The Indian Government has failed to convince other countries about the veracity of the evidence it has presented to establish Pakistan's complicity in the hijacking.
FOLLOWING the Indian Government's claim that it had "conclusive proof" of Pakistan's involvement in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft in December, the war of words between the two countries has escalated. The focus of Indian diplomacy has bee n on convincing the West, especially the United States, about Islamabad's "complicity" in the terrorist act. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee went so far as to appeal to the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. This is the first time that a lea der of a major democracy has issued such an appeal directly to Washington. Even small Latin American states long ago stopped recognising Washington as an international arbiter.
The Clinton administration has sought to legitimise its increasingly unilateral approach in foreign policy matters by proclaiming the U.S. as the global crusader against terrorism. Every year, the U.S. State Department brings out a list of so-called "rog ue" regimes in the world. Among the permanent members on that list are countries that have been following an anti-imperialist foreign policy - such as Cuba and Syria. Currently, however, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is busy cajoling Syria t o sign a peace deal with Israel.
Pakistan has been a loyal ally of the U.S. and even if any irrefutable proof of Islamabad's connivance in terrorism is provided, Washington is unlikely to oblige New Delhi and brand Pakistan a terrorist state. The Clinton administration has, however, ind icated that its attitude towards India could change if New Delhi plays ball with Washington on substantive issues like nuclear non-proliferation. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said recently that both countries could enhance their level of cooperation in the security field provided India was willing to forswear nuclear weapons.
It is not as if the Clinton administration is unaware of the ground reality in South Asia - that many of the terrorist outfits in the region trace their origins to the war in Afghanistan. In recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Commi ttee, Michael Sheehan, the U.S. Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, said that the terrorist threat in South Asia "comes primarily from groups and loosely-knit networks with few ties to government". Sheehan added that Afghanistan had become a safe haven fo r terrorist groups. According to the senior official, in addition to Osama bin Laden and his group, the Taliban plays host to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, Kashmiri separatists and an assortment of militant organisations f rom Central Asia. Pakistan, Sheehan said, had been asked to use its influence to persuade the Taliban to deport bin Laden.
Sheehan's testimony specifically mentioned that numerous Kashmiri separatist and sectarian groups "involved in terrorism" operated from Pakistani territory. He added: "We have continuing reports of Pakistani material support for some of these militants. One such group, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, was involved in the still-unresolved July 1995 kidnapping of four Westerners, including one American" in Kashmir. Sheehan also mentioned the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami an d the Hizbul Mujahideen as the other terrorist groupings that operate freely in Pakistan and "support terrorist attacks in Kashmir".
The U.S. State Department has named 28 groups as "foreign terrorist organisations". About half of these are active in West Asia and South Asia. The U.N. Security Council had passed a resolution in October 1999 which "unequivocally" condemned "all acts, m ethods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, in all their forms and manifestations, wherever and by whomever committed, in particular those which could threaten international peace and security."
Surprisingly, the Clinton administration adopted a low profile during the week-long hijack drama which ended with the hijackers walking away with some militant leaders of known terrorist organisations who were freed from Indian jails. The Indian governme nt had asked the U.S. administration, which wields tremendous political and military clout in the Gulf region, for help when the hijacked plane was briefly in Dubai. Indian officials say that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh personally got in touc h with U.S. officials and sought their help.
India's contention was that since the Indo-U.S. talks on curbing terrorism were at an advanced stage, the U.S. should demonstrably help India at this time. However, Washington refused to help and preferred to let New Delhi sort out the mess. Indian offic ials now claim that if the U.S. had cooperated, the plane would not have taken off from Dubai. Defence Minister George Fernandes openly expressed his disappointment with Washington: he said that the U.S. continued to turn a blind eye to the issue of inte rnational terrorism. He said: "The U.S. has to be made to realise that terrorism knows no boundaries. They aim at Osama bin Laden but overlook what is being done in India by Pakistan."
In the first week of January, India's Ambassador to the U.S, Naresh Chandra, expressed disappointment that the Clinton administration had ignored the vast amount of circumstantial evidence that India had presented in order to establish Pakistan's involve ment in the hijack. Echoing Vajpayee's demand, Naresh Chandra said that India had no doubt that in the context of U.S. law, characterising Pakistan as a "terrorist state was eminently justifiable and necessary".
Despite repeated snubs from the State Department on the issue, Indian officials persist in appealing to Washington to pass a guilty verdict against Islamabad. They have taken their cue from Vajpayee, who said that he would try his best to "convince Ameri ca" to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Washington, on the other hand, had stated categorically that it would not accede to India's demand. Reports from Washington, in fact, quoted an unidentified source in the State Department as saying that India's claim that it has evidence to prove Pakistan's involvement in the hijack was "unconvincing".
The State Department official said: "India has to decide what it wants to do with the evidence it claims to have to prove Pakistan's involvement. If it wants to send us the evidence it would be fine, but we will make our own judgments based on all inform ation available to us, under U.S. laws." State Department spokesman James Rubin said that Pakistani authorities had condemned the terrorist act and had held out the assurance that they would meet their obligation to apprehend the hijackers (who are now b elieved to be in Pakistan) and bring them to justice. The State Department has only cautioned Pakistan not to allow Maulana Masood Azhar, the freed leader of the Harkat-ul-Ansar (freedom of action).
The Indian Government has failed to convince any country about Pakistan's alleged complicity in the hijacking. Even among members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the response to India's claims has been muted. Most of thes e countries hold India responsible for the cancellation of the SAARC summit which was to be held in Kathmandu in November 1999. At the previous summit in 1998, the SAARC countries had put the issue of terrorism high on their agenda. Indian allegations ab out Nepal's laxity on issues relating to terrorism have strained relations with Kathmandu. The ruling Nepali Congress is known to be a pro-India party, but reports emanating from New Delhi that Kathmandu had been turned into a haven of the Pakistani Inte r-Services Intelligence have not been received well in the Himalayan kingdom.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebek, who was on an official visit to India in the second week of January, told mediapersons in New Delhi that his country did not agree with India's assessment that Pakistan had masterminded the hijacking. He said tha t it was "inconceivable" that the Pakistan Government would be involved in the terrorist act.
One of the few countries that have extended unequivocal support to India on the hijack issue is Russia. Moscow is at present engaged in combating Chechen terrorism and evidently sees similarities in the situation in the northern Caucasus and in Kashmir.
The escalation in violence in the Kashmir Valley in the wake of the hijacking, coupled with the talk of a "limited war" by India's Defence Minister and the Chief of the Army Staff, has refocussed international attention on South Asia. The Clinton adminis tration now seems to be toying with the idea of appointing a special U.S. Coordinator for Kashmir. Stephen P. Cohen, the influential South Asia expert whose views are taken seriously in the State Department, suggested the move in a recent paper. The Clin ton administration has a coordinator for Tibet.