Friday, June 12, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 13, 2015

Nawaz speaks After the shrill exchanges between Pakistan and India in recent days, calm and sense were finally restored on our side by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sober and well considered address at the Envoys Conference of SAARC and ECO regions. The basic thrust of his remarks was directed at India to ‘behave’ itself. He said he had been dismayed by the recent irresponsible and imprudent statements by the Indian political leadership, which vitiate the atmosphere for the goals of regional peace and stability. He said Pakistan would not abandon the moral high ground or its quest for peace, but this should be reciprocated and our overtures for dialogue acknowledged. He made it crystal clear at the same time that Pakistan would protect its vital interests at all costs, something any self-respecting state would be expected to do. The prime minister reiterated the current received wisdom that externally sponsored terrorism and extremism posed grave threats to a secure and prosperous Pakistan. Dilating on the long standing Kashmir issue, he underlined Pakistan’s traditional stance that the UN Security Council resolutions be implemented, something he had also urged on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Tajikistan on the sidelines of an international conference. The prime minister outlined once again his dream of connectivity in the SAARC and ECO region, bringing in its wake prosperity and development for the whole of these regions. It was in this framework that he located the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, arguably the greatest game changing project in recent memory. While the prime minister was busy trying to lower the rising temperature of recent days between Pakistan and India through his sensible stance, both houses of parliament carried on with the other script and adopted unanimous resolutions condemning India’s recent statements with the usual underlining of determination to defend the country, etc. Surrendering to the fashion, former dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the architect of Kargil who sabotaged the Nawaz-Vajpayee rapprochement, could not resist the temptation to add his two cents, belligerently asking for a tit-for-tat response to India (as though we have not had enough of that already in the past days). While these contrasting statements were emanating from within Pakistan, Bangladesh’s Information Minister Hasanal Haq Inu produced a new twist in defending Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by arguing that Bangladesh had declared independence on March 26, 1971 and therefore India was only coming to the aid and succour of an independent country Bangladesh in its conflict with another country, Pakistan. The argument may be convenient for making the case for defending Modi's indiscreet remarks in Dhaka but it does not stand up to scrutiny in the light of the facts from history. March 26, 1971 was the date of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s public rally at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, at which many observers expected him to announce the independence of (then) East Pakistan. But Suhrawardy’s protégé refused to fulfil such adventurist ambitions, much to the disappointment of some of his supporters. Despite this restraint, the military regime of General Yahya Khan launched a military crackdown that night in which intellectuals and university teachers were the first victims of what became a genocidal bloodbath. Pakistan suffered for this attempt to deny the 1970 electoral mandate received by an autonomy-seeking Awami League through military force. The rest, as they say, is history. Interestingly, in India itself, the opposition Congress Party has slammed Modi’s aides for immature and jingoistic statements that embarrass neighbours and threaten the peace of South Asia. For its pains, the Congress has been dubbed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as speaking Pakistan’s language. Who says Pakistan has a monopoly on immaturity and jingoism? When the dust of the present spat between Pakistan and India settles (hopefully soon), soberer minds will be needed on all sides to remind their peoples of the dangers of such verbal gymnastics in a nuclear-armed subcontinent. While the 1998 nuclear explosions by India and then Pakistan were supposed to have ruled out all-out war between the two rivals permanently, it gave rise instead to the exploration of low intensity warfare that continues to this day, dangerously teetering on the edge always of escalation beyond any side’s ability to control. The sobering reminder of the shadow of the mushroom cloud that looms over Pakistan and India should give pause to all ‘super patriots’ on all sides to weigh their words carefully in a fraught neighbourhood.

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