ANALYSIS: After the joint statement —Najmuddin A Shaikh
Were action against the LeT to be contemplated, an extensive public relations campaign would have to be launched to change the current ambivalent attitude of the man in the street. Equally importantly, however, the local law enforcement agencies would require substantial bolstering
The spirited defence of the Cairo joint statement offered in the Lok Sabha by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been welcomed in Pakistan. He asserted that “Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out” and confirmed that “the Foreign Secretaries will meet as often as necessary and report to the two Foreign Ministers who will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.”
Dr Singh also talked of the large constituency for peace in both countries and maintained that India’s objective must be “a permanent peace with Pakistan where we are bound together by a shared future and a common prosperity”.
He sounded sincere when he spoke of the enemies of peace flourishing and seeking “to make our alienation permanent, the distance between our two countries an unbridgeable divide. In the interests of our people, and in the interest of peace and prosperity of South Asia, we must not let this happen”.
We should, however, pay attention to what else he said.
Are these meetings of the Foreign Secretaries to be a resumption of the composite dialogue? According to the Prime Minister, “the President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan know, after our recent meetings, that we can have a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan only if they fulfil their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India”.
He also made it clear that according to the Indian interpretation the delinking of the issue of terrorism from the issue of the composite dialogue was not a concession to Pakistan. On the contrary he explained that in India’s view rooting out terrorism “is an absolute and compelling imperative that cannot be dependent on resumption of the composite dialogue”.
For the pessimistic observer this would appear to indicate that the meetings of the Foreign Secretaries would focus primarily on terrorism and not on the resolution of the disputes that have bedevilled relations between the two countries over the last sixty-two years. The more optimistic and perhaps more realistic observer, however, would note that a constant theme in Dr Singh’s speech was the need to “engage” and to see dialogue as the best way forward.
He chose to use the example of the American effort to commence a dialogue with Iran and that dialogue obviously would seek to address not only American concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme but also Iranian concerns about America’s hostility towards it and past US efforts at regime change. If this is the example then clearly addressing the issue of terrorism in the South Asian rather than purely Pakistani context would require addressing the issues that gave birth to extremist organisations in Pakistan.
Moreover, in defending the mention of Balochistan in the Sharm El Sheikh joint statement Dr Singh asserted that he had told Prime Minister Gilani that India was “not afraid of discussing any issue of concern between the two countries. If there are any misgivings, we are willing to discuss them and remove them”.
It is, therefore, logical to conclude that the Foreign Secretaries will talk about more than terrorism and the actions that are being taken in Pakistan as a follow up to the 34-page dossier handed over to the Indians regarding the investigation of the Pakistanis who were allegedly involved in the planning and execution of the Mumbai attack. What will the discussion on the Mumbai attack and the terrorism issue focus on and what are the other subjects that will be taken up?
On Mumbai the Indians have now given us a 7-page response to questions our investigators had posed with regard to the continuation of the investigation and specifically it seems with regard to the possible involvement of Hafiz Saeed in the Mumbai attack. Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram has maintained that the information Pakistan sought was already available in the dossier the Indians had handed over earlier, implying that the Pakistani queries were a delaying tactic.
What was more important, however, was his confident assertion that the information they had provided established Hafiz Saeed’s involvement. While not many in Pakistan are willing to believe that Hafiz Saeed has severed his links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba many would be prepared to believe that the Mumbai attack was the handiwork of a splinter group over which Hafiz Saeed had no control.
Whether true or not this is what the Pakistani authorities would like to accept as the working hypothesis since at this time taking on Hafiz Saeed could be extremely destabilising for Punjab. An ominous indicator of what the situation in that hitherto relatively peaceful province has become was provided by the horrific carnage in the Christian town area of Gojra occasioned by allegations about the desecration of the Holy Quran.
The federal minister for minorities has said that his instructions to the Punjab police to provide protection to the Christian community were ignored. The provincial law minister has said that their investigations had shown that the allegations were false, that the situation had calmed down earlier but extremists had entered the city and instigated the riots on Saturday. It is conjectured that these extremists were from the Jhang-based, defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba.
This was a brute display of the strength that the extremist organisations, be it the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or the Lashkar-e-Taiba, can continue to muster and the extent to which they can play upon the emotions of local residents who may in this case, as in previous such incidents, also have had the ulterior motive of wanting to seize the properties of the minority community.
Such emotions and such ulterior motives will be easily mobilised were the government to stir up the hornet’s nest that the LeT and its sister organisations have become. Public opinion has now turned against some extremist organisations but it would be highly optimistic to suggest that this applies to the LeT just yet.
Were action against the LeT to be contemplated, an extensive public relations campaign would have to be launched to change the current ambivalent attitude of the man in the street. Equally importantly, however, the local law enforcement agencies would require substantial bolstering and for this they can look only to the armed forces.
Today, the army has its hands full as it continues clean-up operations in Swat and prepares for a far more difficult operation in FATA. The army high command believes that it can move no more than a limited number of soldiers away from the eastern border because of the fears, legitimate or otherwise, that it has about Indian intentions.
One can argue until the cows come home that given the present international ambience there is absolutely no prospect of any Indian adventure to take advantage of Pakistan’s internal preoccupations but this will carry little weight in changing the prevailing mindset in the army where the argument made will be that they have to be on guard as long as India has the capacity — since intentions can change or can be made to change by another terrorist incident engineered by the “enemies of peace” on either side of the border. Would the mindset change if the Indians were to withdraw some of the troops deployed on the border and to close down or make dormant some of their forward operating bases? I believe so.
In the climate prevailing in India this may appear an unrealistic prospect but I believe that if Dr Singh chooses he can use the new political strength he has acquired to move in this direction. He can argue that this would involve no risk since there is no prospect of Pakistani aggression and that nothing else would do more to strengthen the “peace constituency” and silence the enemies of peace.
The writer is a former foreign secretary