When it comes to reciprocity, there is no equal to the kind practised by India and Pakistan with each other. No wonder, because it requires a special talent to mirror hostility in such a perfectly choreographed manner. The attack on prisoner Sanaullah Haq in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail that sent him into a coma and led to his eventual death from multi-organ failure was part of the endless tit-for-tat that the two countries end up playing with each other. That it was a fellow prisoner who assaulted him in retaliation for the killing of Sarabjit in Pakistan by inmates does not exonerate Indian officialdom. In fact, it is unforgivable that even after there was an alert across jails to ensure no revenge attacks on Pakistani prisoners, the Jammu attack could not be prevented. The jail superintendent and other officials have rightly been suspended, and an inquiry has been ordered. Even so, the incident has exposed India as a country that still has to grow up, and that despite its eagerness to pretend otherwise, suffers from some of the same dysfunctionalities as its western neighbour. In keeping with the pattern, Pakistan gave a state funeral to Sanaullah, a Harkat-ul-Ansar militant convicted and sentenced to life for two bomb blasts in Kashmir, to match the one given Sarabjit, convicted for bomb blasts that killed 14 people in Pakistan. None of this reciprocal madness gives much hope for the future of India-Pakistan relations.
Until now, tit-for-tat hostility was practised only by officials on both sides, sometimes targeting each other’s diplomats for surveillance, attacks or expulsion, at other times targeting ordinary people, as for instance by denying them visas or harassing them in other ways. What is worrying about the Sanaullah incident is that people-to-people relations are also on their way to getting tainted in the same way, and officials are allowing this to happen. A section of khadims at the Ajmer dargah said they would not permit Pakistani pilgrims to attend the urs. Shockingly, New Delhi also recommended to Pakistan that the pilgrimage be called off as after the Sarabjit incident, it could not ensure the security of travellers from across the border. Going by this, next it will be the turn of the Sikh jathas who go on pilgrimages to gurudwaras in Pakistan to face a similar situation. Before it comes to that, the cycle of nastiness has to be broken. Telling Pakistani pilgrims that they are welcome to come to Ajmer would be a good place to begin. And there’s no need to demand reciprocity.