Why PM must visit Pakistan

Every crime sows a seed of opportunity, which, if wisely nurtured, can create conditions that reduce the likelihood of its recurrence. Human capacity to repeat wrongs is of course unlimited, history being a sobering record of our fallibility. However, no less unlimited is the human ability to learn from past wrongs and create new history.

The 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai was a war-like crime. Non-state actors like Ajmal Kasab—the lone surviving Pakistani terrorist who was executed on Wednesday for his role in the savagery—alone couldn't have carried it out without the protection of state agencies. Pakistani leaders should abandon denial and double-speak on this issue.

The silver lining is that Pakistan's capacity, also intent, to repeat the misadventure of attacking India, in overt or covert wars, is shrinking. It has derived no benefit whatsoever from its overt wars in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999, nor from the covert war of jihad-inspired terrorism, of which 26/11 was both the most spectacular and also the most counter-productive manifestation. If anything, the cost of maintaining anti-Indianism as the core of its military, foreign and social policy is steadily escalating. Like the mythical Bhasmasura, state-aided terrorism that targeted India has begun taking a heavy toll on Pakistan's own society. Surely, circumstances are forcing its rulers to count the cost of the numerous terrorist attacks on Sufi and Shia shrines, of sheltering Osama bin Laden on their soil, and of the bad name their country has earned worldwide due to the recent Malala episode.

Indeed, as a result of numerous internal and external developments—the reduced power of its military to derail the country's democratisation and Pakistanis' growing disenchantment with America—more and more people at all levels in Pakistan have begun to realise the folly of viewing India as their enemy. Their number or power has not yet reached the tipping point, so as to effect a positive shift in Pakistan's attitude towards India. This we must recognise. Nevertheless, we must also recognise that one of the most conducive times for normalisation of Indo-Pak relations is NOW.

Which is why I am disappointed by reports that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who has accepted Islamabad's invitation to visit Pakistan, is unlikely to undertake the journey soon. Reason: New Delhi thinks that Islamabad has not yet delivered on India's demand for action against the masterminds of 26/11. This makes no sense. Let's be realistic. While India and the international community must continue to press Pakistan to take decisive action for dismantling the terrorist infrastructure on its territory, the fact is that its governance and political institutions are in no position to do enough. Hence, right-thinking Pakistanis are increasingly looking upon friendship with India as a dependable way to bolster their own efforts to not only secure democratic governance in their country, but also to create conditions for religious tolerance and pluralism, based on our shared civilisational heritage and spiritual values. Strengthening this heritage is the best long-term antidote to both terrorist violence and communal violence.

A single example would suffice to illustrate this point. Kasab hailed from Faridkot, which is named after Baba Farid, the highly revered 13th century Sufi saint from Chishti order, which emphasises love, peace, tolerance and Hindu-Muslim amity. Guru Granth Sahib has immortalised Baba Farid's poetry. Dr Manmohan Singh, when he visits his ancestral village Gah in Pakistan's Punjab province, and Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, should underscore the abiding relevance of this common heritage for peace and progress in South Asia. Following the footsteps of his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he should make a sincere appeal to the people and rulers of Pakistan to hold India's extended hand of friendship and cooperation.

This is not the time for timidity, but for mutually building confidence on a broad range of issues, without letting provocations like 26/11 undermine the mission. Let's learn a lesson or two from Europe. The continent that fought two horrendous world wars in the last century (total deaths: 76 million) has now transformed itself into a voluntary union of peaceful cooperation. What began very modestly as the 'European Coal and Steel Community' in 1950—thanks to the bold initiatives of visionaries like Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, whose aim was to make "war ... not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible"—has now become the European Union with an expansive agenda, a well-deserved winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

This, then, is the time to open every closed gate of cooperation between India and Pakistan, especially people-to-people contacts and economic cooperation between Punjabis, Sindhis, Kashmiris and others. Let us inaugurate ambitious joint projects to harness energy, natural and human resources with demonstrable impact on the welfare of millions of people on both sides. Let tens of thousands of survivors from the Partition generation be incentivised to visit their native places on both sides of the border. Let the Hindu-Sikh heritage in Pakistan, and the Islamic heritage in India, be so developed as to enable two-way religious tourism on a large scale. Let thousands of Pakistani students be invited to study in India's educational institutions. Let us make haste to promote cross-border cultural, entertainment, sports and mass media activities in as unhindered a manner as, for example, between India and the West.

Cumulatively, these endeavours will surely help India and Pakistan establish good-neighbourly relations. Dr Manmohan Singhji, don't miss the opportunity—and don't forgo the duty—to contribute to this history-changing process.

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