Mar 9, 2009

Reviving the peace process

Every major terrorist attack whether it was 9/11 or those that occurred subsequently in South Asia have triggered a chain of events that have resulted in putting Pakistan under great pressure. The Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008 resulted in freezing the Indo- Pakistan peace process and revived the Cold War mentality and jargon between the two countries. India since then has been saying that it will keep all options open implying even a limited military action against Pakistan. It, however, eventually opted for a full blown diplomatic and media offensive. Fortunately, tensions have since come down and rhetoric from New Delhi is more tempered after Pakistan took certain specific actions against the alleged perpetrators of the crime but relations remain fragile. India’s initial anguish and outrage was understandable but, as experience of US has shown, military action and aggressive policies are highly counterproductive and in fact lead to a situation that favours the militants. The events of 9/11 trigged the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and destabilized Pakistan. The Indian government’s restraint therefore has been as much in its own interest as for the region. Meanwhile, the terrorist attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan team once again exposed the weakness of the Pakistani state. The ease with which the terrorists committed the crime and melted away in the population reaffirms the international concern that Pakistan is a safe haven and a victim of terrorism. It is apparent that terrorist network and infrastructure has expanded in every province and that these elements have evolved over time in shifting political environments. It is not only confined to FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan but has crept into Punjab and other parts of the country. The Lahore incident also demonstrates that radicalism is moving eastward at a fast space. There was a wide spread belief that the Taliban movement or militancy will not be able to cross the Indus due to Punjab being relatively more progressive and developed and its higher representation in the military. The premise has proven to be wrong. All this further justifies the need for improved relations between India and Pakistan. What exactly were the motives or strategic objectives of the Mumbai and Lahore terrorist attacks may be difficult to asses at this stage. And were these independent of each other or is there a common thread that runs through both these events? Nonetheless, it is clear that both have contributed to destabilizing our government and deflecting attention from the western border and addressing the real problems facing the country. Understandably there was considerable anguish and frustration in India when the Mumbai incident occurred. Pakistan’s initial response of failing to acknowledge Kasab as its citizen soured relations with India. New Delhi viewed the denial as a course that Pakistan was adopting, which was unacceptable. Islamabad wisely took a U- turn and shifted from its position of total denial to full acknowledgement that was made at the highest level by the adviser to the prime minister Mr Rehman Malik, and went further by registering FIR against specific individuals and arrested several militant leaders. In addition, Pakistan went out of its way to over comply with UNSC resolution 1267, while imposing sanctions against Jamaat-ud Daawa. This point should not be lost in India and it should reciprocate and extend maximum cooperation in the investigation. Moreover, due to lack of trust it is being overlooked by New Delhi that there are genuine legal issues that need to be sorted out with prosecutors and lawyers of both sides. Cooperation and greater level of trust is therefore crucial at this juncture. For fighting terrorism Pakistan, too, has to introduce additional legislation for prosecuting terrorists. And more importantly, there has to be change of mindset. Our leaders have failed to impress upon the people that on issues of terrorism there is a larger challenge of meeting international obligations. Prior to the Mumbai incident the composite dialogue was moving forward, albeit slowly, toward normalizing relations. Many useful civil and military CBMs had opened avenues for trade, commerce and travel. The cease fire on the line of control was holding; missile notification and nuclear risk reduction measures were adopted. Back channel was in progress. India had refrained from passing any adverse remarks on Pakistan’s internal situation which was passing through a very difficult period from the middle of 2006 onwards. Islamabad too stayed away from any interference during elections in J&K and took deliberate measures to prevent cross border infiltration. All that was shattered by the Mumbai terrorist act! It is time the leaders of the two countries review their policy toward each other. The composite dialogue has to commence at the earliest. A realistic assessment however, is to expect that India would resume the process only after the national elections in mid 2009. Pakistan is currently burdened with serious internal dissensions. Until the PPP and PML-N do not resolve their differences on major domestic issues relations with India will remain on the back burner and preclude any serious efforts at resumption. Regrettably, the terrorists are going to take full advantage of this hiatus. Meanwhile, it is important that both countries continue to faithfully implement the agreed CBMs and keep expanding their economic and cultural ties, where possible. In the absence of formal government contacts the civil society link is vital. Track-2 should be revived and strengthened and its efforts could then be fed into Track-1 one at an opportune time. The possibility of a more dramatic move after elections in form of a visit by the Pakistani prime minister to India or India’s prime minister to Pakistan could give a huge impetus to unfreezing the relationship. War on terror climate has given terrorists an unwanted leverage. No time should be lost by the governments in taking the initiative back in their hands.
By Talat Masood

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