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Mumbai Tragedy – Can Peace Follow?

By Q. Isa Daudpota

08 December, 2008

I fail to be impressed by India's 'progress' though by most counts it has done better than the country I live in. It only goes to show how poorly Pakistan has fared. India's endemic problem to create a truly pluralistic society and shed itself of its caste system has now been overtaken by the tragic events in Mumbai. The illusion of prosperity that has come to the middle class and the upper ranks of the privileged few masks serious problems of poverty and malnutrition that infests India. Its ruling class relies on wealth to trickle down to its teeming masses, many of whom are even more miserable than their poor cousins in Pakistan.

The non-stop media commentary on the unfolding events in India's commercial capital have pulled to the surface latent rage, deep prejudices and highlighted the incompetence of the system. Not too long ago, the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad made apparent almost identical sentiments and flaws in Pakistan's systems. In our failures, it is sadly reassuring that we are the same people!

That ten demonic men, trained in the badlands of Pakistan could so easily arrive by sea at the Gateway of India, bypassing the well-endowed navy and extensive intelligence and police apparatus, which has been warned of an impending attack. Further, shrill voices have demanded that India attack its neighbor's territory to destroy the training camps for jihadis.

But public memories are short-lived, with new dastardly events piling up to mute the sounds of previous tragedies. The media's amnesia, like an aggrieved person's, is a way of coping with agony and loss. In 1992-3 almost a thousand people died in riots in Mumbai and two hundred thousand Muslims fled the city in its aftermath. How may people remember this? In 1993 bombs exploded in hotels and the stock market killing over 250 people. The culprits were linked with Dawood Ibrahim, who is believed to live in Dubai and Karachi, and is wanted for the present crime. One hundred people were convicted and several were given death penalty. But this has not stopped the massacre as bombs followed in 2002, 2003, 2006 and now this.

It is important that India, with the full cooperation of Pakistan, unearth the masterminds of this latest attack and bring them to justice. The demand for extradition of some well-known leaders of terrorist groups currently said to be Pakistan is justified. Lack of an extradition treaty should not become the reason for blocking this demand. Drafting of such a treaty should begin while international agencies such as Interpol and the UN investigators can visit Pakistan to interrogate the alleged gang-leaders.

Overlooked by the dramatic events of the recent past is the far more damaging confrontation of the Pakistan and Indian armies in Siachen, the highest battleground in the world. This ridiculous confrontation costs both countries nearly Rs 20 billion per year (this just for maintenance - based on a 2004 joint report by Pakistani and Indian experts), with India, bearing four times the cost of its rival due to its higher deployment of troops. Exact figures for total cost remain unknown. Meanwhile the glacier, which is critical for supplying water to the Indus is reducing in length by over 100 meters each year, a phenomenally high rate. This not only has serious implication for the future water supply in the Indus, such man-made melting will worsen the sea-rise problem due to global-warming. An international peace park at Siachen as proposed sometime back with a guaranteed water supply for Pakistan should be all that is needed for the two armies to vacate this area. One hopes that there would be sufficient international pressure in the New Year for the countries to disentangle. Thereafter, the money which went into maintaining the troops should be used for improving the life of the people of Kashmir.

Finally, let's come to the mother of all problems in South Asia, the Kashmir issue. Neither side is wishing to admit that at its core it is an issue about what would make the people of that region contented and in control of their destiny. This control is denied to them by the two warring countries. Military expenditure incurred by both has only increased the misery of the people. An international commission needs to assess the cost of what Pakistan spends on its army, which is largely justified by the Kashmir conflict, and the sums wasted by India in quelling the insurgency, whether indigenous or instigated. The two countries should instead use this money to improve the life of the people of this region. With the water from the rivers assured for Pakistan, it should not demand anything more than the welfare of the Kashmiris. Soft borders allowing ease of travel and trade should be the only step necessary at the moment. In the decades to come, the empowered people of Kashmir can decide if they wish to continue as suggested, be independent or become part of a confederation of South Asian countries.

It may seem strange to talk about these larger issues when people are still hurting from the current tragedy. Pakistan too has barely recovered from the Marriott bombing. But it is precisely when a family is hurt due to a death within that warring factions often come together and adopt a reconciliatory approach to each other. With so much lost by both sides and the prospect of terrorism wreaking further damage, it is vital that saner elements on both sides of the border come up with a peace plan that solves the core problem. The funds saved and the human resources released from the war effort can be channeled to enhance the potential of our peoples. In Zardari, a man who lost his wife to violence, India may find a willing partner wishing to work for peace. Can these tragedies bind us in our sorrow and lead to a peaceful future?

The author is a physicist and environmentalist in Islamabad.

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