December 24, 2010

Pakistan feigns hurt innocence

December 24, 2010 9:10:05 PM
Ashok K Mehta

Islamabad should know that there is little reason for New Delhi to believe its claims on fighting terrorism. India is yet to see action against 26/11 culprits

The sense one got from an annual India-Pakistan Track II conference hosted by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi, at Dubai earlier this month was that there’s a perception in Pakistan that India is not serious about reviving the dialogue ruptured since the Mumbai terrorist attack. Further, that New Delhi is happy keeping Islamabad out in the cold while engaging with big powers.

Similarly, the thinking in Pakistan that Jammu & Kashmir has been put on the back burner is incorrect and begs the question why does Pakistan return to linking outcomes on other subjects with this issue. Pakistanis just don’t appreciate the fact that just as Jammu & Kashmir is the core issue for them, terrorism is for India. The new line adopted by the Pakistanis is that they too are victims of terrorism, targeted at them more ferociously than India. For a change, one of the Pakistanis admitted that some of the terrorist groups are “our own creation and we are in deep trouble”.

For India the dilemma of reviving the dialogue process is compounded by the existing dual chain of command in Pakistan where the Army and the ISI, and not the elected civilian Government, call the shots. While there is little disagreement over this historical fact, Pakistanis recommended that India should engage in talks with the civilian Government as this would strengthen the hands of democracy.

One of the retired Pakistani Generals, once close to Gen Pervez Musharraf, said that Pakistan was now ready for formal talks between the military and intelligence chiefs of the two countries. Soon after the Mumbai terror attack, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was ready to send the ISI chief, Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, to New Delhi but the Army Chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ruled it out. Later, Lt Gen Pasha made some friendly overtures towards an Indian Defence Adviser in Islamabad but there was no follow-through.

The sticking point to resuming dialogue has been Pakistan’s inability and unwillingness to demonstrate that it is serious about taking meaningful action against the perpetrators of 26/11. The question na├»vely asked is what Pakistani actions will satisfy India in order to break the logjam. Since 2002, India has received written and oral assurances from Pakistani leaders that its soil will not be allowed to be used for terrorism against India. That pledge has been violated consistently without any consequences for Pakistan.

India’s astonishing tolerance and baffling restraint to repeated terrorist assaults have sent the wrong signals to jihadis. Further, India has been overly generous in reducing its demands on terrorism sourced from Pakistan -- from ‘dismantling of infrastructure of terrorism and disabling terrorist groups’ to just ‘punishing the culprits of the Mumbai attack’. A former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan attending the conference said that the perception in Pakistan is that India has set “impossible benchmarks and must be seen to be wanting peace to succeed”. And, he added, “Pakistan must make its actions on terrorism more credible.”

Two years after the Mumbai attack, it was pointed out that Pakistan has been facing serious difficulties in prosecuting terrorists. Foremost is the fear factor -- evidence is not allowed to be presented in courts and nearly 2,500 militants held after Swat operations have not been tried. Even Omar Shaikh, convicted for killing Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal, is yet to be hanged. Judges are under threat and the trial judge of the Mumbai attack case has been changed thrice. About Lashkar-e-Tayyeba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h supremo and Mumbai mastermind Hafiz Saeed being free to roam around despite cases being registered against him, a Pakistani participant recalled that if Gen Musharraf could not act against him, how could a weak civilian Government do so now?
It was left to the retired Pakistani General to explain why the Army was unwilling to act against militant groups, specifically the LeT/JuD, targeting Jammu & Kashmir and India. He said that the military was stretched and did not have the capacity to open a third front and that the Americans had been told about it. This is the same excuse Gen Kayani gives the Americans for not acting against the Afghan Taliban and conveniently adds: “If Kashmir is solved, we can focus better on the war in Afghanistan.”

Jammu & Kashmir, like terrorism, has become an inalienable part of every Track II dialogue and Dubai was no exception. In Pakistan, there is less readiness now to revive Gen Musharraf’s four-point formula on Jammu & Kashmir which, according to many observers in both countries, was within a whisker of an agreement. In Dubai it appeared that the idea, though not dead, will be difficult to retrieve as the Pakistani Government has fallen back on the familiar rhetoric of self-determination and human rights violations in Kashmir Valley. Clearly Pakistan is using Jammu & Kashmir as a bargaining tool, said a Kashmiri Pandit, while another Indian described it as the driver of the peace process. Jammu & Kashmir will remain central to the dialogue process, having regained its core status in Pakistan.

Like in India, in Pakistan too, two views are expressed. That India and Pakistan will never be able to resolve their differences; and relations are not necessarily doomed to failure. With the situation in Afghanistan worsening, the proxy war there could escalate -- fuelling rather than dousing the conflict, given Pakistan’s aim to be seen as part of the solution and not the problem. Creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan is a new worry that India has to reckon with and build strong fences against.

India-Pakistan relations at their best during the Musharraf era have dipped to their lowest since the Mumbai attack. A question that was not raised at the conference: Was 26/11 the repudiation by the Pakistani Army of the gains made during Gen Musharraf’s tenure, notably on Jammu & Kashmir? It is believed that this act was cleared by Gen Kayani who is intractably opposed to India. The incorporation of Gilgit-Baltistan, renamed from Northern Areas, into Pakistan and accessed by the Chinese military and business interests are part of a new Great Game.

Adding water to politics in Pakistan has given terrorist groups a new battle cry: Water wars. With no light at the end of the tunnel, both sides at Dubai hoped for a meeting of the two Foreign Ministers in 2011 though any breakthrough seems highly unlikely. Till then, India-Pakistan relations will have to be managed and fingers kept crossed over another Mumbai-like attack.

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