COMMENTARY
 
Prospects of India-Pakistan Pact against Terror
Weekly Pulse
September 22-28, 2006
For the first time, India and Pakistan have formally agreed to conclude a counter-terrorism pact. Given that terrorism has been the most potent divisive issue in India-Pakistan relations in recent years, the September 16 agreement in Havana between President-General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to establish an “anti-terrorism institutional mechanism” is a breakthrough.

In their Joint Statement, the Indian and Pakistani leaders “strongly condemned all acts of terrorism and agreed that terrorism is a scourge that needs to be dealt with. They decided to put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations.”

In the Cuban capital, the two leaders also decided to revive the peace process, which appeared to be all but dead following the July terrorist bombing in Mumbai. They agreed that “the peace process must be maintained and its success was important for both countries and the future of the entire region. In this context, they directed their Foreign Secretaries to resume the Composite Dialogue Process at the earliest.” They also decided to “continue the joint search for mutually acceptable options for a peaceful negotiated settlement of all issues between India and Pakistan, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, in a sincere and purposeful manner.”

Mumbai Bombings

Following the Mumbai bombings, India had accused Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad to be behind the terrorist incident, while Pakistan had denied the Indian allegation and, instead, offered to jointly work with India for countering terrorism. It is Pakistan’s joint counter-terrorism offer to India that has found practical manifestation in the Havana breakthrough. And it is on the terrorist front that the future course of Indian-Pakistan relations will rest from Havana onwards.

Since the start of the Indo-Pak peace process that dates back to the assumption of premiership by Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led government in India, the leaders of the two countries have publicly committed about its “irreversibility.” However, each time, a major terrorist incident has occurred in India, Indo-Pak ties have reflected a familiar pattern of New Delhi accusing Pakistan-based Jihadi groups of perpetrating it and Islamabad denying the Indian charge.

Each time also, the story has not just ended with accusations and denials, but has been followed by real deterioration in ties, such as the recent diplomatic expulsions following the Mumbai bombings. India’s interference in Balochistan has met strong Pakistani reaction, as well as counter-accusations that India was sponsoring militant Balochi nationalism through its intelligence operatives in Afghanistan. Such accusations and counter-accusations have each time threatened the very “irreversibility” of the peace process.

Beyond Havana Accord

How could the situation be different post-Havana? When the sources of terror, in India’s perception, essentially emanate from Pakistani territory, how can a joint mechanism to counter terrorism evolve in the first place? And, even if the two countries agree to such a mechanism, how can it succeed in effectively countering terrorism unless a sea change is visible in India’s perceptions about Pakistani territory being a staging post for terrorism in India?

Since the 9/11/2001 terrorist acts on the United States, India and Pakistan have been twice on the verge of a war, the first time after the December 2001 terrorist attacks on Indian Parliament and then after the May 2001 terrorist bus bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir. It was principally under the American pressure that the leaders of the two countries decided in 2003 to pursue peace. From the November 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control to the January 2004 decision to resume Composite Dialogue to the many Confidence-Building Measures adopted as part of this process, particularly regarding the expansion of trade, travel and communication links, the peace process has indeed made significant strides.

However, insofar as Kashmir is concerned, despite several innovative steps for its resolution proposed by Pakistan, especially demilitarization, self-governance and joint control of the disputed region, India has not budged from its principled stand that Kashmir was its sovereign territory, and, therefore, non-negotiable. This is what Prime Minister Manmohan had also stated categorically before the Indian Parliament.

Kashmir Issue

Thus, the mere mentioning in the Joint Statement issued in Havana that Indian and Pakistani leaders agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including the “issue of Kashmir” is meaningless. If one looks at the Joint Statements that leaders of the two countries or their Foreign Secretaries have been issuing since the start of the 1990s, all of them will carry a sentence with the same wording. Each round of Indo-Pak Foreign Secretaries talks during 1997-98, for instance, would conclude with the customary words of an agreement to “discuss all outstanding issues, including the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.” The Joint Statement of January 2004 was no different.

What matters in the end is whether there is any concrete development regarding the resolution of Kashmir. Seen from this angle, the post-Havana period will be characterized by yet another round of Pakistan’s pro-active approach on the dispute and India’s yet again inactive stance on it. From Pakistan’s standpoint, then, what is the use of pursuing a peace process that does not result in any concrete step towards Kashmiri resolution but only helps to derail it?

That even after agreeing with Pakistani leader to create a joint agency to tackle terrorism Manmohan Singh continues to maintain apprehensions is clear from his remarks made after the Havana agreement. The Indian leader did say the pact deserved a fair trial, but he also cautioned that it “would be threatened if Islamabad does not do more to curb militant groups.”

“I do think it is a new beginning. I hope it works, but if does not work, then also we have to deal with the consequences,” he said. “It is quite obvious to Pakistan that things cannot be business as usual if terrorism is not under control—or if the government of Pakistan is seen not to be willing to work with us to control terrorism…There is an explicit commitment on the part of Pakistan to say they will work with us to do all that is in its control to control this scourge,” the Indian Prime Minister added.

Cautious Optimism

The day after Manmohan Singh expressed his cautious optimism about the proposed counter-terror pact between India and Pakistan, the Gujrat Police claimed to have arrested “four suspected members of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba” blamed for bombings in New Delhi in October last year and in the holy Hindu town of Varanasi this year.”

The same day, Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, one of the principal militant groups fighting against the Indian rule in Indian-administered Kashmir, rejected the Indo-Pak counter-terrorism pact, saying there was “nothing new for people of Kashmir” in the Havana declaration by the leaders of the two countries.

The fact that the Indian leadership still suspects Pakistan’s intentions on terrorism, that fact that Indian investigations into recent terrorist bombings in India have or are most likely to point figure at Pakistan-based jihadi groups, 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—all point to the potential fragility of the Indo-Pak peace process.

What if Indian investigation into the Mumbai terrorist bombings also eventually leads to the arrest of militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or Jaish-e-Mohammad? What if the militants of Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen or Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or Jaish-e-Mohammad decide to undertake another terrorist bombing inside India in a calculated bid to subvert Indo-Pak peace process? Would it not renew hostility in Indo-Pak ties once again, just as the Mumbai bombings did?

Potential Difficulties

As they say, the devil is in the details. 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?

Until Havana accord, India and Pakistan have signed scores of bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism agreements, 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, as already mention, 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?

Real Challenge

The real challenge, therefore, lies before the Pakistani leadership, which has to convince its Indian counterpart that even if some jihadi organizations operating covertly in Pakistan are involved in terrorism in India, New Delhi has to trust Islamabad enough to fight this menace jointly. To put it differently, the Indian leadership has to be convinced that the same jihadi organizations, no matter where their covert bases are, which are committing terrorism in India, are also committing terrorism in Pakistan.

With President Musharraf himself been a target of assassination by such jihadi organizations some years ago, he should have been the best person to create such an understanding among his Indian counterparts. His reluctance or inability to do so may have to do with the fact that the boundaries between terrorism and freedom with reference to Kashmir have thus far diverged. Given the history of Kashmir, and Pakistani sensitivities about its resolution based upon self-determination for Kashmiri people, it will be difficult for Islamabad to accept unlimited conference between terrorism and freedom regarding the dispute.

However, insofar as the phenomenon of religious extremism and its terrorist manifestation involving Pakistan or India are concerned, there should not be any problem for Islamabad to “put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations.” While Kashmir is a dispute, India and Pakistan are sovereign states, and any organization trying to threaten their territorial integrity or political stability with militant means can be as terrorist and its terrorism countered jointly by India and Pakistan.