Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pawns of Indo-Pak peace talks

espite the upbeat mood created by the Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm Al Sheikh, it might be two prisoners who would be deciding the course of ensuing peace efforts between India and Pakistan. It may be too early to arrive on such a conclusion, but the influence that Sarabjit Singh and Ajmal Kasab are going to weigh upon the diplomatic relationship between the two countries is certain. While Pakistan is holding death row inmate Sarabjit, India is trying Ajmal, the lone survivor of Nov.26 Mumbai terror attack that had claimed 168 innocent lives.

Undoubtedly, the magnitude of crime attributed to both does not call for comparison. Kasab opened fire at Mumbai CST railway station before the naked eyes of world. Sarabjit was caught as a spy by Pakistani officials while sneaking into the border, which Pakistan alleges as an attempt by Indian intelligence. But if both countries fail to show discretion and frankness in Mumbai probe, the possibility of Sarabjit and Kasab coming in the way of peace talks cannot be ruled out.

Peace between India and Pakistan is like a desert mirage. With the 1947 Partition and Kashmir still remaining as a wound in millions of hearts, militants who never want peace between the two countries are always engaged in heating up Indo-Pak tension through cross-border terrorism. India who has understood these tactics, has often demanded that Pakistan solve this perennial problem within its territory rather than accusing India for the turmoil in the border. 
Kasab is one among those fallen Pakistani youths recruited by Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT), which is trying to make use of the Kashmir dispute to destabilise the South Asian region. Now Kasab having been made a dramatic guilty plea and request to be hanged for his crime, the militant group is taking a covert attempt to raise Sarabjit for discussion.

Was Kasab trying to prove that he was mere a pawn at the hands of LeT or a tool to hamper the peace process between India and Pakistan? If proved guilty of waging war against India, which is one among scores of charges he has been facing, he should be given capital punishment. If a similar demand comes from Pakistan in the case of Sarabjit, how and where will it take the diplomatic efforts to? Will it weaken the joint efforts to fight terrorism? Or everything goes back to square one?

If the positive signal that came from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has to be taken to next level, a commendable effort from Pakistan is expected in all respects. When Manmohan diluted his earlier stand on Pakistan’s alleged sponsoring of terrorism and stood by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani vowing to make a joint declaration on fighting terrorism, on the sidelines of Non Aligned-Movement summit in Egypt, it has been viewed as interference from the Obama-led US administration.

Obviously, Obama has a deep interest in bringing back stability to the Indo-Pak border, which is a haven for Al Qaeda, the global menace. There is nothing wrong in Obama nurturing such a hope for which he relies on Manmohan Singh-led Indian government. India who has shown olive leaves many times to Pakistan, will definitely step into Obama’s agenda to attain a solution at any cost. But all depends on the reciprocation from Pakistan.

Manmohan who used sharp tongue to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at the G8 meeting in the Italian city of L’Aquila, was soft towards Gilani at the Egyptian city of Sharm Al Sheikh. Clearly, it was a sign of liberal approach from India to the neighbouring country. At the same time, Singh vehemently asked for an action on Mumbai terror probe. Addressing the media after his meeting with Gilani at Sharm Al Sheikh, he said that India does not accuse the current regime of its “active involvement” in inciting terror. He also said, it was a “strong conviction of ours that there were official elements patronising terror but I did not accuse the present democratic establishment of Pakistan of being of the same mindset.”

All these made Pakistan to act immediately. After a long silence Pakistan showed the courage to accept Kasab as its citizen. Kasab who has confessed his crime also made it clear that he has been waiting for Pakistan to make this declaration to confess his crime. But with Kasab asking for punishment, what will happen to Sarabjit who is in Pakistan’s custody? Unlike Kasab, Sarabjit is languishing in Pakistan jail for the last 18 years. And his life is resting on President Asif Ali Zardari’s decision over his mercy plea.

As Indo-Pak rivalry is more of emotional than diplomacy, the current situation is utterly fragile. If India decides to go on with capital punishment for Kasab, will Pakistan show humanitarian consideration to Sarabjit as per Indian request? It’s true, in order to achieve and maintain peace, there should be leniency from both sides.

If Pakistan raises similar request on Kasab, how will the Indian government act? Will India be ready to barter a person who has challenged the security of the nation for Sarabjit? In this respect Kasab and Sarabjit may create a deadlock in the peace talks, if not both sides show diplomatic excellence over sentiments. Or else it will strengthen the militants in the region. So caution should be the catchword for further action from both India and Pakistan.

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