On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

The Beginning Of A Very Unusual Fall—Part I

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For columnists and for news hounds, the beginning of this autumn has been quite a good fall. The journalists though would be happy to give the credit for most of the explosive disclosures and the fake bombs to this unusual season that has tempted certain well-bred horses to open their mouths.

We can come to the big guys later and begin with a small tragedy that unfolded in our neighbourhood. The Nation in an editorial comment said that the death of more than 19 people, all in a desperate attempt to get subsidised flour, should be enough to put any decent leadership to shame. The incident happened in Karachi; it could not be ascertained at this point of time if anyone was ashamed.

A story from London around the same time reported that Britain is spending about Rs 20 lakh a day on protecting former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf. The suave Musharraf had earlier kicked up a storm by admitting that US aid for fighting terror was diverted to strengthen military capability against India.

We are not really in a position to blame Pakistan for spending on building up more military capability towards the eastern side, especially since they were not privy to the fact that we have just learnt: our first and only hydrogen bomb test in 1998 was not that big a gung-ho moment.

Facts, especially the inconvenient ones, have consequences as Manoj Joshi’s Saturday piece in Mail Today elaborates. The piece has a lot of technical information presented in a manner that can be understood even by those of us who are not experts. The timing of this disclosure, 11 years later has ensured that we have managed to achieve the worst of both the worlds.

A former ISI officer has said that Mian Nawaz Sharif met Osama bin Laden five times and the al Qaeda chief sponsored Sharif’s election campaign in 1998. He said hopefully Nawaz would not ‘tell a lie’ in this regard.
Nawaz can surprise anyone as his political nous is the stuff legends are made of, especially after he sought to cement his position by manipulating two crucial jobs in his second term; the chief of army staff, traditionally the top military job in Pakistan, and the chief spy, the director-general of ISI.

Jehangir Karamat supported civilian-led democracy but Sharif sacked him as some of Karamat’s speeches in his view seemed like a sign of a military coup. It did become clear later that he had badly misread the situation. He named Pervez Musharraf, a little known general with a liberal reputation to head the army.

“Bill Clinton seemed to have a soft spot for Sharif; but many of Clinton’s senior aides and diplomats, especially those who knew Pakistan well, regarded Sharif as an unusually dull, muddled politician. He seemed to offer a bovine, placid gaze in private meetings where he sometimes read awkwardly from note cards.”

The piece by Najam Sethi, editor of Friday Times and the Daily Times, picked four inter-related yet intrinsically different and irregular pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that has to be solved for achieving lasting peace in the region. Sethi says that the next 12 months are critical for Pakistan, America, Afghanistan and India if 9/11 is not to remain a millstone around everyone’s neck. The article elaborates on what all the four countries involved should do.

No one can disagree that the dynamics between these four players would be crucial to achieving regional as well as international peace; though the advice to these four players reminds me of a man who epitomised the writing of the genre that has come to be known as Victorian Sage.

John Ruskin, as a very little boy, once ascended a pulpit to deliver one of the world’s shortest sermons. He said, “People, be good.”

My comments on a lead story in the Hindustan Times on a Saturday a few weeks ago were incorrect and bogus. The story was days ahead of the situation that has now unfolded with the Hurriyat expressing interest in reviving dialogue with India. Although I would still not be so lyrical in a news story to say that former militants can aspire to be artisans and mechanics. Nonetheless, the error stands corrected.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik has challenged India to a debate on 26/11. Malik also said that it was a “fact that India had solid information on the Mumbai attacks long before the tragedy, but it did not share anything with Pakistan, nor did it take any action to stop the attacks”.

India should not be slighted by Malik’s challenge but calmly accept his authority on the intricacies of the 26/11 plot and assure him that we would concede the debate if he is sincere and kind enough to tell us the entire truth.

The Iranian President Ahmadinejad on the other hand has not expressed any desire for a debate and has again declared the Holocaust as a ‘myth’. “The pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is a lie… a lie,” he added.

We should, as Najam says, resolve all our disputes in a brotherly manner of give and take. And the people to people contact since India’s friendship tour to Pakistan has remained affectionate throughout. Even after Mumbai, as the final of the T20 World Cup shows: the victory of Pakistan was celebrated here almost as our own.

Pakistan though must understand that brotherly negotiations on the table are not possible as long as it keeps nurturing and arming groups that are baying for our blood; and the fact that Pakistan is sometimes even ready to send its state actors in disguise to give the impression that it is a popular uprising makes India nervous to believe in table manners.

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