The constituency of peace

Two events in Pakistan shook the people of India twice

The constituency of peace
There were two interesting developments in Pakistan last week. Both were related to the larger issue of terrorism. When the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists targeted the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16 and killed 142 people, mostly children, it sent shivers across the globe. In India too, the attack was received with shock, anger and disbelief. For a moment both the Indian establishment and the people put the hostilities on the back burner and reacted to this as a human tragedy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the attack and wrote on Twitter: “It is a senseless act of unspeakable brutality that has claimed lives of the most innocent of human beings – young children in their school.” He not only offered assistance to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif but also asked all the schools in India to observe a two-minute silence to show respect to the victims.

Modi’s message had a strong impact as usual, and the next day, children across India lined up in their schools to observe the silence as a mark of tribute. The Indian parliament, which was in session, also stood up in silence to mourn the killings. The entire India burst into anger and without any doubt it was genuine. From civil society groups to political parties and commoners, the rage was evident. For many days the Twitter hash tag #IndiawithPakistan trended with millions of responses ranging from condemnation to solidarity. While the general mood was that of sympathy with Pakistan, there were voices that were skeptical. Many analysts blamed Pakistan itself for policies that led the country to such a day. However, emotions dominated the discourse on social media. With a sea of people in metropolitan cities such as Mumbai coming out with candle-light marches, humanity prevailed over any other line of thinking. The emotional outburst was spontaneous. “The murder of children cannot be glossed over. Children are without borders. The bell tolls for all of us,” wrote a Twitter user.

The trigger to this wave of solidarity was indeed the respect for human values. But the fact is that the response at the governmental level – or rather Narendra Modi level – also led to an atmosphere of sympathy with a country that is purely seen through the prism of animosity. For some time, the Indians – even the jingoistic media – forgot that Pakistan was not a “favourable nation”. Since terrorism is a scourge that does not believe in borders, though in some exceptions people are pushed to violence after their political rights are denied to them, Indians stood firmly with Pakistan. This also helped in building up a reconciliatory mood that would see a common enemy in terrorism.
TV anchors were asking Pakistan why it would see the Peshawar attack as terrorism, but the Mumbai attack as Jihad

But the mood in India suddenly changed, thus bringing to the fore the deep-rooted sense of mistrust on both sides. Barely 48 hours after the Peshawar attack, a Pakistani court granted bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who according to India is the mastermind of the November 26 attacks in Mumbai. The atmosphere of sympathy soon changed, and Pakistan-bashing begun. From the government to the media, all guns started blazing at Islamabad for its double standards. “How can you trust Pakistan?” they asked. “They did not deserve any sympathy over the Peshawar attack. Pakistan’s double standards have been exposed.” TV anchors were asking Pakistan why it would see the Peshawar attack as terrorism, but the Mumbai attack as Jihad.

It did not stop there. The Indian parliament passed a resolution, expressing dismay over the handling of the case and asking Pakistan to speed up investigation and bring the accused to the book. PM Modi reacted strongly to this development and assured the agitated parliamentarians that the government would convey the sentiments to Islamabad.

Later, the External Affairs Minister Sushma Sawraj read a detailed statement asking Pakistan to take the investigation to a logical conclusion. Ms Sawraj said that by allowing a bail to Lakhvi, Pakistan had made a mockery of its pledge to fight terrorism “without any condition or discrimination” and asserted that Islamabad should immediately get this decision overturned.

“No one expected Peshawar moment to be ruptured so soon,” leading English daily Hindustan Times commented. Although the Pakistan government managed to put him back in jail, the dent made by this “coincidental” court order was huge. A common sense of “victimhood” that had developed across the border in 24 hours was symbolic and could lead to further rapprochement. But the grudge the Indians have is that Pakistan was continuing with the defence and “shelter” of Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed who they believe was the “father of all terrorist actions in India”. In the same comment, the Hindustan Times took at Nawaz Sharif: “But it is the job of the government to protect institutions and create an enabling climate for the justice system to operate in rather than let violent non-state actors run amok. Notwithstanding friendly rhetoric towards India till recently, Mr Sharif has made no efforts to distance himself from the Jamaatud Dawa/LeT and Hafiz Saeed, with whom he has longstanding links.”

But goodwill among the masses continued. Social activists who had acknowledged the gesture of #IndiawithPakistan returned the goodwill by trending up #PakWithIndiaNotoLakhviBail thus making it evident that the constituency of peace in both countries had not shrunk. Those who thrive on nationalistic rhetoric and the violence may steal the attention for the time being but hope to conquer them is not lost.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Srinagar