Who really cares

August 26, 2015

Saba Tarikh Ahmed (left), with her mother Nazia, at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital. Karachi-resident Saba is being treated for a rare condition called Wilson’s Disease

While the governments of India and Pakistan are yet to figure out how to talk and what to do, 15 year old Saba has crossed the border for medical attention after being crowd funded by Indians. Clearly, people know what their hearts beat for. So what if the NSAs don’t?

The irony of it is amazing. First, let us look at the positive aspect of dealing with a situation. Fifteen year old Saba arrived in Mumbai on Monday for treatment of ‘Wilson’s Disease’. It is a disorder where the body is unable to process copper leading to the patient’s inability to talk, walk, eat or swallow. She is, obviously, here after a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) raised money through crowd funding to support her single mother tide over her daughter’s deadly health condition. The costly treatment is expected to last at least three months.

Monday was also the day the two national security advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan were scheduled to meet to discuss a critical subject that affects and hurts both the countries and their people. That the talks did not take place is reflective of the difference in clarity with which governments deal with problems of the people and the people deal with their own problems. It was clear to the NGO that raising funds for the adolescent’s treatment would not be possible without crowd funding.

The effort of those who contributed to the crowd funding process was also clear. The purpose was to simply save a human life. Inherent in this action is the fact that none looked at the nationality of the teenager. This clarity shown by the people was what was missing in the verbal exchanges between the leaders of the two countries. And, in retrospect, it is clear that lack of clarity marked the preparation for the talks between not some lowly officials but between the prime ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or SCO meeting at Ufa in Russia, last month.

If it was clear that terrorism would be the primary focus of the discussion, there would not have been any room for the two sides to keep the Ufa statement vague enough to address domestic constituencies. Soon after returning to Islamabad, Sartaj Aziz, NSA of Pakistan, made the point that Kashmir was not abandoned by Pakistan. It should have been evident to the Indian authorities then that the vagueness in the Ufa statement would be utilised at a later stage by Pakistan to invite separatist leaders from Kashmir for a tea party on the eve of the NSA talks.

That is something which India would not accept. Yes, it did in the past during the tenures of the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee as well as the Congress’ Dr Manmohan Singh. Both their governments dealt with India’s relations with Pakistan on a different pedestal with little optics. It was during their tenures that it was made clear to the world that Pakistan was, indeed, the terror factory of the world particularly after the Mumbai terror attack. It was also during their tenures that the writ of the separatists reduced to a rump in Jammu and Kashmir. But, from the time Modi has taken charge, it is clear that he does not tolerate a third person at a table for two, meaning the separatists or the Hurriyat leaders. He had called off the foreign secretary-level talks last August for the same reason.

From Pakistan’s perspective, this was obviously a good way to irritate India and shift the blame on India for not going ahead with the talks by holding discussions with the Hurriyat leaders a day before the NSA’s meeting. It would, perhaps, go to Uncle Sam and complain that it was ready to talk but for India’s stubbornness and, in exchange, get more funds to manage its economy. It, perhaps, also wanted to avoid any embarrassment when India presented it evidence on its complicity in the recent terror attacks and the phenomenal increase in ceasefire violations after the Ufa meeting between the two prime ministers.

The notable aspect about the recent terror attacks from Gurdaspur to Udhampur and other parts of Kashmir is that it fetched India a live Pakistani terrorist. And, of course, India’s dossier on the exact location in Pakistan of Dawood Ibrahim, once Mumbai’s underworld don turned mastermind of the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, that killed 287 people, and the man declared as a global terrorist by the US. The Indian media, too, has independently confirmed it by talking to his wife and confirming their location. Obviously, Pakistan wanted to avoid such matters coming up at the talks because it would have to explain its role. It is immaterial, at this stage, whether it is done by the political leadership or the hawkish army establishment.

It boils down to the nature of engagement between the two countries. Both know very well that it would not be possible to discuss other issues without working on the Kashmir issue. Both the countries have stood steadfast on the issue from their own perspectives. Pakistan should have realised that a discussion on terrorism could have led to a discussion on the ‘K’ word. Modi’s predecessors did take it to some level, at different points in time, depending upon the response from the other side. But, it did not yield the desired result because there was no comprehensive dialogue or cooperation within the respective countries.

It was a question of political will from not only the leader but the entire establishment that was, and is, lacking on both sides. It may still be possible to achieve that in India but none has any doubts about it being achieved on the other side of the border given that the civilian leadership is always countered by the hawkish military establishment.

It is this will to move forward, shown by all those contributors to crowd funding the treatment of the Pakistani teenager in India that deserves to be applauded. Their strategy appears far more comprehensive.

Pricey onions
The erratic monsoon has had its first casualty. This is apart from the floods in some parts of the North East. The prices of onions, an important ingredient in a majority of Indian dishes, have skyrocketed to R80 to R100 (470-580bz approx) a kilogramme. It is not that it has helped the farming community either because their produce lacks quality as well as quantity. So, the joke going around is that the vegetable vendors are asking for the PAN or the Personal Account Numbers of those who are purchasing onions. Normally, PAN numbers are sought in cases where the financial transaction is large and attracts provisions of income tax etc. So, if any Indian family makes a request to the NRI for higher remittance, it could very well be for the ubiquitous onion that has even shaken governments.

Some Indians are beginning to feel that a Bollywood movie appears to have achieved what the government could not over the years. The movie called Phantom, scheduled to be released later this week, has been banned in Pakistan by a Lahore court. The Saif Ali Khan-Katrina Kaif starrer action thriller on global terrorism has made the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and leader of the Jamat-ud-Dawa, Hafiz Saeed, run to the court with a petition.

One of the most interesting quotes emanating from the Lahore court coverage in the Indian media is the statement of, A K Dogar, Saeed’s lawyer: “It is obvious that dialogues coming out of the lips of the different Indian actors and actresses will poison the minds of Pakistani public and will portray Hafiz Saeed as terrorist even though the JuD has not been declared as a proscribed organisation.”
For Hafiz Saeed to go to court and seek a ban on the movie says something for the power of Bollywood, possibly the largest movie making industry in the world. And, it also says what Hafiz Saeed is afraid of. But, can he stop circulation of CD’s of the movie or the world wide web? India could not stop the availability of India’s Daughters even though the documentary had been banned.