India: Up-and-Down on Pakistan

Indian Counter Terrorism efforts and the necessary corresponding cooperation with Pakistan have remained stagnant, even in the face of continuing threats and recent attacks.

By Inder Malhotra

In September 2011, the United States observed the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with great solemnity and manifest determination never again to allow its repetition. There was little sign of similar sentiment in India on the eve of the third anniversary of Pakistan’s savage terrorist attack on Mumbai. People seem to have virtually forgotten the horrific assault; a few are advising others to forget the past and “think of the future,” whatever that might mean.

These sentiments can be allowed to pass. Our real worry should be that while there has not been a single terrorist attack on the US for a whole decade – some amateurish attempts were nipped in the bud – there have been quite a few here in India during the past 36 months. One reason for the unequal comparison is, of course, that Fortress America is blessed by geography. By contrast India has long and porous land borders with not only the neighbour that uses terrorism as an instrument of policy, but also with nearby countries to the north and the east through which these merchants of death and destruction transit into this country. Yet, after full allowance has been made for this factor, the fact remains that our counterterrorism efforts, so far, have been woefully deficient.

The problems are vast but let us examine the situation on three crucial counts.

First, compared with the speed and vigour with which the US made its counterterrorism machine and methods foolproof and knave proof, we are progressing at a snail’s pace and, at times, far too casually. The Americans set up a new department of homeland security, reorganized their intelligence establishment under an intelligence czar, and ensured enviable coordination among all agencies responsible for combating terrorism.

Whatever we have been able to achieve is not at all comparable, and this leads me to the second main point. The concept of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was unexceptionable. We need an agency to investigate all terrorism cases. But what is the result? Nearly two-and-a-half years after it took over the investigation of the Malegaon blasts in 2006, the court has had to release on bail seven of the nine accused for want of an iota of credible evidence. The NIA’s performance over the bomb blasts in the Delhi High Court in May is no better. At first it made strident claims of having “cracked” the case and also made some arrests in Jammu and Kashmir; then it released its prisoners and went silent.

What makes this already dismal situation worse is that quite a number of sensible decisions, taken in the aftermath of 26/11, have not been implemented at all. For instance, the terrorists who converted Mumbai’s five-star hotels into slaughterhouses had landed by sea at the Indian Navy’s most important command and the main area of operation of the Coast Guard. The government had then wisely decided to have a full-time Maritime Security Advisor. However, nothing has been heard on the subject since.

All terrorism afflicting India is not the monstrous type from across the border and the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. In what V. S. Naipaul called the land of 'a million mutinies,' the Maoist menace is the worst threat to India’s internal security. But two high-level inquiries into squalid episodes in which Maoists massacred personnel of our security forces with impunity, have concluded that those assigned the task of defeating the Maoist rebellion – that extends from Pashupati in Nepal to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh – are “badly trained, badly equipped and badly led.”

Rather than go on in this depressing strain, let me take up the third angle from which post-Mumbai events have to be judged: our interaction with Pakistan, the source of the trouble. For the United States, the choice was easy: to vow to decimate Al-Qaeda through a global war on terrorism in which Pakistan was co-opted under the threat of “bombing it to the Stone Age.” In my view, it was a sound policy of the Manmohan Singh government not to start a war between the two nuclear powers, which is what any kind of military action, however limited, would have led to. Mobilising international pressure on Pakistan, to punish appropriately both the perpetrators and masterminds of 26/11, was a better course of action.

Its results have been limited, however, because the Pakistani response, beginning with total denial, has been extremely tardy and at best, only incremental. The trial of the accused persons is practically moribund. Islamabad wants to take no action at all against Hafiz Saeed, head of the Jamaat ud Dawa and founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). On a visit to Islamabad in August 2009, I raised this matter with every interlocutor, some of them old friends. Almost all of them remonstrated with me for “focusing on just one man.” At one stage, an intrepid journalist said that no Pakistani government would act against Hafiz because “he has enough armed followers in Lahore alone who would raise hell in Punjab.” Since then the hold of the jihadis on Pakistan has increased manifold.

Under these circumstances it has not been easy for Dr. Manmohan Singh to follow a policy of dialogue with Pakistan. But, to his credit, he has stuck with it. For it is the only viable policy. One can’t not be on talking terms with a neighbour with who one has acute problems.

So there have been numerous ups and downs in this exercise. Sharm el Sheikh, in August 2009, turned into a fiasco. Things have moved some since the 2010 SAARC summit in Thimpu where Dr. Singh met with his Pakistani counterpart, Yusuf Raza Gilani – but very slowly. Much enthusiasm was generated at the latest SAARC summit on the island of Addu in the Maldives, where Dr. Singh described Mr. Gilani as a “man of peace” and promised to write a “new chapter” in India-Pakistan relations. Expectedly, he had to later tone down his remarks.

Still, the dialogue continues, helped by such Pakistani gestures, to move, at long last, towards restoring normal trade relations. New Delhi also feels that Pakistan’s troubles on its western border, and tensions between it and its main ally and mentor, the United States, will persuade it of the wisdom of making up with India. But now comes “Memogate” which has brought into the open the headlong confrontation between the all-powerful military chief General Ashfaq Kayani and the weak President Asif Zardari, which might impede decision-making in Pakistan.

In this unstable environment, the best that can be expected is to continue the dialogue with due emphasis on terrorism as the main issue, but not to pitch our expectations too high. For that would be the surest way to disappointment.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

[This article was originally published by Gateway House on November 25, 2011].

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