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
    TIHAEwale
    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
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    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.
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      1. S
        SK
        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.
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        1. d
          dv1936
          Jan 13, 2016 at 1:12 am
          Only a traitor from India would want to talk to s.
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          1. G
            Gopal
            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.
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              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.
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              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.
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                  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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                    ashok
                    Jan 13, 2016 at 6:34 am
                    This proposition sugests that the jihadis are a wild e, unhinged lot, capable of pursuing a script other than what is so carefully written for them by their ISI handlers.
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                    1. R
                      Ramesh Nittoor
                      Jan 13, 2016 at 1:58 am
                      Gen Sharif made an immature and threatening call again Iran, in support of Saudi Arabia, when he met their Defense minister. This was toned down by civilian authorities who even refused to send troops for 34-nation alliance, and spoke of working for broader Islamic unity. This working sensibly for peace and modernity is consistent with values Jinnah sought to propagate. It seems military in stan is gradually getting reconciled to work for civil dispensation. The instigation for direct access used to come from US Generals, but that is quite unlikely in future, sans political clearance as is also done in India. It is this legitimacy of civilian authorities which creates proper basis for rule of law, insulated military from politics. Extending the reach of civil law is the best anti-dote for terror attenuation. India extending trust to their civil authorities would go a long way in normalizing stan relationship with developed west, which certainly is in Indian interest as well.
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                        P.R.Joshi
                        Jan 13, 2016 at 2:28 pm
                        Hussain Haqqani is very respectable intellectual. He is very sincere. It would be interesting to know where is " stanis who want to protect their nation-state and ensure its progress in the contemporary global environment"; to be found and reached.
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                          rajan luthra
                          Jan 13, 2016 at 1:39 pm
                          Do not make extremists the super-power and give them the right to veto peace talks
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                            David
                            Jan 13, 2016 at 7:06 am
                            Every attack emboldens them for the next attack knowing India does not retaliate. The only solution is to start the process of retaliation. Talk is cheap. They are planning the next attack.
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                              David
                              Jan 12, 2016 at 11:19 pm
                              Only solution left for India is teaching Pak military a lesson. They use JEM, LET and other terrorists as cover. Parliament attack, Mumbai attack, Kashmir embly Building, Airline High Jack, these acts need money, high skilled training, logistics. This is not some angry guys picking up guns. Every attack emboldens them for more blood. Or, its a slow death for india.
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                                Rajgopal
                                Jan 13, 2016 at 12:36 pm
                                When will stan's civil society form enough pressure to ensure that the Civilian Govt's writ runs large in stan? If the ISI and stan army work against the wishes of the civilian govt, nothing will be achieved ever. And it is amusing for the writer to say that "India should continue to reach out to stanis who want to protect their nation-state and ensure its progress in the contemporary global environment.". Whose job is it to do so? The civil society of stan and not India.
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                                1. S
                                  sp
                                  Jan 13, 2016 at 4:25 am
                                  The basic problem of all disputes in Indo-Pak relations is misuse of strict discipline of Islam. Islam is one of the best religions of the world and it is based on natural laws of human feelings which is common amongst all religions. But in addition Islam has additional qualities of strict discipline for self removing of evils. This strict discipline of Islam is being misused by all smugglers, terrorists, rapists, criminals, greedies etc all over the world on the name jihad. Now stan has come to understand it. India has a lot of capacity to tolerate any evil upto a certain limit but at the same time it has original idea to conquer it. You are free to go in the depth of design of framing of comprehansive bilateral dialoug and give your valuable suggestion in framing it. Pathankot, mazar-e-sharif attacks are old problems but a fresh opportunity.
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                                  1. S
                                    Sundar Narasimhan
                                    Jan 13, 2016 at 3:28 am
                                    Dear Sir, I agree with your views. But then it is very difficult for India also to ignore the obvious and lives of its soldiers and officers. If political establishment in stan is unable to rein in the extremist elements at least they should rein in ISI and its nefarious designs. From this side it looks more than obvious that there are forces that operate completely independent of the Government - then at least let them allow to "hot chase" and eliminate. This situation is most unhealthy for stan especially for its development.
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                                      Thomas George
                                      Jan 13, 2016 at 10:23 am
                                      The norms for criminal evidence in India and stan are the same -- the one set by the British when they ruled both until 1947. The fact is that there is no court whose verdict binds nations. stan will act only if it sees a benefit.
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                                        Thrinethran T
                                        Jan 13, 2016 at 2:26 pm
                                        The terrorists who are eliminated after, or in the process of, wreaking havoc in this country , are religiously inspired, self- motivated 'martyrs' in the eyes of a significant section of stani society. Only the training and facilitation are provided by the Army/ISI. That it would be unrealistic to expect the situation to be quickly transformed, is what the erudite author of the article explains.
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                                          Thrinethran T
                                          Jan 13, 2016 at 12:20 am
                                          It is the high-profile engagements, raising hopes, that make our leaders vulnerable. Why could they not talk through emissaries and secure lines, if results are all that mattered?
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                                          1. S
                                            SHREEKUMAR
                                            Jan 13, 2016 at 5:30 pm
                                            IF STANIS NEED A LONG TERM PEACE PROCESS IN THEIR COUNTRY THE RESPECTED CIVIL SOCIETY SHOULD INTERFERE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN FOR A WELL PLANNED AWARENESS PROGRAMS TO CONVINCE THE YOUTH TO ABSTAIN FROM EXTREMIST ACTIVITIES STAN MEDIA, SOCIETY AND ALL SHOULD TAKE PART ACTIVELY TO CONTAIN THEIR POLITICAL STABILITY THE DAILY LIFE OF STAN COMMON MAN IS NOT HAVING ANY SECURITY.AND PRESENT ACTIVE TERROR ACTIVITIES IN STAN WILL DRAW BACK THE COUNTRY WEAKER AND WEAKER JUST THINK ABOUT INDIA CHINA BANGLADESH AND SRILANKA AND NEPAL.TERROR VIDEO FALSE VIDEO CLIPPING OF FANATICS WHO IS TRAPPING THE YOUTHS FOR EXTREMISM ALSO POVERTY UNEMPLOYMENT POLITICAL INSTABILITY AND SOME OTHER ISSUES ARE THE MAIN CAUSE OF THEIR PRESENT TURMOIL IN STAN.THEY NEED A VISIONARY COURAGEOUS LEADERSHIP TO WAIVE OF THE SECTARIAN AND VIOLENCE .I THINK THE NAVAS SHERIEF GOVERNMENT IS DOING THE GOOD WORK FOR STANDIA NEED PEACE WITH ALL .WE RESPECT MR HAQQANI AND HIS SUGGESTIONS .IT SEEMS PEACE PROCESS WITH STAN IS NOT A EASY HURDLE TO REACH THE FINISHING POINT.LET US WAIT WHAT INITIATIVES AND FURTHER STEPS STAN WILL TAKE IN THIS REGARD AND WE ALL NEED A PEACEFUL LIFE IN THE SUBCONTINENT
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