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Walking hand in hand into the smog of mistrust

by Mohammed Hanif, 13 December 2008

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Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 50, Dated Dec 20, 2008

The Lost Boys

India and Pakistan have lost a chance to acknowledge their internal crises

AS THE families of the victims of the Bombay attacks still waited for the news on their loved ones and their hearts sank with every shot that rang out in any of the siege sites, the Indian media was telling us who the perpetrators were, how they arrived in Bombay and who was giving them orders. Pakistani cities started to appear as targets on graphics shown on television screens.

The Pakistani media, after a little hesitation on the first day, started responding in kind. Of course we didn’t do it. We have never done anything like this. How many mutinies does India have going at the moment? Was Gandhi killed by a Muslim? Was Indira Gandhi? Was Rajiv? Did we blame India for the Marriot attack? Why does India always blame us? Is it because we ruled them for a thousand years? Let’s now go to the architect of our nuclear weapons programme Dr Samar Mubarak Mand and ask him how quickly Pakistan can launch a nuclear attack after India launches an attack on Pakistan. (Fifteen minutes, if any one is interested). Where is the proof? India never gives us the proof? Faridkot? Isn’t there a Faridkot in India? There are three Faridkots in Pakistan. Of course we’ll check them all out. That Kasav boy? That’s not even a Pakistani name. Maybe it’s Kasav? But, hang on, show a close up of his wrist in that picture. He is wearing what those Hindus wear for raakhi bandhan. A boy from Lashkar would never wear that thread. Come to think of it, he would never even dress like that.

And for those looking for a bit of historic perspective there was no dearth of pundits who were telling us how we got here. An Indian writer chimed in with the lament that why hadn’t India built a great wall of India to stop the marauding Mehmood Ghaznavi. Because politicians at that time were as corrupt as they are now. An Urdu columnist evoked that old favourite of Muslim communalists: baghal main churri, moonh pe ram raam.

The only problem was that I didn’t hear much raam raam from anyone’s lips. It was probably drowned out by the grating sound of knives being sharpened.

It all became even more sickeningly familiar after the first few days. India gave Pakistan a list of the usual suspects. Way before the deadline, if there was a deadline, as we shall never agree on these things, Pakistan went ahead and rounded up its own set of usual suspects. A couple of names on both the lists might have been common but that’s only because we have been here before, diffused war-like situations and started preparing for the next round.

The Bombay attacks came at a time when India was the last of Pakistan’s worries although there were some halfhearted attempts to remind us of our old and original enemy. Security officials in Pakistan were telling any journalist who bothered to listen about the Indian hand in FATA insurgency. Nobody quite believed it but this is how the story went: when they killed some of the Talibans they are fighting in the tribal areas and carried the old Muslim test on them by taking off their shalwars, they found out these warriors of Allah were actually Hindus. RAW was obviously propping up the Baloch nationalists in Balochistan and Afghanistan was fast turning into an Indian colony. But these allegations never found much credence with the people of Pakistan. Rocked by wave after wave of indiscriminate suicide attacks, they knew that even an emerging super power like India cannot roll out hundreds of Hindu jehadis who will pass off as Pakistanis and then blow up in the middle of crowded bazaars. They had seen the zealots of Jaish and Laskhar in action in the past, they had witnessed the creeping Talibanisation in the country and they knew that these were their own boys, probably indoctrinated, and manipulated and paid for by foreigners in some cases, but our own boys nevertheless. America has bankrolled two dictators in Pakistan during the last three decades: first General Zia to fight their jehad against the Soviets and then General Musharraf to fight another jihad against those jehadis. In the maze of these multiple jehads, always paid for by dollars, a lot of boys have gone missing. We tend not to think about them till they appear on television screens brandishing AK 56 and bringing their battles to our drawing rooms. While we were all busy trying to decide whether these boys were our amateurs or Colonel Purohit’s professionals, both our governments decided to go childish.

THERE WAS or wasn’t a call made by the Indian External Minister to Pakistan’s President which he took, overruling the normal procedures for such calls, and was threatened with imminent attack. The next day Pakistan’s intelligence agencies arranged an emergency briefing for some Islamabad journalists. The message was meant for their masters in America as much for India. If India threatens to attack, Pakistan will move its one hundred thousand troops currently battling local Taliban and tribesmen in the North to Indian border. And what was the message for the Pakistani people? That Baitullah Mehsud and his brothers-in-arms were actually patriotic people, the whole operation against them was some kind of misunderstanding and if Pakistan goes to war then they will take care of our Northern border. There was the umpteenth offer of ceasefire from the local Taliban. Their intentions were quite obvious; the only way to distract ourselves from the many bloody battles raging in Pakistan is to start an all out, much bigger war with India. Many people in Pakistan found the Taliban’s offer of ceasefire as scary as India’s threat of attack. But Taliban, genuine, or Hindu boys in disguise, don’t wait to hear back after they make such an offer. Two days later a bomb ripped through Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani bazaar, killing at least 25 Eid shoppers. If this had happened before the Bombay attacks everybody in Pakistan would have shook their heads with grief and raised the question: Are we about to lose Peshawar to the Taliban?

Now many of them saw it as RAW’s revenge. In this atmosphere it almost seemed irrelevant, and for many, unpatriotic, to ask the small question about the Kasav boy from Faridkot. When the reporters made it to the village, they found it crawling with intelligence types. There had been an announcement from the village mosque loudspeaker that nobody was to talk to the media. But people did talk. There was a Kasav family. Father used to sell pakoras. He had a boy who had disappeared four or five years ago. And where was the family? It had disappeared two days ago, taken away by the government officials. An intelligence type was caught on the camera telling reporters to leave the villagers alone.

This week might have been an opportunity for Pakistan to acknowledge its own internal crisis, to start looking for the lost boys who are destined for very short-lived violent careers on our small screen. For India there was a real opportunity to stop hankering for American-sized victim status and start counting its own lost boys. Instead, it has turned out to be a case of the blind accusing the blinkered and then both walking hand in hand into the smog created by the airwaves pollution.

(Hanif is the Karachi-based author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes)