Countering terrorism through Indo-Pak talks – Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

If India relaxes its strident approach towards Pakistan, the latter can pay more attention to the tribal areas that are the hub of terrorism, and it will be better placed to adopt a firmer policy towards the Punjab-based militant groups that focus on India and Indian-administered Kashmir

The current stalemate in India-
Pakistan relations has negative implications for Pakistan’s efforts for countering terrorism in and around Pakistan. This makes it difficult for the Pakistan government to rein in the militant Islamic groups that focus on Indian-administered Kashmir and mainland India.

The experience of India-Pakistan relations since September 2001 shows that India’s coercive diplomacy does not address India’s grievances against Pakistan. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001, India resorted to military mobilisation against Pakistan, froze diplomatic ties and suspended trade and other routine interaction with Pakistan. There was no significant change in Pakistan’s India policy. This standoff continued till October 2002 when India’s prime minister decided to gradually pull back Indian troops.

Instead, the active dialogue between the two countries during 2004-2008 produced positive changes in their policies. Now, after the Mumbai terrorist attack on November 26, 2008, India moved its troops from peacetime locations towards the Pakistan-India border and suspended the bilateral dialogue. This action may have satisfied India’s domestic public opinion, but it has not forced Pakistan to take a firm action against the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT)/Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), as demanded by India.

By insisting on Pakistan to satisfy fully on terrorism as a pre-condition for the resumption of bilateral talks, India is making the same mistake that Pakistan made in the past. For years, Pakistan insisted that there could not be any meaningful interaction with India, including trade, as long as India did not solve the Kashmir problem. Pakistan realised the futility of this approach and changed its policy. Hopefully, India also recognises that a single-issue conditionality will take these two countries nowhere.

Pakistan arrested seven senior leaders of the LeT in December 2008 who were accused of involvement in the Mumbai incident. The court released one of them, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. The others are still in detention. However, the Pakistani court is finding it difficult to convict them on the basis of the documents supplied by the Indian government without giving an opportunity to the defence lawyers to question the evidence and its sources. Even if the first trial court convicts them, they are likely to get relief at the higher judicial level unless the court is satisfied with the evidence available at the time of the appeal.

India is focused on the above-named militant group but Pakistan has to cope with a very complex internal security situation that involves several Islamic militant groups and their breakaway factions, spread over the tribal areas, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.

Pakistan has lost over 2,273 army and paramilitary personnel in countering these terrorist groups since the beginning of 2002. This number is higher than the losses of American/NATO troops in Afghanistan. Over 3,000 civilians have been killed in suicide bombings in various parts of Pakistan in the last four years. Add to this the civilians killed in roadside bombings or bombing raids.

India needs to appreciate the complexity of the terrorism challenge for Pakistan and how it has coped with it since 2009 in Swat/Malakand, South Waziristan, other tribal areas and parts of mainland Pakistan. The situation in Punjab is more difficult because these groups, including the LeT, are based in populated areas and have developed strong societal links.

The Punjab-based groups, including those focusing on Indian-administered Kashmir, can be dealt with more effectively if India shows some cooperation. The resumption of the bilateral dialogue with the objective of normalisation of relations will contribute to checking hardline Islamic groups and terrorism.

If India relaxes its strident approach towards Pakistan, the latter can pay more attention to the tribal areas that are the hub of terrorism, and it will be better placed to adopt a firmer policy towards the Punjab-based militant groups that focus on India and Indian-administered Kashmir.

The troubled state of India-Pakistan relations and especially the stalemate on Kashmir provides the Punjab-based militant groups, including LeT, good reasons to mobilise popular support for themselves. Their anti-India rhetoric and the repeated declarations to liberate Kashmir helps them win support in Punjab.

If the India-Pakistan dialogue resumes and their relations improve, these groups will find it difficult to draw popular attention. This will create reasonable space for the Pakistani authorities to adopt a tough policy towards them, especially the LeT/JUD.

It is futile for India to think of surgical air strikes, limited war and a rapid military operation to capture some Pakistani territory as a punishment to Pakistan for not eliminating these groups. This can trigger a greater military crisis without a guarantee of elimination of the terrorist groups.

The current India-Pakistan problems can be divided into four categories. First, there are ‘doable’ problems like the Siachen Glacier and the Sir Creek boundary that can be resolved if the leaders of the two countries give a go-ahead to their officials. Other issues that can be handled easily are simplifying the visa procedures and easing restrictions on travel between the two countries as well as exchange of newspapers and magazines. Second, the two countries should engage in a persistent and result-oriented dialogue on cooperation for countering terrorism, bilateral trade, water management pertaining to rivers, dams and power generation, and nuclear and conventional security affairs, including confidence-building measures in both fields. Third, the Kashmir issue should be taken up in the bilateral dialogue. It has two dimensions: immediate issues and long-term matters. The immediate issues relate to the resurgence of violence in the Kashmir Valley. The Indian government needs to continue with its ongoing efforts to reduce violence there and engage in a meaningful dialogue with the Kashmiri leaders. The long-term aspects relate to Indian and Pakistani differences on Kashmir. They need to build on what they achieved in the dialogue on Kashmir up to 2007. That framework is still relevant if the two governments demonstrate political will to pursue the matter. Fourth, they need to discuss the Afghanistan situation against the backdrop of the US/NATO decision to withdraw their troops by the end of 2014.

The resumption of bilateral dialogue with the objective of resolving problems is the only option to neutralise the role of the Punjab-based militant groups that focus on Kashmir and India. The current tension serves the agenda of the militant groups that do not want normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan because it erodes the rationale of their anti-India and pro-Kashmir arguments. – Dailytimes