Pakistan needs help to deal with the terrorism that is threatening to destroy it

It is tiring to sit at an airport for several hours, especially when it has very little to recommend it. At Lahore on a recent weekday, the PIA flight to Delhi is nowhere in sight, but nobody can tell you why. Over the space of an afternoon and early evening, there are few travellers in the international departure lounge and barely any flights taking off or landing. A PIA announcement begins by saying that this is not a boarding announcement — just in case a ray of hope dispelling the somnolence of the day begins to rise in the heart of the passenger. A very small child wails and her mother tries to make her drink some tea. Only one set of plug points are working in the lounge — the others are broken. There’s only one woman at the perfume shop. Access to the wifi hotspot is so complicated, it’s exhausting just to think of logging on. The plane to Delhi, when it finally arrives, is 11 hours late.

You don’t have to spend time in Lahore airport — or at the Wagah border crossing, where the hookah-smoking/chai-drinking officials look so clearly bored — to realise that things are difficult in Pakistan these days. Incredibly, India isn’t the enemy, if anything, India is way down in the litany of Pakistan’s problems. Neither is Kashmir, even though it was to attend a conference on Kashmir, organised by the international NGO Pugwash, that I was in Pakistan.

Dialogue with the Taliban

On top of the contested list is the Nawaz Sharif government’s offer to talk to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and other such militant groups that seek to overthrow the government’s writ in the north-western border of Pakistan. The Pakistan army is seemingly dead against the idea, arguing that it cannot dialogue with the enemy. Those in favour of the Army’s argument as well as those who believe that these militants — the “good Taliban” — are only biting the hand of the Pakistan army that fed them and built them up over the years, are all agreed that the situation on Pakistan’s western border is dire.

The Kashmir conference is a world apart, not only because Pakistan has so much else on its plate. The truth is that Pakistan has become a determinedly democratic nation in the last seven years since Pugwash last held a conference on Kashmir.

Kargil — an unmitigated disaster

One Pugwash participant unequivocally pointed out that Kargil was an unmitigated disaster, adding that the Pakistan army had no business motivating and stoking the Kashmir insurgency that officially began in 1989; that, in fact, by intervening in what was a spontaneous Kashmiri uprising against its own State, the Army had set back the indigenous Kashmiri movement by several years.

Another participant hoped that the construction of a more neutral terminology — “LoC east” for Kashmir in Indian hands and “LoC west” for Kashmir in Pakistan’s hands — would help focus the Kashmir issue in terms of its peoples on both sides, and not only as pieces of strategic real estate. Interestingly, conference participants, from all parts of the undivided state — Ladakh, Gilgit-Baltistan, the Kashmir valley, Jammu, as well as Pakistan-administered Kashmir — arrive at the conclusion that neither India nor Pakistan really understands the trauma of their divided families.

A classic example is the demand for a bus across the Line of Control from Kargil in Ladakh region to Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan — like the one from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad and from Poonch to Rawalakot — to which there is no answer inside the conference. During the tea-break, it transpires that Pakistan is wary of Indians entering Gilgit-Baltistan, a strategically located preserve in the western Himalayan belt that is cheek-by-jowl with the Chinese-built Karakoram Highway.

Reality had begun to set in right from the start of the conference, when participants wondered if it was possible to take off from — add or subtract — the ‘four-point formula’ for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute that had been floated by former Pakistan army chief Pervez Musharraf. With the former dictator now anathema in Pakistan, both with the ruling and the opposition parties, some wondered if it was possible to rename the proposal so as to make it more politically palatable.

Kashmir ‘fatigue’ — fact or fiction?

If the grim reality in India and Pakistan meant that both sides were suffering from “Kashmir fatigue,” then what explained the fact that some Kashmiris had refused to come for the conference even when they were given visas? Did that amount to a self-preservation instinct, which was not to raise the temperature with the Indian establishment by travelling to Pakistan and talking about new ways to resolve Kashmir?

Let’s open the border at Narowal, said Pakistan’s planning and development minister Ahsan Iqbal, pointing out to the audience at the conference that his constituency contained the gurudwara said to have been established by Guru Nanak in 1522. How ridiculous was it, Iqbal went on to add, that Sikh pilgrims stood on a platform high enough on the Indian side of the border so they could see the soil in which their beloved Guru was cremated?

Clearly, the ridiculousness of parts of the ongoing India-Pakistan story has touched such new lows that it is almost futile to point fingers at who is responsible. If Pakistan is unable to control the ‘jihad’ within, or if Pakistanis are being killed in large numbers everyday simply because they are Shia or Ahmadi or Christian or just “not Muslim enough” by the so-called defenders of the faith, then it is imperative that neighbouring India look for new, creative ways to expand the middle ground for moderates.

What are the contours of such a new, political bargain? Since Pakistan believes India is playing games in its backyard and destabilising Balochistan, one way is for both countries to also begin talking about the impact of the U.S. drawdown on Afghanistan in mid-2014.

There is both nervousness and exhilaration in Pakistan at the thought — the exhilaration comes from the opportunity to once again roll the dice in the AfPak theatre and hope to influence its outcome in Kabul. The nervousness comes from the realisation that 2014 is not 1996.

Whatever the outcome between Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh in New York later this month, the truth is that Pakistan must ask India for help to contain both insurgency and terrorism within, and India, as the bigger, richer, more populous and more powerful country must help write a new deal for Pakistan’s newly elected government. Pakistan needs help in defanging the terrorism that threatens that country. Can India think out of its own 1947 box?

(Jyoti Malhotra is a Delhi-based journalist)

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