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India-Pakistan Relations: Need to proceed with caution

P.K. Upadhyay was a Consultant with Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses for its Pakistan Project.
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  • June 30, 2010

    Not surprisingly, there have been mixed statements emanating from Islamabad following meetings between Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries (June 24-25) and the Home/Interior Ministers (June 26-27). Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir expressed his “optimism” about forthcoming Indo-Pak diplomatic engagements, particularly the Foreign Ministers’ meeting scheduled for July 15. He described his own talks with his Indian counterpart as “very constructive” and appreciated their outcome as demonstrated by the resolve of both countries “to re-engage on each and every issue”. The Pakistani media, quoting “diplomatic sources”, reported that during the talks, subjects such as “humanitarian issues” like release of each other’s prisoners who have completed their terms, procedure to handle arrested fishermen, trade and commerce, liberalisation of visa regime, visits by journalists, and terrorism (revival of the joint Anti-Terror Mechanism), etc. were discussed. In the joint press conference, Bashir also spoke of the need “to bridge the trust deficit”.

    Similarly, addressing a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared, “We will work together to clear this menace (i.e. terrorism) in this region.” The two sides agreed that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation would interact with each other, including on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

    So far so good. However, expressing such pious and noble intentions does not cost a dime. Nor do they mean, as pointed by Mr. Chidambaram himself, anything unless followed by equally serious and committed action to realize them. “We are looking for the outcome. Only outcomes will decide that we are on right track,” Chidambaram pointedly noted in the joint press conference with Malik.

    In the context of India-Pakistan relations, this should be in the form of Pakistan acknowledging, at least in private to Indian leaders, past acts of commission and omission by successive Pakistani regimes, and outlining a plan of action to dismantle the terror structure and demonstrate firm resolve to make a new beginning. Simultaneously, a public demonstration of such pious intentions should come through firm and resolute action against persons such as Hafeez Mohammad Saeed; passing of an ordinance/law to put a firm end to vicious, illogical and rabid anti-India propaganda harming bilateral relations; turning out Dawood Ibrahim from Pakistan; and handing over Gajendra Singh and other hijackers of Indian aircraft still hiding in Pakistan under state patronage. Nothing of this kind seems to be happening.

    Instead, answering a question regarding filing of a new case against Hafeez Saeed, Rehman Malik contended, “We got to respect our Courts. If Supreme Court has given a judgement (on Saeed) we have to respect.” However, as an afterthought, he added that Pakistan would examine the new evidence and decide about moving ahead. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi seemed to be totally washing his hands off Saeed, when he separately contended that, “In a democracy, there is freedom of expression in Pakistan, as in India. There are all sorts of people making all kinds off speeches. There are people with extremist views in both India and Pakistan and there is nothing you can do about it. There are views being expressed in Pakistan that I can do nothing about.”

    Can’t you, Mr. Qureshi, take on Hafeez Saeed’s views even politically just as a section of Indian political leaders and the media regularly do against Bala Saheb Thackeray and his Shiv Sena? Can Messers Malik and Qureshi name a single Pakistani criminal being sheltered in India? Merely talking of peace is meaningless. In the context of Pakistan, it is more of a tactic, which many Pakistani leaders have repeatedly resorted to. Remember Z.A. Bhutto’s ‘Blow Hot-Blow Cold’ days, when while talking peace he was also setting into motion Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme even before Pokhran-I, or preparing a plan for launching civilian unrest in Jammu & Kashmir. Or, Benazir Bhutto, who like her father, did nothing to stop these programmes even one bit while talking peace with Rajiv Gandhi on Siachen. Or, Nawaz Sharif, and after him Musharraf. The list is long indeed.

    As compared to what Pakistani functionaries have stated on Indo-Pak relations, what David Coleman Headley has been telling Indian investigators about the nexus between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is a lot more significant. Headley’s revelations, though not entirely surprising, represent the core of Pakistan’s ‘terror-laced-with-religion’ policies against India in particular and the larger non-Muslim world, in general. The authors and executioners of that policy, namely the ISI and behind it the Army, are more real than the current crop of civilian leaders of the country who are more than willing to be just a façade for these real power brokers. And these power brokers will neither abandon their duplicity nor let Pakistan’s civilian government move against Hafeez Saeed or his LeT.

