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Tough Opposition, Vibrant Democracy

July 30, 2009

Last evenings debate on the joint statement between India and Pakistan in the Egyptian port town of Sharm el-Sheikh was quite heated. The opposition tore into the governments’ initiative and could not understand as to why the Prime Minister went that extra mile to placate the Pakistanis when they had been cornered. The Prime Minister was forced to declare on the floor of the house that all future talks will depend on how well Pakistan takes up the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan against India.

What the Prime Minister tried to do in Sharm el-Sheikh was commendable from the angle of diplomacy and the need for India to look at the larger picture and what the international community is trying to do in Pakistan (ref: Hillary Clinton’s visit to India).  But the fact remains that Pakistan has refused to lower its troop deployment on its eastern border. There has also been a lack of will to act against known anti-India elements like Hafiz Saeed. Pakistan has given a dossier outlining its efforts against some of the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, but they have refused to act any further unless India provides further proof against them. P. Chidambram, India’s Home Minister has said that we have provided enough information to nail the culprits. Rehman Mallik, the Pakistan Interior Minister has now come up with another spin by asking about the Indians who had helped the terrorists from Pakistan to carry out the attacks.

While India went out of its way to assure Pakistan that we do not have any ill will against them, the Pakistanis have used this as a means to ease out of a sticky situation. They have been able to ensure that the pressure on them has reduced and they have also refused to act any further against the Pakistan Taliban. They may have captured Sufi Mohammad, but they have not started any operations against the Taliban in Waziristan and the tribal agencies. The two week’s time between Sharm el-Sheikh and the Parliament session was time enough to gauge whether the Pakistan army had started any operations against the Taliban. Evidently they have not. The Taliban are roaming around freely in that hilly tract that is the Durand Line. It is also clear now that western intelligence agencies are convinced that the al-Quaeda leadership and that of the Taliban is very much in Pakistan.  Clearly, Pakistan is playing a very dangerous game. But then they have their compulsions. The radicalization of the Pakistan society is such that if they go beyond a point against the extremists they run the risk of starting flames that they may not be able to douse. The other fact is that if they do not take on the monster of extremism now it may be too late and they will be devoured by it any way.

The Indian opposition is aware of these ground realities. They are also aware of how the Indian public is fed up of terrorist attacks and the world knows as to where these terrorists are coming from.  Any concessions to a rogue state like Pakistan therefore become intolerable. John Kerry said the other day that India was the nation worst affected by terrorism in the world. Indians have lost patience with Pakistan. The opposition, when questioning the Prime Minister and criticizing the way he went out of his way to get a joint declaration, mirrored these sentiments in India.

The Prime Minister said that India had two options: either we go to war with Pakistan or we go in for dialogue. He went on to say that other nations that have been on the receiving end of the terrorist attacks emanating from Pakistan have also started dialogue with them (read the USA). This is a ridiculous argument. He further added that even former prime minister Vajpayee had invited Musharraf for talks in Agra after the attacks on the Indian parliament in 2001. Between talks and war there is a third option, not to talk, not formally at least and keep up the pressure. What do you talk to a nation whose only agenda is to hurt India. We have let Pakistan get off just too easily. The Indian people are incensed. We as a nation do believe in standing up for our friends, but what does one do when a country like Pakistan is just not serious about dealing with terrorists operating from its territory. Their secret service, the ISI has used these terrorists as a tool against India for long and they have become an arm of the state of Pakistan. These so called ‘non-state actors’ are very much a part of the state of Pakistan. That is why there will be no action taken against Hafiz Saeed and Zarar Shah and Lakhvi and the others. And now it appears that Maulana Fazulullah is very much alive. This means that the Taliban have not been dented. One must not forget that such audacious state policy of tolerating terrorism is not new. The murderers of Daniel Pearl have still not been brought to book.

