Talk, but without illusions

Suspending the dialogue each time there is a terrorist attack gives jihadis a veto over talks.

Written by Husain Haqqani | Published:January 13, 2016 12:02 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif's home in Raiwind, where his grand-daughter's wedding is being held, at Lahore, Pakistan on December 25, 2015. (PIB photo) Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s home in Raiwind, where his grand-daughter’s wedding is being held, at Lahore, Pakistan on December 25, 2015. (PIB photo)

It did not take long after the Christmas Day holding of hands between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Lahore for India and Pakistan to be back in a familiar rut. The terrorist attack in Pathankot rightly infuriated Indians who now want action against its perpetrators. Talks between the two countries are now on hold again until such action is taken.

We have seen this movie before. In the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008, India’s anger resulted in scuttling dialogue with the relatively new PPP government led by President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Pakistan’s leaders, under pressure from the international community, promised full cooperation in investigating the terrorists involved in the attack. Arrests were made, a trial initiated and after many rounds of finger-pointing, talks were resumed.

The Mumbai attackers have yet to be convicted. Hardliners in Islamabad say there is insufficient evidence to convict anyone, which surprises Pakistan’s international critics. It seems incredulous that evidence is hard to find in a country that managed to execute one of its elected leaders after a trial universally deemed flawed and has kept many others in jail for years without bail or conviction.

There is no dearth of Pakistanis who believe that both Mumbai and Pathankot were a black operation of India’s own security services. Such a state of denial creates parallel universes in which one side wants the solution to a problem the other denies even exists.

The terrorists and their backers use well-timed attacks for two effects: One, to keep hostility between India and Pakistan alive; and two, to keep recruiting and training terrorists with an apocalyptic vision of a battlefield that stretches from Kabul to Kolkata.

Most Pakistani civilian leaders, and some generals, realise that Pakistan falls right in the middle of that battlefield. They know that they, too, are as much targets of jihadis as secular Afghan leaders or Indian civilians. Pakistan has witnessed vicious terrorist attacks on its own soil, resulting in many deaths, including those of schoolchildren in the December 2014 attack on a Peshawar school.

The result of that realisation should be to end all ifs and buts and eliminate all jihadi terrorist groups in Pakistan. But it is difficult for some Pakistanis to give up on the dream of keeping alive the Kashmir issue with the help of militants.

Just as hardliners voice fantasies of “false-flag attacks” that no one else in the world believes, the “India is Pakistan’s eternal enemy” crowd insists that terrorists who target India should not be seen as bad guys, unlike terrorists who strike in Pakistan or elsewhere in the world.

For their part, pan-Islamist jihadis do not care about the nation-state of Pakistan. If promoting India and Pakistan conflict advances their cause of polarising the world between Muslim and non-Muslim, so be it.

Whenever India talks of punitive action against Pakistan or decides to suspend dialogue, the jihadis win by attaining their objective of intensifying polarisation. The extremists do not care if Pakistan suffers as a result of their actions. They have no state to protect, and only seek bases and territory to operate from — for global jihad.

Suspending the India-Pakistan dialogue each time there is a terrorist attack gives jihadis a veto over talks between the two nuclear-armed states. After all, the mere possession of nuclear weapons does not create deterrence. Regular negotiations between nuclear-weapon powers are also necessary.

Perhaps India and Pakistan can continue talks without illusions in the same way that the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union spoke regularly to one another during the Cold War.

Meanwhile, India should continue to reach out to Pakistanis who want to protect their nation-state and ensure its progress in the contemporary global environment. This vast segment of Pakistani civil society wants their country’s establishment to understand that the time for using the jihadis as an instrument of bleeding India is over.

The Pakistani establishment, however, is too wedded to its decades-old “group think” to be able to move against all jihadis. The temptation to view “boys trained by us” as strategic assets is great, as is the willingness to defuse crises created by jihadi actions through clever public relations and legal manoeuvres.

It does not matter whether the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad (or for that matter, even the United Jihad Council) acted with the blessings of the ISI or without. As long as such groups are allowed to organise and operate within Pakistan, the government would have to take responsibility for acting against them for attacks anywhere in the world, including across the border.

The writer, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, was Pakistan’s ambassador to the US from 2008-11. His latest book is ‘Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding’

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  1. T
    Jan 13, 2016 at 10:16 am
    Talks with stan to contain terrorists is a big joke . Just recall stan Army and ISI harboured Osama Bin Laden for years even as stan Govt collected billions of dollar from US in the name of fighting terrorists so now Sharif brothers had decided to see how much India can be milked
    1. K
      K SHESHU
      Jan 13, 2016 at 7:30 am
      While there is no harm in continuing talks, the insistence on 'enough evidence' is tricky. The countries must sit together and formulate norms for evidences to be 'enough' to proceed investigations. While India says that all the dossiers were sent to stan government, that country maintains that it is not 'enough'. This confusion has been persistent all these years ceaselessly.
      1. S
        Jan 13, 2016 at 4:08 am
        This is going to happen as long as there is no true democracy in stan. The civil government is just in name it the army which calls the shots. After the Peshawer incident the army took strong action against some jehades because the most of the students belong to the army officers. talks and terrorism cannot go side by side. As for as the civil society in stan is concerned there in none. After the murder of the governor of Punjab, his murderer was hailed by the bar ociation as a hero.
        1. d
          Jan 13, 2016 at 1:12 am
          Only a traitor from India would want to talk to s.
          1. G
            Jan 13, 2016 at 1:02 am
            Suspending dialogue gives a veto to not just the jehadis but to the military which promotes and trains these organizations. Therefore, until the civilian leadership has control of the the army, there is nothing for India to gain by these talks. The army wields enormous power which extends into industry and media as well. There is nothing for India to gain when the real center of power is opposed to these talks. Indeed, the veto that the stani army exercises to prevent peace is simply a reflection of its internal power in stan. There is nothing for India to do.
            1. P
              Priya Singh
              Jan 13, 2016 at 12:36 pm
              India should retail strongly on trail of terrorist attack and it s backing and existence in stan soil. Before resuming any talk stan should ist us to get the evidence and convict the perpetrator. Otherwise its worthless to repeat the same mistake againg. Do mistake learn from it but don't recurr it or else you seem to be great exemplary of foolish Nation.
              1. K
                KAmarnathr KR
                Jan 12, 2016 at 11:12 pm
                Last week stani Army was expected to forward a list Taliban leaders who would be part of negotiations in Afghanistan peace process. If the children killed in Peshawar attack could not give a clear vision to stani Army about good and bad Taliban, what else can? The w world shed tears for the children, it appears the stani army shed crocodile tears. It is fair enough to say "removal of terrorism as a state tool of stan is a lost cause". And as of today, the clarity regarding the division between stani civilian and military establishment is gaining traction among Indian public. Pathankot attack is no more viewed as a vague "stani Attack" or "stani militants attack".... but a clear "stani Army Attack". Keeping this in light, statements like "The terrorists and their backers use" will be seen with skepticism, given that stani Army has not been named here as backers. When the stani Army is not making a bone out of it when backing Taliban to the negotiation table with Afghani govt., why this ambiguity here Mr Haqqani? Clearly naming stani Army alongside militant organization will not only give clarity to the non-stani people but also to the stanis and specially to the stani Army that militant attacks emanating out of stan are now viewed as backed by stani Army.
                1. K
                  Karigar Medha
                  Jan 13, 2016 at 5:40 pm
                  As clear and unequivocal as could be from a fmr Pak Amb. Choice's betn promoting Jihad OR stan
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