By Rajeev Sharma
The Javed Miandad episode has more to it than meets the eye. India gave a visa to the Pakistani cricket legend despite the fact that his son Junaid is married to “global terrorist” Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter, Mahrukh. The subject is worth deeper examination even though Miandad has called off his India visit.
The way the Indian media, by and large, has commented on the development betrays a knee jerk reaction. One needs to look at the matter objectively and dispassionately and not jingoistically or else one would miss the woods for the trees.
First things first. Why give Indian visa to the ‘samdhi’ of Dawood in the first place? What does New Delhi get by this move, especially when it comes close on the heels of Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s disastrous India trip which did more harm than good to Indo-Pak bilateral relations? Will it not send a signal of India’s putative weakness to lumpen elements in Pakistan that India is no longer touchy about the Mumbai terror attacks of 1993, which were organized and financed by Dawood and killed over 260 people?
If Miandad was to be denied an Indian visa or given a visa with strings attached that he would have to cooperate with Indian security agencies and be interrogated over Dawood’s whereabouts, it would have been contrary to the norms of granting visas. There was nothing wrong with the documents that Miandad had provided to the Indian High Commission in support of his visa application. Consider the following three arguments:
1. If Miandad were to be denied a visa or given a conditional visa (with a rider to allow himself to be interrogated by the Indian security agencies), won’t the Indian government be guilty of applying different yardsticks for different persons in the case of Dawood? Pervez Musharraf travelled to India several times when he was Pakistan’s President and as both head of government and head of state as well as Pakistan Army Chief there was none else more qualified in Pakistan to know the whereabouts of Dawood. Therefore, by that logic the governments of the day in India should not have given Musharraf a visa either.
2. Extending the same logic further, the Indian government should not grant visas to any Pakistani minister as well because he or she has reasons to know about Dawood.
3. The above two arguments should be applicable to the United Nations and the United States as well because both designated Dawood as a “global terrorist” a decade ago and thus no Pakistani civil or military leader should be given the US visa as they are in a position to know about Dawood’s whereabouts. If the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) doesn’t know about Dawood, no one else will. And yet top officials of ISI have been holding very close consultations with their American counterparts on day-to-day basis for the past decade.
That an Indian visa was given to the Pakistani cricketer despite the fact that his son Junaid is married to “global terrorist” Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter Mahrukh demonstrates the clout of the Ministry of External Affairs over other ministries. It also shows how over the years, particularly since the Pokhran II nuclear tests of May 1998 and the Kargil war of 1999, foreign policy has got an edge over of the other aims of the Government of India. This has become far more pronounced in more recent years as Indian clout in the world has increased substantively.
Herein lie answers to the questions that I first raised. India not only has to be reasonably engaged with Pakistan diplomatically but also seen to be doing so before the international community for the larger cause of international peace.
India’s large heartedness cannot go unnoticed by the international community because it has come at a time when no one would have faulted India for rejecting Miandad’s visa request after the poor conduct of foot-in-mouth Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Malik left no stone unturned in derailing Indo-Pak bonhomie. By acting magnanimously over the Miandad issue, India has shown that it is capable of practising mature diplomacy with Pakistan even in the face of pinpricks from a visiting Pakistani Interior Minister. India conveyed its anger by refusing to give diplomatic weight to Malik’s visit by not holding any joint press conference with him and by not issuing even a joint statement at the end of his visit.
The way the Ministry of External Affairs has justified its visa to Miandad is a pointer of things to come and provides a sneak peek into India’s Pakistan policy in the coming months. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters in Bangalore on Thursday that the visa to Miandad was granted by the Ministry of Home Affairs while following the right procedures. "It is a decision taken by the ministry of home affairs and the government. What are the circumstances, what is considered when an approval is given... what goes into it, is an internal government matter," Khurshid said.
Hawks may question the Indian generosity in the Miandad episode saying that the Indian move has come even after Pakistan failed to honour its pledge of according Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India by the end of 2012. The fact is that Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim telephoned his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma about a week ago, told him that some technical issues had delayed the MFN status to India and assured that Pakistan would honour its commitment.
What the Miandad episode has conveyed effectively is that there is synergy at the top level when it comes to Indo-Pak affairs. It seems that the Indian government is going an extra mile to ensure that the Asif Ali Zardari government, which is set to be Pakistan’s first civilian government ever to complete its full tenure, is given as much support as possible by New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s maiden visit to Pakistan would have been a case of an overkill and he would not have been able to justify his Pakistan visit. Allowing visa to Miandad and ignoring Rehman Malik’s disastrous India trip serve as India’s very own confidence building measures for Pakistan.
The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.