which they do not know how to extricate themselves.

As for their attempt to create a brand new State, it has resulted in civil war instead.

In Lebanon, the Israelis faced the same dilemma last July and had the good sense to withdraw.

But they left the Hezbollah politically stronger than ever before, and the State of Lebanon so seriously weakened that it is in no position to fulfil even the minimum demands that Israel is making of it.

With the assassination of the Christian leader Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon, too, is on the verge of civil war.

Some idea of how far things have slipped out of control may be had from the fact that the US and Britain are seeking Syria’s and Iran’s help to control the civil war in Iraq and give themselves an honourable way out of the country.

At the same time, they continue to accuse the two countries of being ‘rogue’ sponsors of international terrorism and threaten them with punitive military action. It is doubtful if even Condoleezza Rice takes the threats she is making seriously.

In such circumstances, the temptation to blame someone else for its failure is irresistible. In Afghanistan, where the combined forces of the US, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are proving insufficient to contain the resurgent Taliban, Western commentators have elected Pakistan to be the scapegoat.

From the neo-conservative far Right to the liberal-democratic Left, 'informed' opinion is unanimous that the cause of NATO's difficulties is the sanctuary that Pakistan is so readily providing to the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

To quote Sarah Chayes, an American social worker who lives in Kandahar and recently spoke at Harvard, "Without the open border to Pakistan, NATO’s chances of success are 100 per cent. With it, zero per cent."

Absolutely no one is prepared to entertain the possibility that Pakistan is allowing the Taliban to take refuge with their kinsfolk in the tribal agencies because it cannot afford not to let them do so.

Nor are Western commentators prepared to concede that, unable to find anyone to broker peace with, and unable to distinguish between 'Taliban' and ordinary Afghans, NATO’s continuing attack looks, to its victims, like a war against the entire Pashtoon people.

For Pakistan to stay engaged in this war would be to court rebellion. That could lead to the disintegration of the country and collapse of the State.

How much pressure Pakistan is under can be judged from the recent aerial attack on a madrasa in Bajaur which killed 80 students.

Locals and retired generals of the Pakistan army believe that it was carried out by an American 'predator' without the permission of the Pakistan government.

But Musharraf has preferred to take the ‘credit’ for the attack rather than admit that he cannot control the Americans and cannot evict them from Pakistan.

At this point, readers may well ask, "But what has India to do with all this? Pakistan’s predicament may be dire, but is it not reaping the whirlwind that it sowed 26 years ago when it joined the jihad against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan?"

The answer should be obvious: Were the Pakistani State to fail, the only beneficiaries would be the highly organised religious and sectarian organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad.

These organisation are already bent upon creating a communal bloodbath in India. The failure of the Pakistani State would remove the last restraints upon them.

In India, the seeds of Islamic terrorism have already been sown by the Babri masjid agitation, the killings in Mumbai and elsewhere that followed its destruction in 1992, the State-condoned assault on Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and the bomb blasts in Malegaon.

The advent of TV has given these widely-spaced and separated incidents a spurious unity that is feeding the consciousness of alienation and victimisation in the Muslim community.

This is leading to a growing involvement of local Muslims, often educated and with no previous criminal records, in the terrorist outrages that have begun to punctuate our daily lives.

These have brought Muslim middle-class youth under the intensive scrutiny of the police and intelligence agencies in a way that it had not known before.

The resulting summons and interrogations are feeding alienation and anger in the most sensitive and volatile segment of the community.

We too are, therefore, on the edge of a spiral of violence that could stop our growth in its tracks and severely damage, if not destroy, the Indian State.

The only sure way to prevent it is to tackle its root cause — the continuing fallout within Indian society of the partition of India.

Herein lies the convergence of our interests. If we work together, India and Pakistan can help NATO to get out of the Afghan quagmire.

And if we work together, we can eliminate not just the mechanisms of terror in the subcontinent but also the tissue of justification on which it feeds.

First Published: Dec 04, 2006 16:48 IST