Saturday, November 29, 2008

India terror aftermath - Greater integration needed

This morning's AP headline reads "Pakistan U-turns on sending spy chief to India." Three links down on the Google "news page," its collection of links is the Hollywood Today headline: "Mumbai Massacre Now Linked to Pakistan: War to Follow?" making it clear that those who generate current world problems are not merely the lawless and conscience-less villains at the extremes, but rather that our problems stem with near equal abundance from dysfunction, irresponsibility and dangerous blindness in the heart of the "mainstream." While my heart grieves for the innocent in India, a country so beloved to me, I struggle to suppress a heart of anger at institutions like Hollywood Today. I struggle for a moment to cling to the ideal of free press in moments like this. The problem is that the term "free" is false. The vast amount of world media slaves under its yolk of its economic need or lust, and this is not freedom. It is bondage. A cure must be found.

Yet the problem of living more responsibly, and with a more reasonable and holistic grasp of political life, lies not only with much needed reform of media, but also with "the body politic," namely us. We must make it increasingly possible for political leaders to have the breathing room they need to navigate sensitive and fragile territory, especially in hair trigger moments.

The AP article leads with the observation:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan on Saturday withdrew an offer to send its spy chief to India to help investigate the Mumbai terrorist attacks, damaging efforts to head off a crisis between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Indian officials have linked the attacks to "elements" in Pakistan, raising the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks between South Asian rivals that has alarmed the U.S.

First, how does it help to desribe these countries as rivals? Everyone are rivals in some areas. And they are partners, collaborators or neutral in others. This is true for India and Pakistan. Why could not the copy read, "painstaking peace talks between South Asian neighbors"? Is this any less true?

Secondly, if indeed this week's horrifying attacks in Mumbai are linked to "elements in Pakistan," why should this be reported as "raising the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks between South Asian rivals"? Surely there is a vast likelihood that the Mumbai attacks are linked to "elements in Pakistan." Any 10 year old could tell us that. Shocking news would be if the attacks were not at ALL linked to ANY elements in Pakistan. In our world today, everything is linked, and it is like reporting that someone breathed in then breathed out to note the likelihood that terrorists link across national boundaries. Why should such a pat, dull observation "raise the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks"? Surely Prime Minister Singh was not suggesting that the government of Pakistan was smuggling soul-less animals into Mumbai to shoot up Indian guests and citizens.

The primary point of the AP article notes that Gilani reversed an earlier agreement to send the head of the Inter Services Intelligence agency, had been changed so that a lower-ranking intelligence official would travel instead.

OK. Yes, this can be seen as a disappointment certainly. But it is understandable. Gilani received sharp criticism from Pakistani opposition politicians and a cool response from the army, which controls the spy agency. How hard is that to figure out? Everyone knows the difficulty and stranglehold domestic partisanship poses for national leaders. This is what I mean when I say we (as the body politic) should think in ways that is supportive, helpful, constructive, and reasonable. And we should refuse to continue consuming news presented in ways that we simply know better. These realities are not complicated. Give the leaders room. Let us and the media stop playing pretend. We already know the story. Every national leader is a target from domestic opposition. Each country has a different power configuration, and things are hard.

For these reasons, the greater the persistence for quiet back channels to remain open among leaders the better we can move forward toward peace. Let Gilani and Singh stay in constant communication, and let common sense world citizens support them in all ways to deepen bonds and shared hopes and needs in the region.

The US, despite the decline of its reputation under the current administration, is always a powerful influence in global affairs. Presently nations must navigate quite a radical transition: The current US administration has being trying to persuade Islamabad to shift its security focus from India, with which it has fought three wars, to Islamic militants along the Afghan border, whereas President-elect Barack Obama has identified rapprochement between India and Pakistan as a main plank of his plan to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat al-Qaida.

The former mentioned pressure from the current administration is self-serving and short sighted, whereas the Obama position reflects insight into how stabilization expands. Should India and Pakistan succeed to develop a unified, harmonized and integrated alliance, every last sector of human enterprise in the region would flourish a hundred fold. Such a rich horizon, more than anything else would seek its own natural call through the northwest borders inviting all to the benefits of peace and prosperity.

In the dreams of such a time let us all, especially media, serve such hopes with a more constructive and more common sense to the obvious realities of life and the simple to understand challenges of national leaders.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.