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A discordant dialogue

Pakistan’s denial of state involvement in terrorism continues to discolour Indo-Pak ties

Pakistan’s denial of state involvement in terrorism continues to discolour Indo-Pak ties

After the meeting of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan last week,it is clear that Pakistan’s posturing has dashed all hopes of finding a way forward. Pakistan remains in denial,despite ample evidence regarding state involvement in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008. With terrorism a key issue for relations between the two countries,India should lay the ground for the visit of its minister of external affairs to Pakistan,which has been postponed due to India’s presidential elections later this month. Pakistan has defended its position of not being a perpetrator of state-sponsored terror,thus giving India little space to manoeuvre. Confidence-building measures initiated during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister seem to be in a state of limbo. Pakistan’s indulgence of terrorist forces within its borders — which became apparent when Osama bin Laden was found to be living in an army town close to Rawalpindi — reduces negotiations and other measures to a farce.

On June 25,Zabiuddin Ansari — or Abu Jundal — was repatriated from Saudi Arabia to India. The Indian authorities welcomed his extradition,which they had worked on for 14 months,garnering worthwhile evidence,which was then handed to Saudi Arabian authorities. On his arrival,India’s intelligence agencies were quick to legally secure his arrest. The ensuing interrogation will no doubt shed additional light on the Lashkar-e-Toiba and its planned attacks on India. Abu Jundal’s arrest reaffirms what India and other countries have been saying: that Pakistan’s state agencies have played a role in fomenting terrorism. Pakistan discredits such claims,despite evidence,and steers clear of taking stringent action.

Indian authorities will also worriedly note the presence of an Indian citizen in the LeT. Abu Jundal grew up on the streets of Beed in Maharastra. Subsequently,he came into contact with SIMI radicals. He was flagged in an arms haul case in 2006,but escaped to Bangladesh before being recruited by the LeT in Pakistan. He proved to be a valuable asset for the terrorist network. Jundal seems to have played a central role in planning and executing a series of terror strikes,including the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai that left 166 people dead. Ajmal Amir Kasab’s admission that the team that attacked Mumbai trained under Jundal pre-26/11 points to Jundal’s significance among their ranks.

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The role of Pakistan’s institutions have again been called into question. After the Mumbai attacks,the strategic dialogue between India and Pakistan was called off. Later,Pakistani authorities arrested seven suspects,including LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi,for planning,financing and facilitating the Mumbai attacks,hinting at a possible shift in Indo-Pak relations. But little has come from it,with the trial having been stalled for over a year now. No progress has been made in arresting terrorists such as Hafiz Saeed,even with international pressure. Given all this,Pakistan’s offer for a joint probe into Jundal’s case seems suspect.

The strategic dialogue between the two countries resumed in 2011 on Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to India. Meetings thereafter have yielded little progress. Reverberations from the Jundal arrest could undo some of the progress of recent months,and it could lead to discordant notes in the bilateral relationship. With such a large trust deficit,can the public expect substantive talks in the near future?

In India,the time seems apt to reboot a counter-terrorism policy that appears circumspect. Afzal Guru is languishing in jail on death row; the government has done little to spell out its stance on his execution. Kasab is currently housed in a special cell. The absence of a quick and stern riposte to terror activities is debilitating the confidence of the country. The government regularly develops cold feet when pressed to deal strongly with terrorists in the country. The UPA government’s loose approach to matters of national security is not winning any admirers.

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The PM had earlier said that the Indian government would follow a trust first,verify next policy with Pakistan. But that stance seems to have been contradicted by the government’s recent actions. With India running into an iron wall with respect to engaging Pakistan for constructive talks,there is little option but to bring in other countries to verify and consolidate our claims. The preponderant need of the hour in India is to sidestep the “spaghetti bowl” approach to fighting terror. The government should bring upon itself the responsibility to send a firm message to terrorists and should take the opposition’s views into account.

Reciprocity is central to a bilateral relationship. Over the past few months,there have been attempts made by India and Pakistan to resolve issues such as Sir Creek and Siachen. But terrorism can overturn and negate the positives that may have emerged from the recent thaw between the two nations. It will set the agenda for the external affairs minister’s visit to Islamabad next month and information revealed by Jundal during his interrogations will loom in the background.

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and national spokesperson for the BJP

First published on: 11-07-2012 at 01:29:53 am
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