Dialogue April-June 2008 , Volume 9 No. 4
Indo-Pak Relations and Internal Security
The issue of KASHMIR and our relations with PAKISTAN have been interlinked ever since Independence. Four Wars (including Kargil), and Pakistan’s role in stoking the Sikh extremism in 80’s, nearly 20-year long proxy war in J&K and scores of Pak inspired terrorist incidents causing loss of life in hundreds, define in broad relief the depth and breadth of our adversorial relationship with Pakistan. But, of late, particularly since 2002, there have been perceptible thaw and progress generating hopes for the future. Credit for this progress however, grudgingly, must be given to the Pak President Gen. Musharraf and former Prime Minster Bajpai for trusting Musharraf. It has been a curious journey of learning for the “commando” from Kargil War (1999) to Agra summit (2001), 9/11 and international perception of Pak being home to radical Islam. The Kargil adventure under the nuclear umbrella taught the General the limits of nuclear weapons as a deterrent only and how far India will go to defend its integrity.
The Agra Summit (July 2001) was a lesson to an overconfident, if not overbearing, General, the limits to which Kashmir issue can be exploited by Pakistan and the Indian intransigence over the matter. The 9/11 became a defining moment and its unpleasant aftermath exposed Pak to rethink its new world view and priorities in the subcontinent. The Indian response under PM Bajpai helped the General in making the transition from Kashmir First to Pak First template. Gen Musharraf understood the implications of the international mood, and declining pay-off of the proxy-war in J&K, and its own mounting troubles in FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan, besides the specter of sectarian violence at home. President Musharraf and India gradually descaled the crisis by a ceasfire on LOC, discussing formulae after formulae on J&K and India talking to the APHC(M), and Pakistan jettisoning hardliner SAS Gillani, and according legitimacy to mainline political parties like NC and PDP etc., and above all changing the terms of reference for resolving Kashmir issue. In retrospect it has been a curious and unexpected journey.
Internal turmoil in Pakistan for the last 15 months has however slowed down the process, but the basics have endured, underlining that the even the PPP and PML(N) leaders support the Musharraf line on Kashmir and Indo-Pak relations. Considering the nearly 50 years of adversorial relations, the last six years have been transformational. There are still pockets of resistance and mistrust on both sides but the broad thrust remains intact. Both sides realise the virtue of rapprochment, even if it’s a long haul. This process can now be halted or derailed only by a cataclysmic internal development in Pakistan. If the internal imbroglio, gets worse the temptation to play Islamic card and fall in trap of extremists will be considerable. In India its Pak policy is by and large institutionalized.
The current imbroglio in Pakistan’s internal politics has all the elements of a pantomime or shadow boxing with the lead protagonists trying to test the limits of concessions one can wrest for itself. However, there are certain uncertainties which can cause unexpected turmoil in case any of the player overplays its hand. All this started with the failure of Pak army to contain the terror centres in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and revival of Taliban in Pak and Afghanistan. Blatant use of force in Balochistan weakened the position of President Musharraf and the resolve of Pak army in fighting its own citizens in the name of American war on terror. It was an unpopular war even with some sections of the Army. Musharraf “fatigue” was followed for the first time by attacks on Pak army itself including some arrests and surrender of Pak army personnel to the extremists in NWFP and Swat Valley. The siege of Lal Masjid in July, 2007, led to about 49 suicide attacks on Pak army including killing of a Lt. Gen of Pak army in one of them. Meanwhile, Musharraf’s resistance to dislink his presidency from his uniform and an ill advised action against the chief justice in March 2007 compounded his position irretrievably. He could not salvage it even by manipulating his election as a President and doffing his uniform. Restoration of the chief justice by a court order and fear of Musharraf that the supreme court may declare his re-election as President illegal led to declaration of emergency on Nov 3, 2007, and dismissal of judges who refused to take new oath.
