Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh met President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan at Yekaterinburg in Russia on June 16,2009. The two were in Yekaterinburg as the heads of their respective delegations to attend the summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) of which India and Pakistan are observers and not full-fledged members. It was but natural that the two met bilaterally in the margins of the summit just as they met individually the heads of other delegations. If they had not met, there could have been a negative interpretation, which would not have been desirable.
2. The ground work for the meeting had been laid by the Foreign Offices of the two countries even before the two leaders went to Russia. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in particular had taken care not to give rise to undue expectations of any immediate resumption of the composite dialogue between the two countries on various bilateral issues. The dialogue has been in a state of suspension since the terrorist strike in Mumbai by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) from November 26 to 28,2008.
3. While the terrorist strike led to a discontinuance of the composite dialogue at the instance of an angered India, it did not lead to a disruption of the diplomatic interactions between the two countries. These interactions continued, but their main focus was on India’s expectations of action by Pakistan against anti-India terrorists operating from Pakistani territory in general and against the LET and its political wing called the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) in particular.
4. The Indian expectations fell into three categories:
Firstly, mutual legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of the Pakistan-based LET conspirators involved in the Mumbai terrorist strike.
Secondly, action against the main leaders of the JUD and the LET, whether they were directly involved in the terrorist strike or not. India was particularly keen that effective legal action should be taken against Prof.Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, the Amir of the JUD
Thirdly, action against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory----particularly against that of the LET_-- in order to ensure that there would be no more terrorism in Indian territory emanating from Pakistan. An assurance in this regard had been given by Zardari’s predecessor Pervez Musharraf during his summit with Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, at Islamabad in January 2004, but this assurance has remained unimplemented as seen in the terrorist attacks in some suburban trains of Mumbai in July,2006, and the Mumbai attack of November last.
5. Of these expectations, the only forward movement ---though halting and only partially satisfactory--- has been in respect of the mutual legal assistance. Pakistan has arrested five LET conspirators who, according to Indian investigators, were involved in planning the terrorist strike and having it carried out. They have not yet been prosecuted. While the trial in India in connection with the strike has already started, the Pakistani investigators are yet to complete their part of the investigation and start the prosecution of those under detention. They have been blaming their Indian counterparts for the delay. Only if and when the case is prosecuted and it ends in conviction can India be satisfied that there has been a genuine change for the better in Pakistan’s stand on the question of mutual legal assistance.
6. It has to be admitted that even the limited legal assistance that India had received now it had not received in respect of other past cases. In the past, Pakistan refrained from granting mutual legal assistance by questioning the credibility of the Indian evidence. It has not been able to do this now because a lot of independent evidence has come from the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has been making its own investigation of the murder of some American nationals by the LET at Mumbai.
7. There was a seeming forward movement in respect of action against Prof.Sayeed. He was placed under house arrest immediately after the Mumbai attack. However, the case for his continued detention was not prepared and pursued in a vigorous manner---- as if the heart of the Pakistani investigators was not in his continued detention. The result: he has been ordered to be released by the Lahore High Court before which he had challenged the legality of his detention. No appeal has so far been filed against this order.
8. There has been no forward movement at all in respect of the third Indian expectation---namely, action against the anti-Indian terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory. Of all the pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorist organizations operating from Pakistani territory, the LET is the closest to the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which look upon it as a strategic asset in their operations against India. In the past, they had always avoided taking action against the LET under some pretext or the other and there has been no change in this policy.
9. Even though the US and the European nations are increasingly concerned over the links of the LET with Al Qaeda, its capability for acts of terrorism, which is second only to that of Al Qaeda and the presence of its sleeper cells among the Pakistani-origin diaspora in many countries, they still look upon it as a looming and not an imminent threat to their nationals and interests. For them, the imminent threat is from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Their present efforts are focused on making Pakistan act against the imminent threats while exercising only proforma pressure---- to reassure India of their solidarity--- on Pakistan to act against the LET. As a result, Pakistan’s inaction against the LET tends to be overlooked by the West so long as it is acting against the Taliban and helping the US in its actions against Al Qaeda.
10. Thus, India finds itself in an unenviable position. It is not in a position to make the US and the rest of the Western world act against Pakistan for its inaction against the LET. At the same time, it is not in a position to act by itself because it has denied to itself a deniable retaliatory capability ever since the fatal decision taken by Inder Gujral, the then Prime Minister, in 1997 to wind up any retaliatory capability as a mark of unilateral gesture to Pakistan---despite remonstrations by senior officers of our security bureaucracy that Pakistan has never been known to appreciate and reciprocate such unilateral gestures.
11. The Pakistani leaders----political or military--- know the constraints on India and are taking full advantage of them to persist with their present policy of seeming to act against the LET without actually acting against it.
