India is putting the cart before the horse
Conceptually, it is difficult to find fault with the argument that greater interaction between the people of India and Pakistan contributes to greater understanding between the two countries. It tackles at the roots of mutual hostility at the popular level. Surely then, there should be no harm in allowing thousands of Pakistani cricket fans to travel to India to support their team and in the process, learn more about their neighbours?
But the problem arises when this undoubtedly nice concept hits ground realities. And the ground realities are: first, anti-India jihadi groups are still going about their business in Pakistan; and second, public opinion does not amount to much in Musharraf’s Pakistan.
Don’t wanna say good-bye
Thirty-four of the thousands of Pakistani fans who came to Chandigarh to watch cricket have disappeared (via Varnam). It may be that the motives behind their disappearance are economic or cultural. But it is impossible to discount the danger that one or more of this group of immigration offenders is connected with terrorism. The very fact that as many as 34 individuals went missing points to the fact that background checks before the issual of visas were inadequate. Moreover, tightening these checks may not be feasible without making the process extraordinarily cumbersome, and thereby defeating the process of making cross-border travel easier.
The key to hassle-free travel between India and Pakistan lies in General Musharraf’s hands. Claiming to have paused cross-border infiltration in Kashmir do not amount to much as long as the jihadi groups are active elsewhere in Pakistan. They could take advantage of the easing of travel restrictions, and with or without official Pakistani complicity, carry out their sinister business in India. Not every traveler is a terrorist, but even one terrorist slipping through is one too many.
Opinions, but no polls
And then there is the matter of the role of public opinion in an army-dominated, undemocratic Pakistan. It was not the people of Pakistan who created the jihadi groups, it was its military establishment. It was not the people of Pakistan who put the religious fundamentalists into power, it was General Musharraf’s political architects. It is not the people of Pakistan who spurn Bollywood and Indian TV channels, it is Musharraf’s government that bans it. As long as Pakistan is under military rule, there is little reason to believe that public opinion will amount to much in terms of actual policy direction.
Easing travel restrictions before Pakistan has cleaned up its jihadi stables is premature. So is expecting public opinion to shape Pakistani foreign policy before the military establishment relinquishes its hold over that country. Indian foreign policy should focus on these prequisites before before throwing the borders open.
Related Links: The Secular-Right take on this; and coincidentally an editorial titled Public Policy vs Public Good in Pakistan’s Daily Times argues that “In Pakistan, public policy and public opinion have never been as divorced from each other as they are today.”