The opposition in India after a scathing attack did not rejoin the issue of the Joint Statement in Sharm el-Sheikh. They went on to discuss the End-Use Agreement and the Nuclear Deal and its ramifications including the reprocessing and the enrichment. Many observers were flummoxed as to why Sushma Swaraj said only so much and no more. The opposition also understands the Prime Minister’s take on the Joint Statement and they are not averse to it if Pakistan acts on its western border. Evidently, the so called ‘thawing of relationship’ post 26/11 has not worked and there is no progress in West Pakistan. The opposition therefore had no choice but to vent its frustration. They have also judiciously tried to downplay the Balochistan issue. It is true that we have no role to play in Balochistan and the one complaint of the Balochis is that India does not come to their aid. Yashwant Sinha wisely set aside the Balochistan issue and did not dwell on it too much. But the mention of Balochistan was an effort by Pakistan to bracket our RAW with the rogue ISI. Balochistan that way was a diplomatic disaster and was very much avoidable. The only positive fallout, and this was by default and not by design, was that now the world knows that Balochistan is also simmering and there is discontent there.

The opposition has given the government a breather. Perhaps, they are also watching the developments in Pakistan. The Prime Minister on his part has wisely stepped back when he said that all future talks will depend on how demonstrative Pakistan is in its fight against terror vis-à-vis India. I guess the ball is firmly in the court of the western countries and their ability to cajole or to arm twist or to bribe Pakistan into taking action against the militant, extremist elements on their soil. India has tried to do all it could to assuage any fears that Pakistan may have vis-à-vis India. Under the circumstances this is more than what any other country could have done.

Update, 31.07.2009: US Representative, Richard Holbrooke has said that Pakistan has moved its troops from the eastern to the western borders. This he has termed as ‘historic’. (Source: CNN IBN) There has been no apparant military operation against the Taliban and the al-Quaeda till now. If there is some truth in Mr. Holbrooke’s statement, then there should be a military action by the Pakistan army shortly. If so, then Sharm el-Sheikh was not a total disaster from both the Indian and the western point of view. The world will be closely watching the Pakistani moves now. India, however, would also be looking at whether Pakistan takes action against the individuals who were behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, men like Hafiz Saeed , Zarar Shah, Lakhvi and the rest.

Update 2.08.2009: It has been reported by the agencies that: “In a major catch, Pakistani authorities nabbed a top militant suspected of beheading the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Rao Shakir, a suspected member of banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was arrested from Bhara Kahu on the outskirts of the federal capital late last night, police said.” However, there are conflicting reports which say that Rao Shakir was in fact involved in the Hotel Marriot bombing in Islamabad and had nothing to do with the Daniel Pearl murder.

The main culprit in the Daniel Pearl case, Omar Saeed Sheikh is still awaiting sentence and there have been more than 30 adjournments to his mercy plea. It seems that Saeed Sheikh’s sentence will never be carried out. He is in the hands of the ISI and the Pakistan government. Goes to prove the strong links of the ISI and the Pakistan government with the terrorists and the al-Qaeda.

Update 17.10.2009Local officials said 30,000 troops, backed by artillery, had moved into the region where Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is based. Officials said the Taliban were resisting as troops mobilised from the north, east, and west. A curfew was imposed in the region before the offensive began. There have been several co-ordinated Taliban attacks in recent days, killing more than 150 people in several Pakistan cities. Local officials said there were dozens of casualties as both sides used heavy weapons. The bodies of three Pakistan soldiers were taken to the northern town of Razmak. Nearly all communications in the region were down after the Taliban destroyed a telecommunications tower at Tiarza, local officials said. Source: BBC

It took Pakistan a long time to finally start the offensive against the Taliban that they had been promising all along. A few bomb blasts in Peshawar and attacks in Lahore made them finally embark on the much awaited offensive. It is a civil war like situation. The hope here in India is that the Pakistan army will do a clinical job and root out terrorism and the al-Quaeda in the region. There have been advisories issued by different western governments including by the Israeli government to their citizens to stay alert and in all possibility to avoid travelling to India.

The Saharm el-Sheikh diplomatic offensive by the Indian government seems to have worked now.

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