If India and Pakistan are to walk away from the current crisis with a joint victory against the scourge of terrorism, especially of the cross-border kind, they would do well to heed the voices of reason and sanity being raised on both sides of the border. A fine example is the statement issued on Sunday by Pakistani human rights activists, women’s rights activists, teachers, labour leaders, and others on the Mumbai terrorist attack and its aftermath. The spirited statement demands, among other things, that “the government of Pakistan must no longer stay in a state of denial…[and] must not miss the opportunity of devising an effective strategy to overcome the menace of terrorism…” It also makes democratic demands on India and appeals to both governments to “redouble their efforts at addressing the rise of militant groups in the region…[and] quickly compose their differences over ways of dealing with terrorism.” This democratic intervention comes at a time when a major section of the Pakistani establishment continues to be in a public state of denial over the fact that the Laskhar-e-Taiba perpetrators of the November 26 attack came from Pakistan. Given the unsustainable obfuscation and the related failure to respond positively to India’s key demands that the Lashkar conspirators and masterminds should be brought to justice and the terrorist infrastructure should be eliminated to prevent future attacks, bilateral relations nosedived.
This time the crisis in Pakistan-India relations has failed to divert international attention from the problem of terrorism. No rationalising linkage has been made by anyone in his or her right mind between what happened in Mumbai and the Kashmir issue. In the midst of all this, the Manmohan Singh government has done well to keep a cool head: it has responded to the crisis firmly but with exemplary restraint. If there is one thing the history of the past decade has taught us on the subcontinent, it is not to allow civil society and people-to-people relations between India and Pakistan to be held hostage to the acts and stratagems of extremist elements. This principle is easy to state but difficult to practise. Irrational responses do have a way of overwhelming the rational. Far from cutting off contact with Pakistanis, especially in the realm of ideas, this is a time for intellectuals, journalists, artists, and ordinary people on both sides to try and understand each other’s problems and perspectives better. If democratic Pakistani intellectuals can be brave enough to stand up and urge their government to end its state of denial over Mumbai, democratic and secular India is eminently capable of ruling out irrational options.