Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Dr Singh did not hide his disquiet over continuing jihadi activity on and from Pakistani soil, inflammatory rhetoric by the LeT/JuD leader, Hafeez Saeed, and others, mounting infiltration across the LOC and slow progress in the 26/11 trial in Rawalpindi

Rebuilding Trust, Civil Supremacy

The Thimphu meeting on the margins of the SARC summit between Dr Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani could usher a welcome thaw in Indo-Pakistan relations.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 10 May, 2010

The Thimphu meeting between Dr Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani on the margins of the SARC summit, has hopefully introduced a welcome thaw in Indo-Pakistan relations. As over the Sharam el-Sheikh communique, there have been critics who claim that India has gone soft. They are wrong. Nothing has been surrendered but fresh opportunity given to Islamabad to mend its ways. The alternative was a continuing impasse, even stand-off, that would have won us no points anywhere. Now the onus is on Pakistan to deliver.

Dr Singh did not hide his disquiet over continuing jihadi activity on and from Pakistani soil, inflammatory rhetoric by the LeT/JuD leader, Hafeez Saeed, and others, mounting infiltration across the LOC and slow progress in the 26/11 trial in Rawalpindi. What tipped the balance was Gilani’s reportedly impassioned plea that the passage of the 18th Amendment by the national assembly, rolling back the highly centralized presidential powers assumed by Musharraf, had empowered the civilian government, presumably even vis-à-vis the military, and that he was now better placed to do business with India and build a new relationship.

The premature belief in Pakistan that the US needed it more than it needed the US and that it could always bend the latter to its purpose, was dissipated by the reality of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington and the ensuing nuclear summit. The Headley confession further undermined Islamabad’s professions of innocence by transferring the burden of villainy on “non-state actors” and extremists who had struck greater terror in Pakistan than elsewhere for its participation in the War on Terror.

Indo-Pakistan talks are to resume, not on the basis of the previous “composite” dialogue but in an ordering of discussion and performance that generates trust. The open and eminently fair trial of Ajmal Kasab, the lone 26/11 Pakistani killer caught alive in Mumbai, has just concluded in Bombay with a death sentence that awaits High Court confirmation and possible appeal. His handlers and superiors in Pakistan are, in striking contrast, undergoing a secret trial in a Rawalpindi jail with public knowledge limited only to what is officially vouchsafed. Yet, that trial could now move forward more rapidly once the Kasab judgement is made available. The Rawalpindi court has sought to examine Kasab together with the counsel. This is unlikely to happen in person but may conceivably be done indirectly through questionnaires or teleconferencing.

The Kasab trial is a vindication of due process but should not lead to any vulgar triumphalism or denigration of the outcome or foolish Government-bashing because only a “foot-soldier” has been punished while the big fish have escaped. Whether the death sentence should have been awarded to Kasab or not or should now be executed or commuted to a life sentence is a separate right-to-life debate.
One point needs to be clearly understood. Terror is employed to strike fear. The more innocent the target, the larger and wider the fear generated in order to bend authority to the will of unelected, often faceless, political thugs. As long as the death sentence exists, it remains a lawful punishment. Macabre fears about a prolonged clemency petition, sequenced in a queue of similar appeals and possible political interventions in the interregnum, need to be discounted in a mature, democratic society.

It is noteworthy that Gilani did not bring up Balochistan at Thimphu. Islamabad has provided no substantive details – only rhetorical assertions – of alleged Indian intervention there since it unilaterally brought up the matter in Sharam el-Sheikh. He did, however, reaffirm Pakistan’s “solemn commitment” not to allow its territory to be used for cross-border terrorist activity against India, first given by Musharraf in 2004 as a basis for the composite dialogue, but flagrantly violated. President Zardari too made the same pledge in the course of his address to the joint session of both houses of the national assembly on April 5, 2010.

This is critical. Since then, however three things have happened. First, Robert Blake, US Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs has gone on record warning Pakistan of the “growing scope and ambition” of the LeT which he has described as a threat to India and other countries. Next on May 3, Faisal Shahzad, a US naturalised citizen of Pakistani origin was arrested for attempting to bomb the landmark Times Square in New York He confessed to having spent four months in Pakistan in 2009 that included a visit to Peshawar in the company of others. Some of his suspected accomplices have been picked up for questioning by the Pakistan authorities. Thirdly, following a determination of Shahzad’s links with the Pakistani Taliban and a Kashmiri Islamist group, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in the course of an interview with CBS on May 8, said “We’ve made it very clear that if – heaven forbid – an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to be successful, there would be very severe consequences”. The US, she added, is tired of lip service and wants to see some forceful action.

Three weeks ago, the UN Commission Report (April 15, 2010) on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto also made extremely damaging references to the Pakistan military and ISI’s continuing links with the “Kashmir insurgency”. It noted that “the bulk of the anti-Indian activity was and still remains the work of groups such as LeT which has close links with the ISI”. Note the present tense.

Pakistan has been and still remains the epicentre of global terrorism. The monster it reared is out of control but must and can be brought to heel by firm action not undermined by turning a Nelson’s eye on exported terror.

Pakistan’s “core” problem is not Kashmir or defending its Islamic character. These are symptoms. The disease it suffers from is a lack of positive identity, the absence of which has to be artificially propped up by appeals to territoriality (Kashmir) and faith, which it has betrayed by departing from its own sufi roots. The military and the mullah have been propped up over decades to fight the cause. They have captured the state. The battle against terror is a battle against the mullahs. The salience of the military can best be reduced by a just settlement over Kashmir – such as Musharraf came to advocate with Dr Manmohan Singh but which the present regime, under military prodding, seems inclined to repudiate, going back to the UN Resolutions and a plebiscite. Not merely is this unrealistic but will put a question mark on negotiations if past commitments are negated. Strengthening Pakistan’s democratic roots could nonetheless be a potent means of curbing the influence of the military and mullahs and buttressing civil supremacy.

The Pakistan Foreign Minister has told Karan Thapar that he contemplates certain proposals to bridge the trust deficit. Maybe the hardening line on Kashmir is intended to prepare the ground for a compensating initiative on Indus waters by proposing joint action to develop the full potential of the basin in keeping with Article VII of the Treaty on “Future Cooperation”. Such a development could open many doors and pave the way for a resolution on Kashmir and much else besides.

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