As the two-day Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan concluded in New Delhi on Thursday, there is expectedly little to write home about. The Joint Declaration put out at the end of the talks looks exactly like all the other ‘declarations’ and ‘statements’ that have been released at the end of many such meetings which have been held between top officials from both countries in recent months. Yes, the talks were held in a ‘free and frank atmosphere’, and yes, there will be more of these in future. But there has been no forward movement at all on key issues of national significance. In short, there has been little at the end of talks that can be termed ‘productive’ on the matter of tackling terror.
For years, Pakistan has ignored the Obama administration’s pleas to crack down on militants who cross from Pakistan to attack American forces in Afghanistan. Recent cross-border raids by Taliban militants who kill Pakistani soldiers should give Islamabad a reason to take that complaint more seriously.
No excuses, no nitpicking. The entire media got the ‘Sarabjit to be released’ story wrong — including The Hindu, in its early editions before we stopped press at midnight to make the correction. If anything, the Sarabjit/Surjeet Singh mix-up has held a mirror to the beast that the media has become: easily excitable, know-it-all and supremely confident to the extent of being tone deaf even when Pakistan’s Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar was clearly saying on Indian television channels — and by extension to the tuned-in print media — that “Surjeet Singh” was entitled to be released. The media stands exposed but still does not have the grace to admit it was wrong, let alone introspect or apologise for giving false hope to the family of a condemned man. Worse, a section of the media has topped it all up with theories galore on whyIslamabad made the “midnight switch”. Ironically, because of the nature of the story and how it unfolded, Sarabjit’s family at least got to air its disappointment. But what of all those mistakes that are being made by the media in the rush to be first with the news? The insensitive line of questioning to bring out raw emotion on camera, the crowding around rescue operations for a “quote”, or ruining investigations by breezing into crime scenes? In this particular case, there is the fig leaf of an excuse in the two names sounding similar but the media was clearly not listening and kept repeating ‘Sarabjit’ so often that on at least one TV show, Mr. Babar himself got confused and used that name for the man he had referred to only seconds earlier as ‘Surjeet.
THE temperature in Pakistan’s hyper-activist Supreme Court must have reached boiling point after Raja Pervez Ashraf was chosen on June 22 as the candidate of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for prime minister. His predecessor, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was thrown out of the job this week by their Lordships.
Perversity characterizes Pakistan. Only the worst African hellholes, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Iraq rank higher on this year’s Failed States Index. The country is run by a military obsessed with — and, for decades, invested in — the conflict with India, and by a civilian elite that steals all it can and pays almost no taxes. But despite an overbearing military, tribes “defined by a near-universal male participation in organized violence,” as the late European anthropologist Ernest Gellner put it, dominate massive swaths of territory. The absence of the state makes for 20-hour daily electricity blackouts and an almost nonexistent education system in many areas.
Pakistan, United States relations are getting in a stern territory. The instant diplomatic reaction that the US legislators have taken in the form of suspending aid to Islamabad over the jailing of a CIA conduit who helped trace Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts just goes on to reflect that there is a serious flaw somewhere over an un-described list of dos and don’ts.
On Sunday, insurgents launched a series of coordinated attacks on Western embassies in Kabul, as well as other targets throughout Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s interior minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, said that at least two detained terrorists – one captured in Kabul, the other in Jalalabad – have told authorities that the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network is responsible.
The terrorist captured in Jalalabad was trained to be a suicide bomber and explained to authorities that he was dispatched from Pakistan. “One of the suicide bombers detained in Jalalabad by the security forces confessed that yes, they have come from across the border, they have been trained there and they have been equipped there,” Khan Mohammadi explained, according to theNew York Times. “They called themselves a branch of the Haqqani network.”
When the leaders of India and Pakistan got together for lunch on Sunday in New Delhi there were no dramatic breakthroughs. But given their countries’ combustible history — and the ever present danger of even worse — the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state in seven years was another small sign of progress. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan both deserve credit for their sensible, workmanlike effort over the past year to improve relations between the two nuclear rivals. After the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani-based extremists, abetted by the army, there were fears that things could spin out of control. India showed admirable restraint in not retaliating, but Pakistan has failed to bring the terrorists to justice. India still agreed to resume a dialogue on a broad range of issues last year. Cabinet ministers and civil servants from both sides now regularly exchange visits. To build real trust, military and intelligence officials must join in. They have made the most progress on increasing economic cooperation. India and Pakistan do more trade with Britain than with each other, but they are modernizing the handling of goods at borders, easing visa restrictions and talking about oil pipelines and linking electric grids.
Timing is everything. It reveals more than actions and words. So this week, when the US announced a bounty of $10 million on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, it was natural to ask: why now? The announcement was made just a few days before Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari visited India for a Sunday lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But, Washington has denied that the announcement was timed to coincide with Zardari’s trip. Islamabad has said Saeed will not be the “main focus” of the talks in Delhi. But in Islamabad’s power circles everybody knows that the Americans are talking tough because nothing has come out of their not-sopublic talks with Pakistan’s bosses. Last month, Zardari met the US special envoy for Af-Pak in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. And just a few days before the announcement, two top US generals , Centcom chief Gen James Mattis and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen John Allen, met the Pakistani army chief at Rawalpindi.