Towering shadows

President Zardari’s visit to China seems to have ruffled some feathers across the border. Some sections of the Indian media picked up a report from Beijing’s China Daily on the first anniversary of the bloody riots in Xinjiang province of China and how its separatist leaders were “reportedly fleeing to Pakistan and settling down there for future plots”. The omission of the word ‘reportedly’ from the said news reports in the Indian media and the timing of the picking up of this particular item point to the fact that the move to bridge the gulf between India and Pakistan is not acceptable to some sections in either country. President Zardari has vowed to fight the “three evil forces” – separatism, extremism, terrorism – along with China. Both countries held joint military drills for this purpose. Xinjiang separatists were nurtured by our establishment for jihad in the past, but now that our military is fighting a war for national survival, such elements are being sought and will be eliminated from our soil.

China and Pakistan plan on building a rail link, which would pass through Gilgit-Baltistan near the Karakoram Highway. This has sparked a debate in India. “It is definitely a matter of concern,” said Indian Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju. It is these mindsets that have set back the two countries for the past many decades. Nothing can be seen objectively by the hardliners on either side of the border. That said, there is also a need to move forward for both countries to play a substantial role in the region.

President Zardari has ruled out the possibility of handing over the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to India, citing the fact that there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. Why then did the Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi issue non-bailable arrest warrants for Ajmal Kasab and Faheem Ansari in the Mumbai attack case? Pakistan too had sent in a request to the Indian government for the custody of Kasab and Ansari, which was, as expected, declined. There is no locus standi for such demands in the absence of an extradition treaty. Mr Zardari said that the accused in the Mumbai attacks on trial in Pakistan would “hopefully” be brought to justice. So far the track record of bringing these culprits to book has not been very encouraging. Whether the fault lies with the prosecution or the courts can be debated, but one thing the courts have not used yet is their discretionary power of not granting bail to the accused. Individuals who pose a threat to society at large and diplomatic ties in particular should not be allowed to roam freely even if charges against them have not yet been proved. The reason for letting the accused in the 26/11 attack go free or out on bail could be because our establishment is dragging its feet on this issue. The role of the ‘non-state actors’ in 26/11 derailed the Indo-Pak peace process for quite some time and this affected both countries. Terrorism poses a common threat to not only India and Pakistan but to the whole South Asian region. Instead of joining hands in fighting terrorism, we wasted precious time in a war of words.

President Zardari has acted like a statesman in identifying the common threat. The recent talks between the Indo-Pak foreign secretaries went well and even the expected clash between interior ministers P Chidambaram and Rehman Malik did not materialise. Despite having a hard stance after the Mumbai attacks, Mr Chidambaram was at his diplomatic best publicly. These are good signs for the forthcoming foreign ministers’ dialogue in Islamabad this week.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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