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Current Affairs ( 6 Aug 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Redefining Pak agenda

By Satish Kumar

July 29, 2009


The India-Pakistan joint statement issued from Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16 has been justifiably criticised for some of its negative aspects. In the process, however, its positive contribution to the agenda of India-Pakistan engagement has been totally overlooked.

The key elements of the joint statement are, one, that terrorism is the main threat to both countries; two, action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process; three, both countries will share real-time information on future threats; four, Pakistan’s concern on Balochistan has been recognised for the first time in a joint document; and five, there is no mention of the Kashmir issue in the joint statement, which is somewhat rare.

I will first take up the question of terrorism. There is no doubt that by describing terrorism as "the main threat", the statement has raised the salience of terrorism in Indo-Pak discourse. But the impact of this achievement has been neutralised by saying that it is a threat to "both countries", as if the nature of this threat to both countries is similar and both have equal responsibility to find a solution. Further damage has been done by the stipulation that action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process.

It must be pointed out that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism has been the most serious threat to the security of India for the last 10 years. Pakistan’s official agencies, like the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, resort to terrorism as an integral part of their long-term strategy to subdue India under the cover of their nuclear weapons capability. They have been training and deploying non-state actors like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harkat-ul Mujahideen in this sub-conventional war. The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar in December 1999 was done by the Harkat-ul Mujahideen. The attack on the Kashmir Assembly on October 1, 2001, and the attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, were carried out by the JeM and the LeT.

Since 2001, not a single year passed without major terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and in various parts of India. Among the most devastating were the Mumbai train attacks of July 11, 2006, the Samjhauta Express attack of February 18, 2007, and the Mumbai hotel and other attacks of November 26, 2008, interspersed as they were by attacks on mosques, temples and markets in crowded cities and towns of India. That terrorism is an inseparable part of Pakistan’s strategy and anti-India terrorism is likely to continue for a long time will be obvious from the following issues raised during an interview with Arif Jamal, a leading Pakistani expert on jihad and author of a recent authoritative book: Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir. The points worth noting are: One, Al Qaeda, in the shape of JeM, Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami and Harkat-ul Mujahideen, has been operating in Pakistan despite formal bans. They were allowed to operate because they waged "jihad" in Kashmir as well. Two, the historic Al Qaeda may or may not be dead, but it has definitely fallen into the background. The new "Jihad International Inc." appears to be aiming at Pakistan rather than the West. It seems to be trying to take over Islamabad and to turn it into a springboard for "global jihad". The new "Jihad International Inc." is dominated by Pakistani "jihadis" and is aiming at India as a primary target, while Al Qaeda under Osama bin Laden wanted to destroy America. Three, the Pakistani military will not stop supporting "jihad" in Kashmir without the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. Meanwhile, the "jihad" in Kashmir will keep giving birth to global "jihadis".

Keeping in mind this assessment of the nature and objectives of Pakistan-bred "jihad", it is important that India keeps terrorism on the top of its agenda with Pakistan. This is what the joint statement of July 16 seems to have done. But the focus of action demanded from Pakistan remained confined to perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks. This must be widened to include the perpetrators of previous attacks too, e.g. the attack on Parliament in 2001. Besides, not much should be expected of the information-sharing clause, given the trust deficit between the two countries. India should also keep stressing the need to demolish the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan, without which there can be no foolproof resolution to the problem.

The composite dialogue framework needs to be given a fresh look. It was structured in June 1997 at a meeting of the two foreign secretaries in Islamabad. In that structure, terrorism occupied a very low place. Since then, terrorism has emerged as the single most important challenge to India-Pakistan relations, more important than even the Kashmir issue. The priorities have changed. Therefore, let the dialogue acquire new shape and form. Action on terrorism by Pakistan cannot be allowed to be held hostage to the resumption of the composite dialogue, irrespective of the ambiguous linkage between them in the joint statement.

This brings us to the question of Kashmir. Even if Kashmir has not been mentioned in the joint statement, it is a live issue waiting to be resolved. The redeeming feature is that the issue has become much less prickly. Pakistan at the highest level has disengaged itself from UN resolutions on Kashmir. It has even said that it never had territorial claims on Kashmir. The back-channel diplomacy on Kashmir is said to have made some progress. Gen. Pervez Musharraf claimed in his interview with Karan Thapar on July 17 that there was potential agreement on Kashmir based on demilitarisation, self-governance and a joint mechanism. These ideas must be taken forward to their logical conclusion through talks when the situation permits.

But the mention of Balochistan in the joint statement is disrespect to the common sense of the Indian people. Even a child knows that Balochistan’s is the most genuine struggle for justice and equality within Pakistan since 1947. It would be embarrassing for Baluchis to be told that they are being helped from outside. Therefore, Balochistan should find no place in the future agenda of India-Pakistan engagement.

Satish Kumar is editor, India’s National Security Annual Review, and former professor of diplomacy at JNU, New Delhi

Source: Asian Age, New Delhi