Since an improvement in bilateral relations was clearly not on Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik’s agenda, why did he come to India? There has to be some rational reason. Tourism offers a possibility. Taj Mahal, that magnificent metaphor for love, is a powerful magnet for our western neighbours even when India-Pakistan affairs are not in a honeymoon phase, tinged as it is by that wistful feel of so-near-yet-so-far. You cannot really blame a minister for dropping by to take a look in the last months of office, before next summer’s elections inevitably take his job away and his security ring withers.
Then there is religious tourism, which ostensibly brought Asif Zardari to India; particularly the mausoleums of Hazrat Nizamuddin of Delhi and Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, saints and symbols of unity built around a humane philosophy. What a pity that religious tourism was not included in the minor visa reforms signed by fractious neighbours. That would have driven up demand for travel. After five decades of hammering at the wall that went up after the 1965 war, divided Muslim families have virtually given up on preserving kinship across hostile borders. The emotional and physical cost is too high. But the great dargahs from an undivided past remain a solace to the soul.
Rehman Malik obviously did not come merely to sign the visa document. Bureaucrats would have sufficed for this illusion. Visas have been made easier for those who cannot travel alone, the under-12s, and those who will not travel alone, the over-65s. Both categories, exceptions apart, need the company of an adult still trapped in the humiliation of the present process. Frankly, it does not seem sensible that Rehman Malik came merely to see the Taj or prove that he can use a fountain pen. I think I have the answer. He came to India to win the next election in Pakistan. His first press conference in Delhi was not addressed to Indians; he was talking to the more vitriolic of his constituencies in Pakistan.
The rules of politics are far more important to Rehman Malik than the laws of hospitality.
Rehman Malik has admirable clarity, supported by a noticeable absence of sentiment and no sense of embarrassment. Nor is he troubled by doubt. The rules of politics, for him, are far more important than the laws of hospitality. An old maxim of behaviour demands that guests should not be rude to their hosts. Rehman Malik has no such qualms. No visitor has been as deliberately offensive towards Indians as Malik managed to be within hours of landing in Delhi.
Perhaps Malik, and others like him, do not want to understand what the terrorist savagery in Mumbai means to Indians. India watched transfixed as this horror unfolded on television. India heard the interaction between killers and their command centre in Pakistan, run by Lashkar e Taiba operatives. Pakistan’s present high commissioner in Delhi Salman Bashir once dismissed Indian evidence provided by Home Minister P. Chidambaram as “mere literature”; Malik thinks that additional material is “only information”, possibly because his English is not as good as Bashir’s. But both mean the same thing. Rehman Malik added that Ajmal Kasab’s evidence against Lashkar and its leader Hafiz Saeed “needs further corroboration”. Sorry about that, Mr Malik, but all those who could have done so are either dead in Mumbai or alive in Pakistan. The dead can’t talk. The living can.
Rehman Malik says Pakistan courts have exonerated Saeed. But any court can only go as far as the evidence offered by the prosecution. If the police make a thin case, or no case at all, the judgement will reflect it. The Pakistan police report to Rehman Malik.
What puzzles me is India’s unwillingness to question Islamabad about the role of ISI in the Mumbai havoc. It is not only Kasab who has provided details; David Headley has outlined a whole narrative of how ISI officers helped lead, manage and finance this operation. Headley is not in an Indian prison, but an American one.
Have Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi decided that it is time India forgot about Mumbai and moved on, as Rehman Malik publicly urged India to do? I imagine that our leaders squirmed a little when Rehman Malik declared Hafiz Saeed innocent, or indeed when he blamed the death of Kargil martyr Saurabh Kalia on the weather rather than enemy atrocity. Perhaps they think that cricket will wash such tremors away with a great feel-good wave. They have also developed, on a parallel track, a little ploy: all those who want accountability are bloodthirsty hawks; and all those tilting towards obfuscation are little doves full of grace and wisdom. India is not divided into hawks and doves. A majority of Indians wants peace with Pakistan, but they want peace with justice. Indians know that Mumbai might fade from memory but will never disappear, and that Pakistan can do something to ease the pain. Pakistan can ensure that the Mumbai masterminds do not laugh derisively while Indian hearts burn.
Is that too much to ask, Dr Singh?