Thursday, February 4, 2010

Aman Ki Asha - Do we need a reality check ?

Talks will serve little purpose

G Parthasarathy

New Delhi’s India International Centre has a reputation of being a location for quiet dialogue and discussions. Yet, in a widely publicised conference on India-Pakistan relations at the IIC from January 10 to 12, raw emotions got the better of reasoned dialogue. The police had to be called in as people who had been forced to flee their homes in the Kashmir Valley by terrorist organisations, which were allegedly led by some of those participating in the programme, gave vent to their emotions and disrupted proceedings. Sentimentalism in sections of our media about ‘Aman ki Asha’, disregards prevailing realities about public anguish and anger at Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

India’s Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor recently revealed that some 700 militants from Pakistan were waiting to infiltrate across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir. General Kapoor added: “The terror infrastructure across the LoC is very much intact and all-out efforts are being made to push inside as many infiltrators as possible.” On January 12, India’s otherwise soft spoken Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, told an audience of American and Indian academics in Delhi: “We have to face hostile forces across our borders with Pakistan.” She added that groups which directed attacks against India, continued to receive the “patronage of powerful forces and institutions in Pakistan.” She asserted, “It is vital this support must stop at once. Any viable process of dialogue with Pakistan is essentially dependent on this requirement, since it is unrealistic to think otherwise.”

While the Foreign Secretary was spelling out the prerequisites for a “viable dialogue process”, talks have continued between the two countries at the highest levels. Over the past two years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has met Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari twice, at New York and Yekaterinburg, and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani on three occasions. The Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan met in Islamabad, New Delhi and New York. While India has continued to engage and talk to Pakistan, a resumption of the composite dialogue process will be counter-productive. Pakistan has used the composite dialogue process to divert attention from its promotion of terrorism within India, by expressing dissatisfaction with India’s approach to issues ranging from Jammu & Kashmir to Siachen, and differences over demarcation of the international boundary in the Sir Creek area.

The composite dialogue process resumed in January 2004, only after then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf assured then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that territory under Pakistan’s control would not be allowed to be used for terrorism against India. Despite this clear linkage between an end to terrorism and the resumption of the composite dialogue process, Pakistan was emboldened to promote terror activities against India by the ill-advised statement of Prime Minister Singh that the composite dialogue process was “irreversible” and would not be affected by acts of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. At the Havana Non-Aligned Summit in 2006, some others even acted as apologists for Pakistan by suggesting that cross-border terrorism was really the work of ‘non-state actors’.

While our policies should seek to build constituencies for peace within Pakistan, the reality is that policies on India are decided in Pakistan not by the democratically elected rulers in Islamabad but by the military establishment led by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi. The longest meeting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had in Pakistan during her latest visit to that country was with General Kayani and ISI Chief Shuja Pasha and not with the country’s elected leaders. General Kayani has long-standing links with terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba from his days as the Commander of the 12th Infantry Division in Murree over a decade ago. He is recorded to have described Afghan Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, who masterminded two terrorist attacks on our Embassy in Kabul, as a “strategic asset”.

Thus, little purpose will be served by talking to Pakistan’s civilian leadership on issues of cross-border terrorism, over which they have no control. What is needed is unpublicised backchannel dialogue with Pakistan’s real rulers — its military establishment including the ISI — who should be left in doubt about the consequences of continuing on the path they have chosen.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram is scheduled to visit Pakistan for a SAARC conference. His visit comes just after an astonishing statement by Mr Gilani, a long time protégé of and apologist for his country’s military establishment, that his Government cannot guarantee that there will not be further terrorist attacks on India, emanating from Pakistani territory. As this would be a violation of the assurances given by General Musharraf on January 6, 2004, which led to the resumption of the composite dialogue process, Mr Chidambaram could remind his hosts of the assurances which constituted the basis for talks.

India has also demanded that Pakistan would have to dismantle its infrastructure of terrorism before the dialogue process can be resumed. What precisely we should tell Pakistan is the minimum we expect Pakistan to do — establish its sincerity. The first step would be for Pakistan to stop living in denial and agree to extradite Dawood Ibrahim, the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai bombings. As American author Gretchen Peters has noted, Ibrahim has the dubious distinction of being the only person Washington has designated both as a ‘Global Terrorist Supporter’ and a ‘Foreign Narcotics Kingpin’.

Second, Pakistan’s former Railways Minister and former Director-General of ISI, Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, stated in Pakistan’s Senate on March 10, 2004: “We must not be afraid of admitting that the Jaish-e-Mohammed was involved in the deaths of thousands of Kashmiris, the bombing of the Indian Parliament, in Daniel Pearl’s murder and in attempts on President Pervez Musharraf’s life.” In these circumstances, one can surely demand that Pakistan extradite Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, or try him for abetment of murder and terrorism.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the LeT chief, publicly acknowledged in January 2001 that he had organised the attack on the Red Fort in New Delhi. Articles in journals published by him give details of LeT members who have been ‘martyred’ in encounters in Jammu & Kashmir. If, as Pakistan claims, it does not have evidence to nail Hafiz Saeed for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, he could surely be incarcerated and tried for all that he has admitted publicly over the past decade.