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Back to brinkmanship


By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, August 16, 2013


We are back to gauche brinkmanship. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for "a new beginning" in relations with India on August 13. No way, came the brash snub from New Delhi within a couple of hours. "India will not hold talks with Pakistan until matters of cross-border firing and army are not fully resolved," declared the Indian Foreign Office spokesman Syed Akbaruddin. He also demanded action against Hafiz Saeed.

Hafiz Saeed, who is a relentless opponent of talks with India, and is perennially thankful to the Sharif brothers "for their monetary benevolence towards his educational institutions" (he made statement in his interview with Dunya TV shortly before Eid), stands at number two in a January 2002 list of the people most wanted by India. Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of the Bahawalpur-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, topped that list. After the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Saeed may have upstaged Masood Azhar. He is the founder of the defunct Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which now operates under the name Jamaatud Dawa.

This singular focus on Saeed and the LeT is the primary reason for gridlocked India-Pakistan relations. In fact, the predominant Indian narrative on Pakistan revolves around Saeed and his organization's "nexus" with the Pakistani military establishment. Both are inextricably linked, so believe most Indians, and thus demand punitive action against the army.

Most Indian parliamentarians and retired officials insist that the Pakistani army or the ISI orchestrated the execution of Indian soldiers in the Poonch sector. Without khaki support, they implied, such attacks were not possible. That is why the incident has practically brought all the back channel talks to a grinding halt amid deafening noises and protests against Pakistan.

Participation in three live debates on two mainstream Indian TV channels left me in little doubt that if left to the media and the opposition members of Lok Sabha, they would already have declared war on Pakistan. Almost every panelist reiterated the point that the attackers came from the Pakistani side of the border, overlooking the possibility of terrorists from within the Indian part of Kashmir having committed the heinous act. Precluding the possibility of Kashmiri insurgents' involvement in the execution sounds naive and unfair, and runs contrary to the needs of a logical dissection of events as delicate as termination missions.

Nobody answered my question as to whether the Indian Kashmir was meanwhile a peaceful haven, free of militants. And if it is, when will India pull out the bulk of its security forces from the embattled valley?

Tragically, the civilian leadership - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -hardly figures as a potential interlocutor in the Indian discourse on Pakistan. And this also explains why most Indian government officials and media keep running down Sharif's good intent for better relations, realizing little that Sharif has inherited a shattered economy and a blood-soaked socio-political landscape, which has seen over 1,700 people killed in the last three months in at least 70 major terrorist attacks.

There is not enough realization that wresting control of the entire foreign policy from an army that is embattled from the north to the south is not going to be an easy task at all. And what is even more unfortunate is Pakistan Army's view on the "archenemy India" which seems frozen in time and still driven by fears. The army still believes that India is leveraging its relations with Kabul for its proxy war in Balochistan. It remains obsessed with the Indian involvement in Afghanistan's security and development sector, and extremely worried that the US and NATO may accord a special security role to India in the post-2014 withdrawal scenario.

"We are also urging the US not to encourage India for a bigger role in Afghanistan. That will complicate things for us. If they are next door, we will have security concerns because India would want to make us rub our nose," a very senior official said. 

Civilian and military officials find themselves in a tight spot because of the cumulative adverse impact of the Poonch sector incident.

"We have had a series of consultations and even the army and the ISI are clueless. We will still request Indian leaders to accept the reality that war lobbies, or those who do not want good relations between the two sides, are trying to subvert the normalization process. The attack on Pakistani embassy in Delhi adds fuel to fire and strengthens the war mongers," he said.

Pakistani officials do not deny that Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad exist in Pakistan. But they do insist that despite several administrative steps against some of the groups, the socio-political environment - especially the mosque-madrassa network - make it extremely difficult for the authorities to clip their wings and muzzle their mouths. They also exploit the free judiciary and the freedoms that the constitution provides them.

Regardless of what officials say, Sharif and his cohorts must find a solution to stop, or at least restrain, the provocative speeches against India by charlatans such as Hafiz Saeed. They must also convince India in a demonstrable way of legal action against those who threaten interests of other countries. 

Unless Sharif and the military reign these leaders - who consider it their divine right to adjudicate Pakistan's policy towards India, Afghanistan and the USA - relations with all these countries will remain dogged with acrimony and mistrust. 

We must move to neutralize people who essentially represent in Pakistan what Rashtria Sevak Sangh in India stands for - blatant incitement to violence and abominable hate speech.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk