NATIONAL

People want friendly ties with India

The Pakistan Prime Minister, Zafarullah Jamali, breathes religion and he makes no bones about it. He tells me that he had the Prime Minister's house, including its sprawling lawns, washed and had the holy Quran recited in every room before moving in. The former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, lived in a way which Mr. Jamali did not consider `pak' (holy). He visits Mecca once a year, sometimes twice. He is already in Saudi Arabia to offer thanks for the Prime Ministership.

The President, Pervez Musharraf, appears to have selected him to placate the `dini' (religious) forces which have increased their strength in the National Assembly.

The other option before Gen. Musharraf was reportedly Khurshid Kasuri, now Foreign Minister, who studied abroad. He wears Western clothes. This is not a handicap. But what may stall him is his anxiety to mend fences with India. His first statement on normalising relations with New Delhi did not go down well with an influential section which believed that their anti-India stance represented the Pakistan ideology. He is cautious now.

People would like to have normality with India. Apart from Islamabad's policies, New Delhi comes in the way. It is not issuing visas, not even to those who fight against their government to foster contacts in India at the people's level. The denial of visa was one criticism which all, particularly the intelligentsia, made. Checking with the Indian High Commission at Islamabad, I found that the average of visas issued last year had come down, from 800 to three a day. In contrast, the Pakistan Foreign Office says that instructions to them are to let `any intellectual come in'.

America's largesse is not the only reason why Pakistan's foreign reserves have crossed the figure of $ six billion. The Pakistanis settled in the U.S. feel that their money is safe if deposited in their own country. Many among them are on the point of returning home because of the difficulties they are experiencing in the U.S. I met at the President's house an eminent cardiologist who was coming back after 35 years of practice in the U.S. He felt he did not fit into the post-September America.

During my interview with the Foreign Minister, the arrival of the American Ambassador was announced as if he was waiting for her anxiously. Islamabad has formally asked the U.S. to remove Pakistan's name from the list of countries whose citizens are considered a security risk. Consequently, the Pakistanis have to register themselves with the U.S. Immigration and Neutralization Services. They are also required to appear for special interviews, submit their photographs and fingerprints.

This has annoyed the people in Pakistan. Even otherwise, America is considered number one enemy because of its `anti-Islamic doings.' There is a strong belief among the Pakistanis that their country would be the next target after Iraq. In the process, India has come down in the list of enemies. Kashmir is less in focus. The banners and posters urging for `jehad' or contributions for war in Kashmir are missing both in Lahore and Islamabad. Many told me that unilateral trade concessions by New Delhi would create a strong Indian lobby which might be able to push Kashmir to the background.

Back on the road to the Wagah-Attari border. I see a stream of India-made buses flowing into Pakistan. It will end up in Kabul. Islamabad has allowed transit facilities on the condition that their drivers are Afghans. Probably they are. But they could be from any part of the subcontinent. All look so alike. That is both the problem and the predicament of the region.

An evidence of Pakistanis' ire against the military — `faujis' as they are called — is visible from the jokes they exchange. The one I heard is: A passenger travelling in a bus asked the person sitting next to him if he was in the army. The reply was `no'. The passenger persisted whether any of his relation or friend was in the army. Again, `no, no' came the reply. The passenger raised his voice and asked: Then why have you kept your foot on mine.

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