    True, Pakistan is facing terrorism now. But it is of its own making and its response is also not uniform. While it is relentlessly pursuing Jaish-e-Mohammad and the allied Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Pakistan continues to hobnob with LeT which is still not averse to playing along with the Pakistani set-up and be available to further its agenda vis-à-vis India if the situation changes. LeT is the upholder of the Ahl-e-Hadis ideology of Sunni Islam. It is, however, just a minor sect in Pakistan as compared to the Deobandis and the Barelvis. Lashkar and its parent body Markaz-ud Dawa-wal Irshad (MDI), later banned and as a result rechristened as Jamaat-ud Dawaa (JuD) and now Falh-e-Insaniyat (FeI), believe in proselytising their ideology among poor and illiterate sections of Pakistani society, particularly in rural Punjab through a network of mosques and madarssas. They rope in youth like Ajmal Kasab with the lure of money, brainwash them into hardcore activists and convert them into foot soldiers of their jehad.

    Since Lashkar has an India centric and Kashmir specific agenda, the Pakistan military establishment has found it to be a useful tool to pursue its India policies. This interdependence and linkage between the two has benefited both. For the Pakistan Army Lashkar is a totally reliable ‘non-state player’ fully aligned with its Kashmir and India policies. And for the Lashkar an alignment with the Pakistani military establishment has brought power, resources and clout to take on other Islamic theological sects should there be any sectarian confrontation. Moreover, this close association with the Pakistan Army has further expanded its aura among Pakistan’s impoverished masses. This may explain why LeT, despite its pan-Islamic jehadi agenda, has not openly joined other militant organisations in their jehad against the Pakistani regime at home, or why the Pakistani establishment does not move against Hafeez Mohammad Saeed and his key lieutenants. The two sides reap full advantages out of their interdependence and it is unlikely to be abandoned any time soon or easily. LeT has been used and will continue to be used as a lever to increase or decrease the political temperature with India, whether it is on the issue of Kashmir, or now, on the alleged misappropriation of Indus basin water resources. In these skirmishes with India, LeT remains a cost effective strategic asset for Pakistan.

    Nonetheless, as compared to the earlier round of India-Pakistan Foreign Secretaries talks in New Delhi, the Islamabad parleys are an improvement. If the New Delhi talks were a complete fiasco, thanks to Pakistan’s Kashmir centric approach, the Islamabad parleys have improved the atmospherics. These talks also represent a success for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan – living with the reality of Pakistan’s existence as a neighbour and engaging it in some meaningful dialogue. However, India can ill afford to lower its guard and give in to Pakistani tactics yet again. We must realize that Pakistan has perhaps been persuaded to change tack under intense US pressure, as also the evolving critical situation in its own Punjab. There is a need to tell Pakistan in no uncertain terms at the next bilateral diplomatic engagement that the time for platitudes is over and concrete action has to follow. This action should be clear and demonstrative against the likes of Hafeez Mohammad Saeed and the LeT if it is to carry conviction among sceptical Indian minds.

    Significantly, Pakistan did not raise the Kashmir issue in the press conferences and other public statements in Islamabad this time. But Pakistan-supported Kashmiri separatists and other hoodlums patronized by it created large-scale disturbances in Sopore, even as Chidambaram and Malik were lighting the peace pipe in Islamabad. The disturbances have now spread to Baramulla and Srinagar and threaten to engulf the entire Valley in a Palestinian ‘Intifada’ type civil unrest. This once again underlines the duplicity in Pakistan’s approach. The Pakistan Army appears to be gearing itself up for large-scale counter-terrorism operations in Punjab and adjoining areas of Sindh. According to the Pakistani daily ‘The News’, a Pakistani security agency has warned the government that as many as 13 districts of Punjab and adjoining Sindh face the prospect of civil war due to economic hardships. These hardships have allowed Pakistan’s Punjabi jehadi groups to develop deep roots in the area. A crackdown against them would suck in troops deployed on the Indo-Pak border, as most of the reserves are already used up in FATA. Therefore, India has to be engaged diplomatically so that it does not take advantage of the situation in Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh. As the other leg of this strategy, Jammu & Kashmir is to be brought to the boil once again so that Indian security forces remain fully occupied there and may not feel tempted to fish in the troubled waters of Pakistan’s Punjab. Unfolding events in the next few days may well justify this assessment.