COMMENTARY
 
Kashmir, Not Terrorism, Is the Issue
Weekly Pulse
October 20-26, 2006
The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet in New Delhi on November 14 and 15 as part of the Composite Dialogue process initiated in January 2004. The peace process, declared by both countries’ leaderships as “irreversible,’ was scuttled unilaterally by India in July after the terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Mumbai. Last month, while meeting in Havana on the sidelines of the NAM summit, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to revive it.

Another concrete outcome of the Havana meeting was the mutual agreement to “put in “place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations.” The reason for creating such a mechanism was felt after India’s accusation, and Pakistan’s denial, about the involvement of Pakistan-based Lashmkar-e-Tayyaba in the Mumbai terrorist bombings. Pakistan had also offered counter-terrorism help to India to find out the real culprits.

Counter-Terror Setup

Even after agreeing in principle to create an institutionalized mechanism for countering terrorism, Mumbai Police Commissioner A N Roy had gone public in alleging that almost a dozen arrested people, mostly of Pakistani citizenship, had confessed to the bombings upon investigation. He had also implicated Pakistani intelligence in the affair. Within weeks, however, the accused retracted their confessions in court, accusing, instead, the Delhi police for extracting false confessions from them under duress. The Pakistani leadership since then has urged Indian authorities not to make such allegations.

Despite Pakistani plea, India seems to be bent upon bringing up the Mumbai issue in the forthcoming Foreign Secretaries talks. On October 17, the day the dates of these talks were announced, the Indian media quoted sources in the country’s Ministry of External Affairs as saying that the focus of the talks will be on the issue of terrorism, and that the creation of a counter-terrorism “mechanism would be a test for Pakistan's commitment to fight terrorism.”

In the last two years, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh have met four times. The two countries Foreign Secretaries have also met similar number of times as part of the Composite Dialogue initiated in January 2004. The basis for the Foreign Secretaries talks is in line with the 1997 agreement between the two countries, when they agreed on an eight-point agenda to be taken up at two levels. It was then agreed that the foreign secretaries would discuss Kashmir, and peace and security issues. Six other issues were to be taken up at the secretary and other levels, including Siachen, the Tulbul Navigation Project, terrorism, drug trafficking, economic and commercial cooperation and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.

Successive Rounds

During successive rounds of talks, however, the Foreign Secretaries talks have produced nothing substantive on the main unresolved issues between the two country, primarily Kashmir but also issues such as Siachen. The negotiating process has only achieved some important successes on the Confidence -Building Measures, such as the opening of a direct bust service across the Line of Control, the establishment of a Hot Line between the two Foreign Secretaries, so on and so forth.

It is Pakistan that has given concrete proposals on Kashmir, while clearly distancing itself from its traditional UN Security Council Resolutions-specific stand on the over-half century old dispute. These proposals include demilitarization of the disputed region on both sides of the Line of Control, or parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, exercising the option of self-governance in the disputed region. The proposal to open five points along the Line of Control for the people of Kashmir affected by last year’s devastating earthquake on both sides of the Line of Control was also floated by Pakistan. While India agreed reluctantly on the last proposal, it has not responded to the rest of Pakistani proposals.

The only overture from India, thus far, has been its government’s decision to hold direct talks with the leadership of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which has also been permitted to travel to Pakistan. However, insofar as the two concrete proposals from Islamabad—namely, demilitarization and self-governance—are concerned, New Delhi has not budged an inch from its historically rigid stand. Prime Minister Singh stated categorically only a couple of weeks ago that India will never agree to any change in the status of the Line of Control, or any territorial readjustment in Kashmir.

Contradictory Stand

While Kashmir officially remains non-negotiable for the Indians, yet the dispute is an important item, at least under Pakistani perceptions, on the agenda of the Composite Dialogue process. India’s position is, therefore, self-contradictory. If Kashmir is non-negotiable, then how come it is included in the agenda of peace talks? The implication for Pakistan of such a contradictory Indian stand is, indeed, grave. What is the use of pursuing a peace process where one party is wholly committed to resolving the fundamental issue, while the other gives a damn about its resolution?

In his memoirs, In The Line of Fire, President Musharraf has enunciated Pakistan’s rather flexible, open-ended “out-of-box” approach to Kashmir revolving around newer notions such as identification of zones of conflict, demilitarization, self-governance and join management of the selected zones. But the question is, are the Indians even ready to consider such “out-of-box” options for Kashmiri settlement?

Instead, as we shall most probably see during the November14-15 round of Foreign Secretaries talks and their aftermath, the Indian strategy will be to shift the focus from the national liberation aspect of Kashmir to the alleged terrorist dimension of the Kashmiri movement. This is done essentially to buy time and delay the movement towards conflict resolution. The more a settlement on Kashmir is delay, the more its resolution becomes complicated and the lesser international attention it receives. While India has essentially been pursuing such delaying tactics over Kashmir, our leadership has continued to live in world of make-belief that Kashmiri settlement is around the corner.

Coming to the issue of counter-terrorism, as mentioned before, a jointly agreed statement to “put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations” looks good on paper. The real question is how to implement the proposed agreement? Will the intelligence agencies of the two countries—which up to now have been arch rivals, with each allegedly trying to undermine the other’s territorial integrity—sit together to cooperate against an enemy perceived to be common?

Difficulties Remain

The fact that the Indian leadership still suspects Pakistan’s intentions on terrorism, and the fact that the jihadi groups, whether they are based in Indian-administered Kashmir or operating covertly from Pakistani territory, are most likely to oppose any institutional counter-terrorism arrangement between India and Pakistan—point to the potential fragility of the Indo-Pak peace process.

India and Pakistan have each signed scores of bilateral counter-terrorism agreements with other countries, which have entailed close intelligence cooperation and strict abidance of inter-state arrangements like mutual extradition of terrorists. India has a list of such terrorists such as Dawood Ibrahim, who, it thinks, are residing in Pakistan. Islamabad has always denied such Indian charges. How will the India-Pakistan Counter-Terrorism authority resolve such disputable cases?

In terms of already operative joint counter-terrorism pacts between Pakistan and other countries, two are worth-mentioning: Islamabad has been cooperating very close with the United States since 9/11 in arresting and extraditing al-Qaeda militants. The pact must have entailed day-to-day intelligence cooperation. Otherwise, the arrest and extradition of hundreds of al-Qaeda militants from Pakistani soil in the last five years would not have been possible.

Similarly, the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan have a trilateral counter-terrorism arrangement, which—despite Pak-Afghan tensions over alleged infiltration of Taliban from North Wazirstan into Afghanistan—has involved close intelligence and information sharing among the three countries to counter terrorism.

The question is how can a similar bilateral arrangement between India and Pakistan work with Pakistan suspecting Indian hand in the nationalist tribal insurgency or uprising in Balochistan? And how can such an Indo-Pak institutional body to counter-terrorism work when both the state policy and public opinion in India tend to blame Pakistan-based jihadi organizations to be behind each and every act of terrorism in India?