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Sipahi, Swayamsevak and Taj
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

First, it was Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee's bold initiative to extend an unexpected invitation to Pakistan's military ruler, General Parvez Musharraf, to visit India which took the Pakistanis by complete surprise. Now, it is his decision to hold his summit dialogue with Musharraf in Agra-the city of enchanting Taj Mahal-and not in the capital, New Delhi, which has set off a train of speculation in Pakistan.

Cynics in Pakistan, and there is a surfeit of them when it concerns arch-enemy India, would be quick to reason that Vajpayee doesn't want to give Musharraf the singular distinction of being treated as an equal in the city of his birth (Musharraf's). However, this argument defies common sense and logic. The fact that Vajpayee has invited Musharraf unconditionally to India as an equal, and without any external pressure or persuasion, is proof enough that he has no mental reservations , any more, about Musharraf's status. Remember, Musharraf was initially kept at arm's length by Vajpayee, in the wake of the military putsch of October, 1999, which catapulted Musharraf to the pinnacle of power in neighbouring Pakistan. Vajpayee, and so many others in India, disdained Musharraf as the author of the grisly Kargil episode of the summer of 1999 which very nearly triggered a fourth war between the two arch adversaries in South Asia. Musharraf's brazen adventure also, effectively, put paid to the `Bus Diplomacy` begun by Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in the spring of that year. Nawaz was soon toppled by the military coup that foisted Musharraf to power.

Vajpayee has more than one reason for choosing the historic city of Agra as the venue of his confab with Musharraf. Agra was the seat of power of the greatest of all Moghul rulers of India, Akbar the Great. And Akbar, to the delight of his majority Hindu subjects, was a secularist at heart. He was enlightened enough to know that his vast Indian empire could only be sustained by fusing its heterogenous cultures and beliefs under one canopy and on one platform. Secularism was the only answer to keep his disparate, polyglot people fused together. No wonder Akbar is still a role-model for modern India and an icon to its secularist creed. The situation is just the opposite in neighbouring Pakistan where the favourite Moghul is Aurangzeb, the fanatical great-grandson of Akbar, who seized the throne by murdering his three older brothers and incarcerating his father-Shahjehan, the builder of the fabulous Taj Mahal. Aurangzeb is increasingly a role-model for Pakistan's Bonapartist generals who are in a habit of seizing political power on any pretext. It is another matter that Aurangzeb's military adventures and expeditions to the far corners of India ultimately led to the collapse of the empire that Akbar had built with meticulous care.

Vajpayee, the canny politician aspiring to become a world statesman, has a finely tuned sense of history. His message to Musharraf is subtle, but backed by historical hindsight. Peace and harmony in South Asia can only be nurtured by keeping religion out of it, or else the history of the Aurangzeb era might well be repeated; the zealot emperor lost his empire by squandering his resources on wasteful military expeditions. The lesson for both India and Pakistan-heirs to the Moghuls-is to emulate the example of Akbar, not Aurangzeb. A billion plus toiling masses of both India and Pakistan, eking out a miserable living, couldn't agree more with this moral. They want the precious little resources of both states spent on better housing, schools and hospitals, rather than atomic bombs, missiles and tanks.

But Vajpayee is also a poet, and like any other poet the world's greatest monument to love-Taj Mahal-inspires him too. Taj is emperor Shahjehan's lasting paean to the glory of love; arguably the world's most beautiful monument which has stood the test and vagaries of time for more than three centuries. But Taj was not built in a day; with all the fabulous wealth of the Moghuls it still took 18 years to finish. That is what Vajpayee would be telling his valued guest. Peace will have to be built from the ground up, brick by brick, with patience and dedication, like the Taj was built. Transforming a half century of unremitting hostility , and wars, between the two South Asian countries into a new era of peace and understanding would be painstaking and demanding. It will have to be a slow, deliberate and dedicated work, just like Taj Mahal's. There is no short cut to it, and a quick fix will not last.

It will be up to Musharraf to prove that he is equal to the task and shares Vajpayee's vision of an epoch of peace befitting Akbar's Agra and Shahjehan's Taj Mahal.

(The author is a former Pakistani ambassador to Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey)

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