12. There is a need for a comprehensive thinking on the options available to India. Any plans for the future have to provide for the following:
Effective physical security in our territory to prevent any more attacks of the Mumbai kind by the LET and its associates. Every major terrorist strike indicates a serious gap in physical security.
Effective intelligence capability to disrupt plans for a terrorist strike by identifying and neutralizing in time LET sleeper cells in our territory.
Revival of a retaliatory self-defence capability.
13. One of the major problems faced by us in dealing with the LET’s acts of terrorism in different parts of the country has been due to the failure of our political leadership and the MEA to make it clear to the world through facts and figures ---- and not through rhetoric--- that the LET’s acts have a much larger agenda and have no longer much to do with the Kashmir issue. Unfortunately, Pakistan has once again almost succeeded in making the US and the UK look at the LET activities through the Kashmir prism.
14. The Mumbai terrorist strike---the attacks on Israelis and other Jewish people, the targeted killings of nationals of countries having troops in Afghanistan, attacks on Western businessmen etc--- clearly illustrated the global agenda of the LET, but our political leadership and diplomacy failed to clearly draw attention to the much larger agenda. As a result, we are once again seeing references to the so-called linkages between the Kashmir issue and the LET’s acts of terrorism. Pakistan has profited from our inaction or inept action.
15. The meeting between Manmohan Singh and Zardari did not lead to a decision to resume the composite dialogue. It merely led to an agreement for a meeting between the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries to discuss the action taken by Pakistan after the Mumbai attack. Any decision on the resumption of the composite dialogue would depend on the outcome of this meeting.
16. Manmohan Singh is not a man of confrontation. He took the decision to freeze the composite dialogue mainly because of the fears of a likely adverse impact on the voting in the recently-held elections to the Parliament if he did not take a seemingly hard line against Pakistan. Now that the Congress (I)-led coalition has come back to power----with the Congress (I) improving its own individual position in the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Parliament--- he is unlikely to feel the need for maintaining the present hardline position on the composite dialogue.
17. In the meanwhile, there has been a window of respite in acts of Pakistan-origin jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory. There has been no act of terrorism by the so-called Indian Mujahideen since September last. There has been no major act of terrorism by the LET in the Indian territory outside J&K since November last.
18. If this respite continues, it is quite likely that Manmohan Singh will agree to a resumption of the composite dialogue in some form or the other even if the forthcoming meeting of the two Foreign Secretaries does not give satisfaction to the Indian investigators.
19. The US is equally interested in a resumption of the dialogue even if Pakistan does not act against the anti-Indian terrorist infrastructure in its territory. At the same time, in due regard to Indian sensitivities, it will continue to exercise pressure on Pakistan to improve the quality of its mutual legal assistance to India and to ensure that the present respite continues. This is an issue, which is likely to figure prominently in the discussions of Mrs.Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, with the Indian leaders in New Delhi during her forthcoming visit in July.
20. There have once again been warm references to India in the pronouncements of US leaders. We noticed it for the first time in the address delivered by Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, at the recent meeting of Defence Ministers at Singapore organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies of London, and in the interactions of his officials with Indian journalists who had gone to Singapore to cover the meeting. One of the officials was reported to have referred to Indo-US relations as a three-stage rocket. According to him, the first stage was fired when Bill Clinton was the President and the second stage under George Bush. He spoke tantalizingly of the coming firing of the third stage under the Obama Administration. They sought to project the Indo-US relations as enjoying broad bi-partisan support and hence unlikely to be affected by the change of incumbency in the White House. Mrs. Clinton has now given some idea of the third stage the Obama Administration has in mind in her address earlier this week to a gathering of businessmen in Washington DC.
21. The earlier coming closer together of the US and China as seen during the visit of Mrs.Clinton to Beijing in February last was partly warranted by the economic difficulties inherited by the Obama Administration from its predecessor. There are already some indications of the beginning of a possible recovery. If the recovery is maintained and strengthened, the USA’s opportunistic dependence on China for sorting out its economic ills would weaken and this could be to the benefit of India.
22. At this time, when winds of some change for the better seem to be blowing towards India from Washington DC, Manmohan Singh would find it difficult to reject suggestions from the US for a political gesture to the Government in Islamabad by way of a resumption of the composite dialogue.
23. The question is no longer whether it will be resumed, but when and how it will be projected to save the faces of both India and Pakistan. The relevant question should no longer be whether we should agree to a resumption of the composite dialogue, but how to keep up the pressure on Pakistan on the issue of anti-Indian terrorism even if the dialogue is resumed. This needs some thought by our policy-makers.
24. Indo-Pakistan relations do not have an over-all strategy. We keep zigging and zagging and riding a rollercoaster depending on the anger, pressures and compulsions of the moment. The time has come to work out a strategy, which is transparent to our people, to the people of Pakistan and to the rest of the world. (19-6-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )