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Watching you closely, Pakistan

Mumbai (2012-01-23):It is exhausting to be a 'Pakistan watcher'. It blows up every day. It blows up several times a day. And with avid fascination, we watch the country carved out of our own after much heartache, somehow pull through and survive despite all odds. For months now, the elected government of Yousuf Raza Gilani and the Army have been at loggerheads, each trying to outwit the other, yank at the constitution and the judiciary to bring things to a head-on collision.

For almost a month now, Pakistan watchers in Delhi and DC have been predicting a direct coup or a proxy one in Islamabad, that didn't happen. Gilani is now the longest serving democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. Who would have thought, that a man who was seen as a mere puppet placed by the Bhutto-Zardari clans would be the one upholding democracy in Pakistan.

Today, Zardari's continuation depends on how Gilani presents his case. The army meanwhile needs to do an Art of Living course! The chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen Shuja Pasha have closed ranks, as was expected of them. They are well aware that the country's economy is in shambles and that the international community will no longer financially bail out a Pakistan that throws out a democratically elected government. The Supreme Court meanwhile has directed the government to give it in writing that it had no intention to sack these two gentlemen.

The most incredulous of rulings! Amidst the fast developing political events in Pakistan is also the memo-gate scandal and the twists and turns that issue takes. The latest being the release of a lascivious video showing muck-raker Mansoor Ijaz acting as a commentator in a near nude women's wrestling match.

Why should all this matter to us? Is it because of some perverse pleasure in seeing a country whose government and terror groups fought actual and proxy wars with us go up in smoke? Is it because our government is trying to build bridges and raise confidence levels between the armies and peoples of the two countries? Is it because we should naturally be concerned about what is happening in our neighbourhood? It is almost, all of the above. Seeing Pakistan hurtling towards anarchy is not something to cheer about.

Though there are many in India who believe that Balkanisation of Pakistan is in India's interest, there is also the chaos that will result if such a thing were to happen. Who will gain control of its nuclear arsenal? What happens to the jehadi groups and what if they seize power? They are mad enough to launch conventional and chemical wars because of their tunnel vision. Who wants another Iraq like situation in our region? A flawed peace is any day better than a conflict situation.

The second reason: when our government is working on confidence building measures and peace talks with Pakistan, is it obligatory for us to be deeply interested in the outcome of the government vs army situation there? It is our Prime Minister's belief that for India to be a smart power it needs to improve its relationship with its neighbours, especially Pakistan.

Hard to dispute that, though it might seem unpalatable.  Pakistan watchers in India have often debated whether it is futile to do business with the government in Pakistan, when it is actually the Army that calls the shots. Look at America. When its secretary of state or other dignitaries visit Islamabad, it is the COAS and DG (ISI) they do business with. China more or less does the same. But India continues to engage with the government rather than the army.

The third reason is that one should always engage with one's neighbours. We are the largest and strongest country in this region. We will have to therefore make more concessions than the others, face more brickbats, be called names like big brother, bully etc. It comes with the turf. Telling Pakistan that it need not fear us is pointless; it has, since its inception. It is the manner of engagement and how we conduct ourselves that matters. The liberals and democrats in Pakistan are appreciative of our manner of support to its government rather than forces inimical to democracy.

© copyright midday

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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indias leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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