Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Indo-Pak Dialogue: The Futility of Engaging the Devil

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will meet his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm El-Sheikh on July 16, 2009. Prior to this meeting the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries will also meet on the sidelines of the summit.

While the Indian Prime Minister has agreed to meet his Pakistani counterpart, it remains to be seen whether this meeting scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the NAM summit will re-start the composite dialogue process which was suspended after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai. While Pakistan is only interested in highlighting and internationalizing the Kashmir issue, India is ready to discuss Kashmir provided Pakistan gives assurances of curbing anti-India terror groups based on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan’s terror history: There is not only animosity but a deep sense of mistrust in Indo-Pak relations. The last two decades saw this animosity increase manifold and distrust aggravated. In 1989 the late General Zia-ul-Haq initiated a low-cost proxy war against India. His successors, both civilian and military only continued this low-intensity conflict. The two neighbours were on the brink of war at least on three occasions in the last one decade alone. When the Indian PM Vajpayee was visiting Lahore in February 1999, the Pakistanis were busy plotting the incursion in Kargil. Thereafter, Pakistan actively aided in the hijack of the Indian Airlines plane IC-814 to Kandahar. After the failed summit at Agra in July 2001, the Indian Parliament was attacked by terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed headed by Masood Azhar, one of the terrorists who were released by India in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane. In July 2008, a terror group led by Sirajuddin Haqqani (Haqqani network) with the active assistance of the ISI carried out a suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Thereafter, in November 2008, Pakistani terrorists carried out the worst ever terrorist strike in the heart of India’s commercial capital, now infamously referred to as Mumbai 26/11.

In a majority of the incidents listed below, there was clear evidence of Pakistani involvement, directly or indirectly.

July 11, 2006, Mumbai: At least 200 killed in seven serial blasts in suburban trains.

July 11, 2006, Srinagar: At least eight people, including tourists and pilgrims, killed in five hand grenade attacks.

May 25, 2006, Srinagar: Four tourists killed in a powerful explosion at Batpora.

May 21, 2006, Srinagar: Seven people including two guerrillas killed as militants attack a Congress party rally.

March 7, 2006, Varanasi: Triple bombings killed 23 people and injured 68 others at an ancient temple and crowded railway station.

Dec 28, 2005, Bangalore: One retired professor was killed in an attack on the Indian Institute of Science.

Oct 29, 2005, New Delhi: Three blasts in the capital ahead of Hindu festival of Diwali killed 65 people and wounded about 200.
Aug 15, 2004, Assam: Three bomb explosions across the state, killing 16 people, mostly school children, in Dhemaji district.
Aug 25, 2003, Mumbai: serial blasts killed about 60.

May 14, 2003, Jammu: Militants attack an army camp near Jammu, killing more than 30, including women and children.

Sept. 24, 2002, Gandhinagar: Two terrorists attack the Akhsardham temple, killing 39 visitors.

Dec 13, 2001, New Delhi: Terrorists attacked Indian parliament, killing 12 people including six policemen. All five terrorists were also killed.

Oct 1, 2001, Srinagar: Militants attack Jammu-Kashmir assembly complex, killing about 35.

In June 2009, at Yekaterinburg on the side lines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) summit, the Indian PM gave a strongly worded statement to the Pakistani president Zardari in presence of the international media - “Excellency, I am pleased to meet you. But I have a limited mandate to tell you that the Pakistani territory can’t be used for acts of terror against India.” With his curt message to Zardari, said in full view of the waiting media, Singh made sure it reached a much larger audience, particularly in India and Pakistan. The one-liner left Zardari embarrassed. The media ambush left Pakistan fuming and they made a hue and cry of the so-called badtamizi on part of the Indian PM. This badtamizi language ought to have been uttered long back. What Pakistan has conveniently forgotten is that India has been tolerating the Pakistani badmashi of terrorism for the past several years.

President Zardari recently made a candid confession about the fact that Islamabad created and nurtured Islamic terrorist groups for short-term tactical objectives. But what Zardari says and what Pakistan does are totally different. Either there is a disconnect between the President and the government that he is supposed to be in charge or Zardari is merely engaging in an international PR exercise.

Pakistan’s sincerity in tackling terror aimed at India questionable: Post 26/11, while doing nothing concrete or substantial against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack or anti-India terror networks, Pakistan has been indulging in what can be crudely termed as a “tamasha” (show or spectacle). While sufficient evidence was made available by Indian authorities to Pakistan to nail the Lashkar-e- Toiba (LeT) for Mumbai 26/11 and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, Pakistan vacillated between denial and floating conspiracy theories on their television channels of possible Mossad-RAW involvement and eventually under international pressure did what was largely symbolic – arrested a few terrorists and placed the chief of LeT under house arrest. Saeed was treated more like a guest of the state and less like a terror accused; in fact he was charged under Maintenance of Public Order law under which persons could be temporarily detained. Hafeez Saeed’s release was orchestrated through a court process, seen more as a sham in India. Prior to his release, LeT organized rallies, protest marches through Lahore against Saeed’s incarceration.

After the terror strikes in Mumbai, India submitted a formal request to the U.N. Security Council to put the group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, (JuD) the parent organization of the LeT and Saeed on the list of individuals and organizations sanctioned by the United Nations for association with terrorism. In response to the UN resolution and the government ban, the JuD reorganized itself under the name of Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awal (TTQA).

A Pakistani journalist, Arif Jamal in his book, Shadow War – The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir writes that right from the time of partition, Pakistan was and has always been on the lookout for opportunities to foment trouble in Kashmir. There were occasional pauses in Pakistani efforts, particularly after the 1971 war. These pauses were more circumstantial rather than a change of Pakistani heart. It is difficult to see why Pakistani military leadership which refers to terrorists as “strategic assets” will be sincere about peace or the peace process.

The Road Ahead: Nothing concrete has emerged out of Indo-Pak talks in the recent past, except for spurt in terrorist activities. The Pakistani leopard cannot be expected to change its spots in the near future either. India cannot be pressurized to re-start the composite dialogue with Pakistan without any pre-conditions by the US or any other party. At this point of time, the focal point of discussion is the presence of terror networks aimed at India and steps Pakistan is taking to curb this menace. Any talks on Kashmir or any other issue will be seen as a sign of Indian weakness and send a wrong signal to terror outfits based in Pakistan as well as to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Since Pakistan understands the language of coercion better, India must talk to Pakistan with a big stick in Sharm El-Sheikh or at any time in the future. That is the bottom-line.

Post-Script: At the time of this writing, there has been a warning of terrorist threat to 7 targets in and around Mumbai from LeT, possibly by sea.