A President of one of the two counties almost perennially at war with each other visiting the other, what on the face of mother earth makes news that gets bigger than this? The fact that this is a President on Pilgrimage, and not on another diplomatic mission infused with dry details of that elusive thaw in the relations merely adds to the importance and makes it a stuff of legend.
That is how one can best sum up the recent India visit of Mr Asif Ali Zardari , the president of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The fact that his entourage included his son Bilawal Bhutto, president of the Pakistan People’s Party and the widely believed ‘crown-prince’ only added to the importance of the visit turning it into one more flourish of the ‘track two’ diplomacy, via pilgrimage route this time. It was, therefore, merely fitting on the part of Indian establishment to convert this personal pilgrimage/visit into a semi-official one with a lunch with the Prime Minister, with the crown-prince of this side of the border in attendance. So the President came, lunched with the ‘who is who’ of Indian side, the list including Rahul Gandhi who is perceived to be the ‘crown prince’ of this side of the disputed border. The entourage, then, proceeded to Ajmer and worshipped for peace, among other things I am sure.
The visit assumes an air of significance for something that is much more important than that comes out from such details. Here is a President of Pakistan visiting a Sufi shrine and paying tributes, in the process, to a version of Islam that stands for peace, fraternity and true love as against that radical, militant and intolerant strand of Islam that has been slowly engulfing Pakistan. The message of the visit is too loud to be lost on even the most untrained of the ears. Seen from this perspective, the visits adds sort of insult to the Jihadists already injured by the declaration of a bounty on the head of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the Amir of Jama'at-ud-Da'wah by the administration of the United States of America. Clearly, the political leadership of Pakistan seems to have woken up to the fact that it cannot let the violence simmering within its own territories continue, it cannot let the Jihadis invent enemies to attack and kill when they can find none in their immediate universe..
It is also an acknowledgement that the situation has reached a flashpoint. Pakistan can only ignore the Jihadist designs, often in toe with the rogue elements in the security establishment, at its own peril. Being a deficient, and even delinquent, democracy like India is still not only different but far better than slowly turning into a failed state, isn’t it? Democracies can be mended from within unlike states ruled by military-religious right complex, and it is indeed a very positive signal that civilian government of Pakistan, mobilised perhaps by multiple movements for democracy like that of the lawyers, has awakened to the realisation.
Better still is the fact that it has decided to find the road to redemption in its own glorious history instead of the readymade one that US and its cronies specialise in delivering, more so to the oil-rich countries. One does not need to rubbish the already discredit theory of clash of civilisations, but one can certainly reclaim all that was rich in ‘our’ culture, our meaning the entire subcontinent in this case. Good that Pakistan has lead the way, may the rest rediscover and reclaim everything from the Bhakti movement to the Bauls. That would give one more fillip to the already high on the success of this visit ‘peaceniks’, otherwise believed to be hopeless people on both sides of the border.
Yet, the high profile visit came on the heels of another, far more sadder event that almost got whitewashed. Pakistan had lost more than a hundred of its soldiers in the Siachen glaciers, not to the fire of an inimical army or even the ‘friendly’ drones but to an avalanche. Even more unfortunately, this was happening neither for the first time, nor were the ones killed Pakistani fatigues always. Quite on the contrary India and Pakistan, taken together, have lost more than 8000 soldiers to the furies of nature since early eighties when they decided to establish permanent posts on the glaciers so majorly unfit for human habitation. The glaciers had been disputed, and claimed by both the sides as their own, but remained unoccupied till then.
Files after files of news reports buried in the archives of history have brought in the futility, and also the stupidity, of the decision of occupying Siachen ever since. Reports bring out the fact that India has lost a soldier almost every other day while Pakistan manages a little better by losing one every third day, doesn’t it? Not really, for the reasons lay not in any difference of capacities of the armies but to the sheer fact that India controls two third of the glaciers as opposed to one third controlled by the Pakistan. Add the number of those getting incapacitated for life in this highest conflict zone of the world, the economic and humane cost of this ungainly war becomes apparent. One does not even need to calculate it all over again. Reports put the costs of maintaining military presence in the area at more than 5 crore INR a day and I am sure, Pakistan would not be spending any less.
Come to the soldiers. Other than the colours of the flag they believe to be defending, almost everything else about their lives is similar. They come from roughly similar cultural and economic universe, and are often the sole breadwinners of their impoverished families that must be languishing in the plains of both India and Pakistan. Why, then, the news of their incapacitation and deaths don’t move us? Why, then, we are never made to wonder about this theatre of the absurd where we are losing our soldiers not to enemies, perceived or real, but to the eccentrics of those in power? Our in this case means both of us, again.
As it is, there has not been a single reported attempt of infiltration of terrorists, of Pakistani origin if India wants to claim that as a reason for maintaining its presence on the glaciers, for the climatic and geographical conditions do not allow that. Similarly, it does not seem to gain anything much even on the disputed water front for it does not contribute much to the Indus river system but for a 80 kilometre long tributary the river. Same is the story for Pakistan as I learn from the discourse on the issue. Is not it a criminal offence, for both of the countries then, and not merely one born out of ignorance, to subject our soldiers to such harshness of nature?
Another question that begets our attention is if we can really afford to sacrifice these many soldiers for our erratic war of supposed pride, or whatever else it is? Asif Ali Zardari, the President of Pakistan has taken a welcome step in that sense by praying for peace at the shrine of a Sufi saint. It is high time that we, on the other side of the border, respond to that by a call of demilitarisation of Siachen glaciers, and restoring pre 1972 situation, far before the fateful decade of 1980s. It is high time for both the countries to go back to their positions before that time for even otherwise they aren’t getting anything more than body bags of their soldiers. Best part of the story is that even Pakistani Army seems to be in favour of demilitarisation and calling for both the countries sit together for the same. Buzz from Indian corridors of power have hinted of their support for demilitarisation as well. Now, what can get better than this for resolving the issue for once and for all?
Hope, political leadership of both the countries does not waste the opportunity either to paranoid war mongers or to pahle aap (you first) relic of their Nawabi pasts. Hope, they do it at the earliest for it would not merely earn them a lot of goodwill and mutual confidence but also take care of the nefarious designs of those whose interests revolve around putting any process of reconciliation between these two countries into jeopardy. Also, this would be our true, and heartfelt, tribute to those who have lost their lives here. Also, God, of all religions, is believed to reward only those who substantiate their efforts by real work. Demilitarisation, therefore, could be the only way to secure that elusive divine providence for peace in our part of the world.