The receding danger of India-Pakistan war

Published : Jan 05, 2002 00:00 IST

AFTER two weeks of belligerent statements, militant diplomacy, sabre-rattling media interviews and, most worryingly, war-like troop movements from peace-time locations to the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border, there are clear political indications that the danger of war between India and Pakistan has receded. With this, it appears that the big challenge before the governments and political processes of both countries is no longer that of averting war - which, if launched as a limited 'surgical' strike across the LoC, was likely to escalate into a full-scale conventional war, which would, in turn, raise the spectre of the use of nuclear weapons. The big challenge is getting on to a sensible track of dialogue and political-diplomatic negotiation to find a constructive solution to the present India-Pakistan crisis.

That the crisis was triggered by a botched act of diabolical terrorism against India's Parliament carried out by operatives of a Pakistan-based organisation, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), with possible support from the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), is now widely recognised. As a result, India has gained a great deal of international sympathy and understanding. This in turn generates for India a decisive advantage in asking Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to justice by apprehending them and handing them over to India and also by cracking down on the two key organisations involved in cross-border terrorism. Belligerence and the kind of communally tinged jingoism that the war-mongers within and outside the government led by the Hindu Right have exhibited work against this advantage by placing the potential belligerents on a par in a context that a former U.S. President imperiously but plausibly characterised as "the world's most dangerous place."

It appears that thanks to the swift breakthrough made by the Delhi police investigation, India already has in hand better legally admissible evidence against the JeM and its founder-leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, than what the United States has against Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. However, from all that we know, the police investigation has not found any kind of evidence that the Inter Services Intelligence or the Pakistan government has had a hand in the December 13 terrorist attack. Given the strong case, it will be counter-productive to overstate the facts in hand.

India's case would become irresistible if it presented as much of the detailed evidence as is legally advisable to publish at this juncture in a White Paper for the people of India, and also placed it before the United Nations and the international community. The Musharraf government has asked for "the evidence" and there should be no difficulty in India providing this bilaterally as well. On the other hand, the suggestion of a "joint investigation" for a terrorist crime committed on the soil of one country is both unprecedented and absurd. It is also significant that nobody of any consequence in Pakistan has repeated the hare-brained suggestion of President Musharraf's military spokesman that the December 13 attack was engineered by Indian intelligence agencies.

A.G. Noorani's interview with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar published in this issue has real significance. The message for India at this sensitive juncture from this articulate establishment figure, often regarded as a 'hawk,' is conciliatory. The message also seems, for the most part, constructive and practical. It registers genuine regret over the decline of a promising process that led to the Agra Summit. It expresses a justified sense of puzzlement over the changeable stand of the Indian government on a structured dialogue with Pakistan on all the issues that divide, and embitter relations between, the two countries.

The interview also reveals that Pakistan at the top official level is very much on the defensive in relation to December 13. While discussing the presence of extremist jehadist and terrorist organisations within the territory of Pakistan, the great trouble they have caused to Pakistan, and the steps taken by the Musharraf government against them, Sattar seems to be making a plausible case. One feels sympathy for a country caught in the plight that Sattar describes: "Terrorism has been a problem for Pakistan for quite some years following the events in Afghanistan."

But Pakistan's sophisticated and well-informed Foreign Minister is surely being disingenuous when, after admitting that JeM and LeT along with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen are organisations "engaged in violence and acts of terrorism" and knowing very well that they have engaged in violent, terrorist activity far less within the territory of Pakistan than in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, he asserts that "India's exploitation of incidents of terrorism" has "constrained our own pursuit of our domestic agenda for the restoration of a peaceful environment." The disingenuousness reflects the contradiction between official Pakistan's longstanding advocacy of, and material support for, what it characterises as the "freedom struggle" in Kashmir and its post-September 11 predicament given the presence on its territory of state-tolerated if not state-patronised organisations, notably JeM and LeT, that have been listed and, to some extent, targeted by the U.S.

Pressuring and persuading Pakistan to resolve this contradiction in the only way it can be resolved and providing incentives for doing the right thing is the wise course Indian policy should take. In doing this, political India should take advantage of Resolution 1373 adopted by the U.N. Security Council on September 28, 2001. This Resolution requires all States to "prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts... refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts, including by suppressing recruitment of members of terrorist groups and eliminating the supply of weapons to terrorists... take the necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts, including the provision of early warnings to other States by exchange of information... deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens... [and] ensure that any person who participates in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts or in supporting terrorist acts is brought to justice..." Furthermore, Resolution 1373 mandates that States should "afford one another the greatest measure of assistance in connection with criminal investigations or criminal proceedings relating to the financing or support of terrorist acts" and "should also prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls" and other acts of vigilance.

Taking the issue of 'cross-border terrorism' to the international community and the U.N. carries zero risk of 'internationalising' the Kashmir issue. What can India possibly lose by marshalling and showcasing the substantial evidence it has against JeM, LeT and their ilk in terms of the new international legal and political opportunity created by Resolution 1373? But in order to do this, it needs to abandon all talk and schemes of war, which should be recognised in both India and Pakistan, especially in the present context, as belonging to the lunatic fringe.

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