There are those who believe that army chief turned dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf, who passed away in a Dubai hospital sans the military honours he would have preferred, was sincere in his attempts to seek peace with India. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I moved to Delhi from Calcutta — as it was then known — to join a new weekly news magazine, I was a bit taken aback by the vehemence of the anti-Pakistan lobby in the capital. After all, Bengal too had seen the horrors of trains laden with corpses criss-crossing the border. In fact, a year before Independence, Direct Action Day (August 16, 1946) — called by the Muslim League to press its demand for a separate Muslim homeland once the British left India — and the “week of long knives” that followed was launched in Calcutta.
Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, then the ‘Prime Minister’ minister of Bengal, and other Muslim League leaders are said to co-ordinated the violence from police stations, and preventing the police and military from stepping in to quell the violence. Soon the bloodbath spread to the nearby districts like Noakhali, and neighbouring areas like Assam and even far away Punjab. Images of corpses strewn over the streets of Calcutta still serve as a bleak reminder of those days.
Post partition, Suhrawardy spent some time in India before moving to East Pakistan, and eventually went on to become Prime Minister of Pakistan In 1956, heading a coalition government of the Awami League and the Army backed Republican Party. Though he held that post for only a year, he is remembered for his strong pro-American leanings, and also for being the first Pakistani premier to travel to Communist China.
Perhaps the 1971 war with Pakistan which led to the birth of Bangladesh from East Pakistan had something to do with it, but bar some light-hearted needling, there was no visceral animosity between the two Bengals, unlike in the West.
I thought that perhaps the animosity would fade with death of the generation that witnessed the horrors of Partition, until someone pointed out that the Pakistani soldiers who had been defeated in 1971 were now leaders in their country, and bore nothing but ill-will towards India for the Partition of their country.
That includes Musharraf, who fought against India in 1965 and 1971. Promoted to four-star general and Army chief by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998, Musharraf promptly planned the incursions into Kargil, sparking a war which he thought would help him regain Kashmir, or at least turn it into an international issue. But instead, US president Bill Clinton called Nawaz Sharif to Washington and told him no uncertain terms that Pakistan would face American wrath unless he ordered his troops out of Kargil. An enraged Musharraf toppled Sharif in a bloodless coup months later, and declared himself first the CEO and then the President of the country, which he then ruled for 10 years. It was under his watch that terrorist scum from Pakistan attacked the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislative Assembly complex on October 1, and the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. In between there was the 9/11 attack on the US by the Al Qaeda, led by Osama Bin laden, a Saudi royal who was living under the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Perhaps taking a leaf from the Chinese playbook, Musharraf kept publicly extending various ‘peace’ plans, which essentially involved India giving up territory in Kashmir, and Pakistan giving nothing in return. Instead of offering counter proposals which were in India’s favour, New Delhi kept rejecting these offers, which Musharraf then cleverly used to show the world that he was the one offering peace to an intransigent India.
As a backup, he ensured that every peace initiative was quickly torpedoed by terrorist strikes.
My hope that the perhaps the animosity between the two nations would fade once the generation that experienced the partition of Pakistan in 1971 was no more was brutally dispelled when I visited Islamabad for the SAARC summit in January 2004. Before leaving for Pakistan for the summit, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asked whether he would once again initiate talks with Musharraf, cryptically remarked that he was going to a multilateral regional summit. On the last day, after keeping the entire world guessing, the two leaders finally met and shook hands and decided to give peace another chance, and oddly enough, even agreed that they would not let terrorist attacks disrupt the process. The night before we left Islamabad, I decided to step out of the sanitised bubble and formal dinners and instead try my hand at a local roadside dhaba, which catered mostly to the large number of security personnel deployed for the summit. As my Pakistani minders watched warily, I sat down on the plastic chair after ordering some meat and tandoori rotis. But my accent and the bandhgala that anyone who accompanies IndianV VIPS abroad is forced to wear made it clear that I was from India.
A little boy arrived and put a glass of water on the plastic stool that doubled as my dining table, before stepping back and demanding to know why I was lying about being a ‘Hindustani.’ Amused, I explained that just because I ordered meat does not mean I am not an Indian. “No, I know that Hindustanis are short and fat, have red eyes, and hate us, so you cannot be a Hindustani, ” he replied vehemently, before the old man serving the food arrived to shoo him away.
“Please don’t be offended, sir,” the old man pleaded. “ We are poor, and the boy goes to a madrasa where he gets some education and his lunch. And that is where he learns such things.”
Peace? Not just yet.
Ramananda Sengupta is a foreign and strategic affairs analyst
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