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Monday, December 15, 2008

Let’s cut Pakistan some slack - View from the other side - by Harish Puri

The survival of Pakistan as a functional state is in everybody’s best interest—most particularly India’s. So let us and the world help Pakistan in its efforts, not castigate it for not doing enough. Let’s cut it some slack, for that is the only way we may see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Pakistan is a fledgling democracy, and whatever its imperfections, it is an elected government. Another military coup is not what anybody should be creating conditions for. Zardari’s words at the HT summit were music to our ears, so let’s offer him stability so that he can rein in those fringe elements that still function outside the state’s writ. Let’s help him extend his circle of influence to include the military and the ISI, which is clearly not the case now.

India, despite its understandable anger, needs to understand that the military option is just not an option. I am an Army man, having fought counter-insurgency both in the North-East and in Kashmir, so I know what the Pakistani Army must be going through in the tribal areas. And the fact that they’re not making any headway in their battle only makes it worse, and forcing them to redeploy to their eastern borders will be the last thing any of us should want.

Shekhar Gupta believes that the Pakistani Army has no stomach for fighting the Taliban, and moving them to their eastern border would not only rejuvenate them, but would also restore their lost prestige in the eyes of the Pakistani public. I disagree on both counts. If the Pakistani Army is indeed a demoralised lot, that is truly the worst-case scenario—but I have yet to see a truly professional army get demoralised by setbacks. While in Iraq, where I spent a year in the immediate aftermath of the war, I happened to interact with hordes of US and British army men, and not a single soldier I spoke to was in anything but the highest of spirits.

The media has proved singularly incapable of any constructive effort in this direction. Ayaz Amir calls the Indian media “shrill.” I think he is being far too kind. The satellite channels are here to stay, and there’s no wishing them away, but can they not regulate themselves? Sadly, this going “over the top” is an international phenomenon. Every day I receive at least 20 e-mails that are forwards from reputed newspapers across the world, decrying either Islam, or offering bizarre solutions to the terrorist threat. But this fight is not about religion, it is about humanity—and nobody has suffered from terrorism more than India and Pakistan in the last few years. But if we have to win this war, we have to do it together.

Do we have it in us? For the sake of our children, I hope and pray that we do.


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