Byline by M J Akbar: The Boys of Chidambaram
The best way to manage a controversy is to initiate it. Omar Abdullah was not giving voice to some sudden inner revelation when he suggested that the “boys” who had gone across the Line of Control could be welcomed back, surely as part of some ongoing Indo-Pak deal. Ghulam Nabi Azad’s riposte stole Opposition space, another clever ploy, if it was prearranged. It might not have been. Azad could have been motivated by legitimate concerns. Home Minister Chidambaram’s support to Omar Abdullah, however, confirmed that there had been consultations between the two before Omar broached such a slippery subject.
Chidambaram, as we all, know, is a fine lawyer. A lawyer’s skill rests on the dictum that facts are malleable, and argument is infallible. This is a heady tribute to human intellect, since it makes the mind a decisive arbiter. Alas, for every forensic ploy there is another waiting on the counter. Chidambaram has introduced the rather disingenuous logic that since these “boys” (can’t call them “terrorists” anymore, can we?) merely went across to territory that India still claims as its own, they never left Indian soil. They are only being resettled at another Indian address.
Counsel for Opposition could open his arguments with a potent challenge: Why is the Home Minister so anxious to bring back those who left India to wage war against it, when it has not been able to rehabilitate those, like Kashmiri Pandits, who were driven out by militants? Is the welfare of those who wanted to destroy India more important to Delhi than the welfare of those who wanted to preserve the multi-religious, secular character of Kashmir and India?
Chidambaram’s “boys” went to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir not because they thought they were moving on to another part of Indian soil, but to launch a war through which they would snatch Kashmir from India, and were prepared to offer their lives for such a cause. They dreamt of either independence or integration into Pakistan. Perhaps our Home Minister believes that boys will be boys. Or he may have found time to delve into the Bible and ruminate over the parable of the prodigal, which explains the metaphysics of slaying the fatted calf for a prodigal.
The more intriguing question is, why would the prodigal want to come back? Are they ideologically disillusioned and have now become torchbearers of Indian secularism? Or do they want to be reunited with their families, a much more reasonable and realistic aspiration? The one question that cannot be satisfactorily answered, except over time, is this: Have Pakistan-based groups and agencies which still believe in the “Kashmir Jihad” abandoned these “boys” or will there be, among them, some who will resume an insurrection from Indian Kashmir? Is the risk worth taking for India?
Basic question: Who has identified the proposed prodigals as authentic? They did not leave their names and addresses with the Intelligence Bureau in Srinagar when they went off to prepare for their holy war. There are no special genetic traits that differentiate Kashmiris on either side of the LOC. The Pakistan Government did not control this lot directly. They were outsourced to outfits like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Lashkar-e-Taiba, so the only people who would know a genuine cross-border warrior from a homegrown one would be Jamaat or LET. Would Delhi honour certificates handed out by LET?
Who — Delhi or Islamabad? — has placed the return of warriors into the dialogue framework? If it was not on the agenda, or going to be put there, why would Delhi inject the thought into public discourse?
An India-Pakistan dialogue is a tiptoe through minefields at the best of times, so one is curious as to why more mines should be planted on the eve of yet another resumption. There is a special excitement about the 2010 talks because they have been rescued from a trough as deep as crater resulting from the 13 December attack on Parliament; and because Dr Manmohan Singh has made it amply clear that peace with Pakistan is the principal objective of his second term. The adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions has its uses in a debating society; the road to heaven, after all, cannot be paved with bad intentions. Good intentions take you to a crossroads. After that, your destination, heaven or hell, is entirely dependent on your judgment.
Dr Singh’s good intentions are not in doubt. But he does tend to get tempted towards bylanes in his anxiety to reach heaven. Sharm-el-Sheikh was one such foray that helped no one except India-baiters in Islamabad. The “boys of Chidambaram” is another that can help no one except Pakistan-baiters in Delhi.