June 26, 2009

Perils of dialogue with Pakistan

Source: Tribune India
Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090625/edit.htm#4

But people-to-people contacts must be promoted

by G. Parthasarathy

On December 22, 2000, Pakistan-based terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) staged a dramatic attack on the Red Fort, exposing the serious shortcomings in the security arrangements in the national Capital. At a public meeting a few days later, the Amir of the Lashkar, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, proudly proclaimed that he had “unfurled the green flag of Islam” in Delhi, with luminaries like Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamat-e-Islami and the “Ideological Father” of the Taliban, Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the Deobandi Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam expressing admiration for his “feat”.

It was no secret that Saeed and the LeT were protégés of the ISI, enjoying the patronage of the Pakistani state apparatus. Rather than expressing strong displeasure and retaliating appropriately, New Delhi took a perilous route to direct summit diplomacy, with no prior preparation, with Gen Pervez Musharraf, who was invited to Agra for a summit meeting. The ill-advised summit ended in a diplomatic fiasco.

Buoyed by what the Pakistan military establishment saw as an Indian weakness and ineptitude, yet another protégé of the ISI, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, attacked the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 — an attack that took the two countries to the brink of conflict.

Similarly, ignoring the involvement of the LeT in the terrorist bombings in Mumbai on July 11, 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went into a summit meeting with President Pervez Musharraf in Havana on September 16, 2006, in the belief that the India-Pakistan “composite dialogue” was “irreversible”. Astonishing statements emanated from the Havana Summit, equating India and Pakistan as “victims of terrorism” and even giving the ISI an alibi, by claiming that: “We must draw a distinction between terrorist elements in Pakistan and the Government of Pakistan.”

What followed was a decision to establish a “Joint Terror Mechanism”. Even ardent supporters of this ill-conceived “Joint Mechanism” now agree that all that has been diplomatic embarrassment, giving Pakistan the means to stall, obfuscate and plead that like India, Pakistan is also a “victim” of terrorism. If the Agra Summit led to the attack on the Indian Parliament, the Havana Summit was the prelude to the attacks on our embassy in Kabul and to the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist outrage, which were executed by groups known to be ISI proxies.

Given these experiences, it was heartening that Dr Manmohan Singh candidly told President Zardari in Yekaterinburg: “I have a limited mandate to tell you that Pakistan should not be used for terrorism against India.” While the decision now is to focus only on the deliberate Pakistani inaction against the perpetrators and masterminds of the 26/11 outrage in the forthcoming talks between the Foreign Secretaries, it is imperative that the entire emphasis and structure of the dialogue are changed when circumstances permit its resumption.

We should remember that there will be no representative of Pakistan’s real rulers, the armed forces, on the dialogue table. It is not without significance that virtually every foreign visitor of consequence to Islamabad calls on General Kiyani and not his direct boss, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar. Secondly, on issues ranging from terrorism and trade and economic relations to Jammu and Kashmir, there are serious differences between President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who echoes the hackneyed rhetoric of his Foreign Office mandarins and military-intelligence establishment.

In these circumstances, it would be useful to promote innovative ideas on people-to-people contacts and the Sir Creek issue while remaining firm on substantive issues like Pakistan’s refusal to implement the SAARC Free Trade Agreement, to which it is a signatory, or deny Indian exports transit to Afghanistan.

The entire composite dialogue process with Pakistan should be drastically restructured. The India-Pakistan ministerial-level joint commission should be revived (when Pakistan acts credibly against terrorism) to promote trade and economic cooperation, people-to-people contacts and confidence-building measures. The ill-advised Joint Terror Mechanism should be scrapped and special envoys together with the heads of the ISI and RAW could meet out of the glare of publicity for candid discussions on terrorism.

If India concludes, based on an analysis of the ground situation that Pakistan presently has no intention of winding up its infrastructure of terrorism, the necessary conclusions should be drawn, internal security further reviewed and a more proactive policy adopted for exploiting Pakistan’s growing sectarian, linguistic and ethnic fault lines. Finally, our establishment should stop shedding tears about Pakistan “also” being a “victim” of terrorism. Pakistan is merely facing the inevitable consequences of supporting terrorism.

Steve Coll of the New America Foundation has revealed that the broad contours of the settlement reached during “back channel” negotiations on Jammu and Kashmir in 2005-2007, between India and Pakistan, were based on extensive autonomy for the region, which would lead to local residents moving freely and conducting trade on both sides of the “territorial boundary”. Over time, the border would become “irrelevant”, and declining violence would allow a gradual withdrawal of troops that now face one another across the mountain passes.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri have acknowledged that they were close to reaching a solution in 2007. It is time for the Prime Minister to disclose in Parliament what precisely transpired during the “back channel” dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir and, after taking the people of India into confidence, insist that any future dialogue with Pakistan will have to move forward from where it was suspended in 2007. If Pakistan decides to disown what has transpired, as General Kiyani and Prime Minister Gilani are advocating, then India should dig its heels in.

Mercifully, unlike his predecessor, the Home Minister, Mr. Chidambaram, appears prepared to realistically deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. There is ample political space now after the recent elections in the state to take imaginative measures to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism while moving towards a paradigm shift in the role of the Army, the paramilitary forces and the local police in dealing with insurgency. The separatist outfits in J&K should be dealt with more realistically.

Defence procurement procedures will have to be drastically changed as these are now afflicted by the Bofors syndrome, resulting in the Army’s artillery being woefully obsolete, with excessive procrastination and delays in virtually all major defence deals. The Indian Air Force is woefully under strength and the armed forces as a whole are ill-equipped to meet the current challenges. India will be taken seriously by its neighbours only if its defence forces are prepared and equipped to deal with the challenges the country faces. We should never again be caught unaware or unprepared to respond appropriately to future terrorist outrages planned and executed from across our borders.

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