Importance of President Zardari’s Ajmer yatra

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari visited India on April 8. The visit was a ‘private’ one as he wanted to pay homage at the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to host a lunch in Delhi for the Pakistani president and his delegation as a goodwill gesture before they departed for Ajmer. The media spotlight was on the visiting dignitaries from across the border and fortunately there was no controversy as such. Apart from some dissenting voices from Pakistani and Indian ‘realists’ and/or ‘hawks’, most people welcomed President Zardari’s decision to visit India and PM Singh’s lunch invitation. The naysayers would like us to believe that such visits are of no import. With all due respect, this is not true in the case of Indo-Pak relations. Even a private visit of a Pakistani head of state to India (and vice versa) is of grave importance for both countries.

Partition is a reality and the scars of the Indian subcontinent’s bloody partition are not going to fade away easily. Add to it the subsequent hostility between the two nations, wars, disputed territories, the nuclear arms race, psy-ops, proxy wars, cross-border terrorism and you can be sure that peace is hard to secure. If we remain hostage to the demons of the past, there will be nothing but more misery since there is no way to change our geographical locations. Achieving peace, or at the very least normalisation of relations, may not be an easy task but it is not impossible either. ‘Let’s give peace a chance’ may be clichéd but fanning hatred among two neighbouring countries is abominable to say the least. It is easy poking fun at peaceniks, candle vigils at the Line of Control (LoC), and track II diplomacy. Granted that they might not achieve much in the absence of the will of the Pakistani and Indian security establishments, but they do mean well. Instead of undermining their peace efforts, people on both sides of the border should push their respective governments and militaries to gradually settle their disputes and end this decades-long enmity.

It is no secret that civilian governments in Pakistan do not enjoy complete authority as is their constitutional right due to the overpowering military dominance in internal and external affairs. Foreign, defence/security policies are controlled by the military establishment. When Mian Nawaz Sharif, a civilian prime minister, tried to normalise relations with India, the Kargil fiasco took place. When the PPP-led government and President Zardari made peace overtures, terror was unleashed in Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists. Under these circumstances, one cannot blame the Indians for asking why they should support the peace process when the civilians cannot stop terrorism sponsored by the Pakistani military and its proxies on Indian soil. But let’s not forget that times are changing. In this day and age of information, be it the media or social networking sites, the truth about Pakistani military’s flawed policies of supporting the jihadists cannot be hidden. The people of Pakistan do not want the military back in power. They want democracy to flourish. The incumbent government in Pakistan is all set to complete its five-year tenure despite landing in hot waters on several occasions. Democracy, with warts and all, is more desirable than a military rule.

Our government is not yet powerful enough to put a terrorist like Hafiz Saeed behind bars or make progress on the Mumbai attacks, but President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Mian Nawaz Sharif and other political forces have ardently supported peace with India much to the dislike of the military establishment. They are willing to take risks despite many dangers so let’s not underestimate the civvies. The recent defiance of the prime minister against the military’s meddling in political affairs shows that Pakistan’s democratic system is evolving. There will be a time not far from now when democracy is strengthened and whichever party is in power will be able to send the military back to the barracks and real power will rest where it belongs: i.e. parliament.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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