Supplement direct pressure on Pakistan by regional action
THE recent terrorist attack in Gurdaspur district has outraged public opinion across India. There is now credible evidence that the terrorists came from across the international border. The modus operandi of the terrorists was clearly that of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. What is, however, significant is that the attack came in the wake of intensified shelling by Pakistani forces that followed the Modi-Nawaz summit in Ufa. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed was scathingly critical in describing the outcome of the Ufa Summit as a virtual surrender. The army, operating as always, from the background, got its protégés to accuse Nawaz of virtual betrayal of the “Kashmir jihad”. General Raheel Shareef, who has lost an uncle and brother in conflicts with India, is known to breathe fire about India and to have blocked moves for promoting economic ties.
No Indian Prime Minister has escaped unscathed from vitriolic criticism that virtually always follows a summit meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. If Jawaharlal Nehru was pilloried for the Indus Waters Treaty, Indira Gandhi was in the firing line for allegedly bartering away the fruits of military victory in Bangladesh, while at Simla, Mr Narasimha Rao was criticised for “doing nothing” to improve ties with Pakistan (he had a healthy distaste for Benazir Bhutto’s ravings and ranting). Mr Vajpayee was labelled as naïve when the Kargil conflict followed his Lahore Summit with Nawaz Sharif, and the attack on India’s Parliament soon followed his disastrous Agra Summit with General Musharraf. Dr Manmohan Singh faced flak, even from his own party, after the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit.
Mr Modi has faced a similar criticism after the Ufa meeting with Nawaz Sharif. But a close scrutiny of the joint statement and the post-summit remarks of Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz reveal that India largely got what it wanted from the summit. The most significant outcome of the Ufa meeting was an agreement to focus attention predominantly on ending cross-border intrusions, infiltration and terrorism. New Delhi thus succeeded in its aim of discarding the mindless Composite Dialogue process. Humanitarian issues like release of detained fishermen and promoting religious tourism — Hindus from India visiting sites like Katas Raj and Sadhu Belo and Pakistani Sufis visiting Ajmer — also figured in the Ufa talks.
Sartaj Aziz made it clear that the meeting in Ufa was “not the formal start of any dialogue process”. He referred to setting the stage to “identify areas where the two countries could promote cooperation right away, in order to reduce tensions and hostility”. It was agreed that the NSAs of India and Pakistan would soon meet and to have early meetings of heads of paramilitary border personnel and DGMOs, to ensure peace and tranquillity along the LoC and International Border. This enables India to stick to an agenda primarily designed to meet its concerns on terrorism. It is, however, clear that Sartaj Aziz will dwell substantively on Pakistan’s allegations about Indian actions on this score. While this issue will take time to address and may involve future contacts between the ISI and R&AW, one hopes that meetings between senior representatives of military and paramilitary forces will bring an end to infiltration. But a note of caution on this is required. There is nothing to suggest that the hawkish General Raheel Shareef will be in a hurry to rein in the likes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
While the Modi government has made it clear that it will respond in more than ample measure to cross-border intrusions and infiltration, this is not a new phenomenon. It is often forgotten that the Indian response to infiltration, between 2000 and 2003, was so devastating that in areas like Neelum River Valley life was regularly brought to a standstill. It was this policy that forced General Musharraf to ask for a ceasefire in November 2003. But rather than exult about this development, Mr Vajpayee got pressure mounted by the Americans for General Musharraf to pledge that “territory under Pakistan’s control” would not be used for terrorism against India. This is a lesson that those who loudly articulate a policy of “uninterrupted dialogue at all costs” would do well to understand and learn from.
The US and China are now playing an active, behind-the-scenes role in shaping the discourse between India and Pakistan. They are also working together in getting Pakistan to encourage its Taliban protégés to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the all-too willing and subservient regime of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Both the US and China are engaged in boosting Pakistan’s military capabilities, supplying submarines, attack helicopters, F16s and JF 17 fighters. It is no wonder General Shareef is confident that US protestations about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism are not to be taken seriously.
Since the dialogue process agreed to in Ufa focuses exclusively on infiltration and terrorism, the proposed meetings between NSAs, DGMOs and the heads of paramilitary border forces should be held, while making it clear that there can be no discussions on other issues till there is substantive movement forward on these concerns. At the same time, measures need to taken, which need not be spelt out explicitly, to raise the costs for the Pakistani establishment, within and beyond their country’s borders. The message to powers like the US and China should be that whatever their compulsions, we will take all necessary steps to safeguard the sanctity of our borders.
Direct pressure on Pakistan needs to be supplemented by regional action. India should ensure that other South Asian neighbours will make it clear to Islamabad that SAARC will become institutionally irrelevant if Islamabad pursues its narrow objectives of undermining India, in the lead up to the Islamabad SAARC Summit, by advocating membership of SAARC for China or resisting efforts to promote connectivity and economic integration. India has substantial and expanding cooperation, both bilaterally and sub-regionally, and common borders with all its eastern SAARC neighbours. Pakistan has neither the resources, nor connectivity, nor capabilities, to match Indian influence in the region. Its duplicity is legendary in its western Islamic neighbours.