Hypocrisy and History: Messages from Islamabad

G OING BY THE exuberant atmospherics, the just concluded SAARC summit in Islamabad must count as one of the most successful and memorable summits of the regional association since its inception nearly two decades ago. A ten-point social charter, an agreement for enhanced regional trade, and a joint Indo-Pak declaration to resume the stalled dialogue between the two countries – in diplomatic terms the achievement certainly has not been insignificant. Yet the summit has not really evoked any genuine enthusiasm in any corner of South Asia. And the reason surely lies in the most inconsistent record of the association, and the complete lack of political will on the part of the region’s rulers to confront the number one enemy of the region as well as the world: US imperialism and the processes of imperialist globalisation that are playing havoc with the livelihood of the unorganised and impoverished millions of South Asia.

That the summit eventually happened and was not marred by any boycott or walkout was itself quite significant. Till some time ago, Vajpayee’s participation in the Islamabad summit was considered quite doubtful. Even after it became clear that Vajpayee would attend the summit, New Delhi continued to rule out any possibility of a bilateral meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf. We all remember how in a previous summit in Kathmandu, Vajpayee had been offended by a pro-active Musharraf ‘handshake’. At the end of the day, in Islamabad Vajpayee did call on Musharraf and a joint statement was also issued. And contrary to the external affairs ministry’s claim that any discussion on Kashmir would include the part of Kashmir held by Pakistan, the joint declaration talked about a peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues “including Jammu and Kashmir” which clearly referred to the Indian part and not the Pakistani part.

An eventual political resolution of the Kashmir question would certainly demand a lot of flexibility and accommodation on the parts of both India and Pakistan. In this sense, the flexibility shown by both sides is certainly welcome, and the forces of peace and progress on both sides of the Indo-Pak border must now keep up pressure on their respective governments not allowing them to backtrack to the path of skirmishes and wars. Ironically, this turn has come at a time when India is all set to go to the polls and Musharraf has already had a couple of attacks on his life. Regardless of the forces in power in New Delhi and Islamabad, the democratic opinion in the two countries must always insist on a foreign policy that promotes bilateral dialogue and enduring peace and cooperation in the region.

While Islamabad concluded on a favourable note, India would certainly do well not to stress the ‘Bhutan model’ in her relations with other neighbours in the region. Till recently India had been pressurising Bhutan to allow an Indian army operation in Bhutan against the militant camps. Bhutan’s reservations about such an eventuality were well known. This winter the world has been informed about a decisive flushout operation reportedly carried out by the Royal Bhutan Army. The casualty list is still unknown and there are allegations of a heavy aerial and artillery campaign, obviously with an unmistakable Indian component. The story of how this deal with Bhutan was struck will surely be known someday, but suffices it to say that any Indian attempt to browbeat Bangladesh into such a deal could only backfire and invite acute isolation and reaction from all our neighbours.

It was interesting to find Vajpayee make a reference in Islamabad to the shared heritage of the first Indian war of independence in 1857. ‘‘History,” Vajpayee told us, “can remind us, guide us, teach us or warn us, … (but) should not shackle us.” While the ‘statesman’ in Vajpayee is capable of saying this with regard to history, the swayamsevak in him remains chained to mythology and the fascist politics spawned by a myopic ‘mythological’ vision. Hypocrisy, thy name is Vajpayee! Vajpayee wanted Pakistan and Bangladesh to remember and celebrate their pre-1947 heritage, but in India that is anathema to the Sangh. The suggestion that Ayodhya could have a grand memorial for the unsung martyrs of 1857 has always been branded ‘anti-national’ by the ideologues of the Sangh.

India and the entire subcontinent will surely celebrate the 150th anniversary of the great anti-colonial uprising of 1857. But that will be a celebration of victory over the communal and comprador forces that continue to vitiate history in the subcontinent. And the RSS being the leader of the pack must be the first to be consigned to the dustbin of history.
— DB