Mumbai terrorist attack once again brought to fore the fragility of India- Pakistan relations, shattered the prospects of peace in the region and has diverted the attention of the two countries from the main challenges facing their people. No doubt during last two years the peace process had already lost momentum as India remained pre-occupied embracing US in a strategic partnership and Pakistan was beset with a host of domestic problems. Although the composite dialogue did help in improving the political environment and several useful military, economic and cultural confidence building measures were introduced but there was no real progress on the concrete issues of Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek. The prospects of a gas pipeline from Iran to meet the growing energy demands of India and Pakistan were thwarted due to American pressure; although agreement on energy pipelines would have had a positive influence on strategic thinking and strengthened the cause of bilateral and regional integration. Pakistan on its part had shown enormous flexibility on the Kashmir issue and was prepared to go half way on Siachen and even Sir Creek which anyway has to be resolved by 2009, being mandatory due to Law of Sea Conference. India’s reticent attitude and absence of political will are largely responsible for the lack of progress. Success on any of these issues would have given a huge impetus to the peace process and pushed back the forces that have vested interest in confrontation rather than cooperation. India’s initial sense of deep anguish after the Mumbai incident is understandable, but making unsubstantiated allegations and whipping up frenzy has been most unfortunate. New Delhi’s earlier implied threats of keeping all options open and launching a massive diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan made little sense. Surgical strikes or a Cold Start operation would have invariably escalated into a full fledged war with dire consequences for both countries. The death and destruction caused by war on both sides would have far outweighed the loss of life wrought by the militants in Mumbai. Similarly, India’s design of isolating Pakistan, which still remains its primary aim, besides being a non-starter, is also poor strategy. Expanding insurgency and rising power of militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt are posing a huge challenge for which maximum support by the international community is imperative. Pakistan’s instability will not only have regional but global fallout. A few hard facts also need to be reminded that Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country with a population of 170 million people, a nuclear power, strategically located and a close ally of US and NATO in combating insurgency and terrorism, notwithstanding the expedient nature of that relationship. Not to mention Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China and its close ties with Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Muslim countries. The question then arises what has been India’s motive in launching the diplomatic offensive besides wanting to isolate Pakistan. Was it meant to divert world attention from Kashmir’s indigenous uprising and also undermine President Obama’s proposal of adopting finding a resolution to the dispute. The world has to be cognizant that besides the religious, cultural and political bonds there is also an ethnic overlap of people of Kashmir, similar to the Pashtun one on the Afghan border. The Punjabis of Kashmiri origin, apart from people from Azad Kashmir, have close affiliation with the Kashmiris on the other side. It is true that Pakistan in the past has been supportive of militant organizations like Lashkar-e-Tayaba and Jamaat-u-Dawa but has abandoned the policy in the changed geo-political scenario. Some of these organizations or their splinter groups have now acquired an autonomous character and are creating serious security problems for Pakistan and in the region. Therefore India should take a long term view and try to move toward resolution of Kashmir dispute. Now that Pakistan government has partly owned that perpetrators of the crime were mostly Pakistani, detained leaders of Lashkar-e-Tayaba and Jamaat-ud-Daawa and demonstrated its sincerity and commitment to prosecute them there is no reason why Indian government and media should not calm down. It is important to establish a mechanism that can jointly put in place more creative thinking about responses to terror. There also has to be an institutional mechanism for crisis management between India and Pakistan. With increasing radicalism in both countries it is not possible to rule out future attacks. Role of the intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan in each others countries has to change from confrontation to cooperation if a qualitative improvement in their relationship is desired. With India’s elections due in April or May of 2009, relations with Pakistan will be a major issue and it would be unfortunate if Congress and BJP use the narrative of hate and conflict for short term political gains. This will exacerbate tensions and give a further impetus to religious bigotry and nationalist jingoism. Irrespective of which ever party comes to power in India it should resume the composite dialogue with Pakistan. India and Pakistan have to get back to the negotiating table and resume the peace process. The great tragedy of Mumbai should be turned into an opportunity.
By Lt.Gen (r) Talat MasoodThe The writer is a former lieutenant-general. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org