In this gathering internal storm the USA stepped in to save its favourite General by working out an agreement with Benezir Bhutto and PPP to provide a democratic faēade to its war on terror and deflect blame from the President and the Army. Musharraf had to agree reluctantly. He became a civilian President and issued. NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) to absolve Benazir and her husband Asif Zardari of all the cases against them as quid pro quo. The USA propelled script expected after elections a PPP/PML(Q) coalition to govern Pakistan “WITH” the President and Army. The script went off-course and is responsible for the present political turmoil. PML (N) and Nawaz Sharif were beneficiary of the spin-off of the agreement. Under Saudi pressure and to lend credibility to the process, Sharif’s were also pardoned and became part of the electoral and reconciliation process despite Nawaz Sharif’s visceral hatred of President Musharraf who had dethroned him in 1999 in a coup. Benazir was not acceptable to the Islamic radicals being part of an American sponsored scheme. She followed the American script of vowing to fight terrorism by all means which led to her assassination before the elections and skewed the electoral presuppositions.
Riding the popularity of the lawyers movement for restoration of dismissed judges in Nov 3 Emergency and unpopularity of Musharraf, PML(N), and Sharif made impressive gains in election and in the process demolished the King’s Party (PML (Q)) in Punjab. Judging the anti-Musharraf popular mood PPP had no choice but to accept a coalition govt. with PML (N). Asif Zardari, who inherited the Benazir’s leadership mantle and was part of the US sponsored deal is in a difficult position. The reconciliation script envisaged PPP working “WITH” Musharraf and army and not depose him as is being demanded by PML(N). Restoration of dismissed judges a part of electoral promise and Murree Agreement between the coalition partners has became bone of contention. Sharif, no great admirer of an independent judiciary (he had organised a attack on Supreme court when PM), is using it to humiliate and get rid of Musharraf. Zardari is trying to temporise by proposing role of Parliament in restoring judges. Pak army has temporarily gone to barracks; but is not likely to stomach any dilution in its prime position and privileges and even humiliation of Musharraf an ex-army chief. In this emerging scenario, the protagonists PPP, PML(N), the President and Pak army are all enaged in protecting their interest without rocking the boat. Efforts of the USA to micro – manage the internal dynamics of Pakistan to protect its own strategic interests is adding to the complications and decline of Musharraf being the US protégé.
In this stalemate, however the position of President Musharraf is decling by the day and is becoming untenable. He is sticking to his guns, but his intransigence is making the position of Asif Zardari and PPP difficult. Zardari, being part of U.S. brokered deal would like to work with Musharraf, but the popular mood is anti-Musharraf, who is increasingly being perceived as puppet of USA and PML(N) is insisting on restoration of Judges and removal of Musharraf by withdrawing his Ministers from the Cabinet, but continuing the support. Zardari finds it difficult to go against the popular mood and the threatened resumption of the lawyers movement for the restoration of judges which was basically responsible for the election. He is trying hard to avoid confrontation with the President. Taking advantage of Musharraf’s weakened position he postures occasionally by asking Musharraf to resign or not recognising him as constitutional President. On the other he has suggested the Parliament to restore the judges, and drafted an amendment bill to curtail powers of the President, which may take long to be enacted. PML(N) wants impeachment of Musharraf but knows it cannot be done with the PML(Q) in control of the senate till 2009. PPP’s preference is that Musharraf leaves on his own.
Meanwhile President Musharraf is neither willing to resign or countenance any dilution of his powers. He has the support of the USA and, it would seem of the army also for the time being. But the popular wisdom is that he has to go and may be allowed to chose his timing. Declining support to the beleaguered President is the only constant in the developments. His efforts to divide the coalition partners has failed and support of the USA and the army may also get diluted if his decline persists.
The nature of American influence and role in Pakistan is also partly responsible for the stalemate and potential political problems with the govt. and Pak Army. The American compact has always been with the Pak army and its Generals. The messy political leaders when in power were part of tokenism and unpopularity of the USA with the masses is no secret. The three A’s (Army, Allah and America) are still relevant but the a potential tension between the army and America is building up. The USA would like the PPP led govt. to work “with” the President and army in its “war on terror” programme. However, the govt. and Pak army are aware of the unpopularity of army’s operations in FATA against Al-Qaida. The Army lost men in these and is inclined to use negotiations to contain the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in FATA. The war on terror is seen in Pak as not its war and some sections in Pak army are also opposed to it.
In NWFP/FATA Pakistan Army has used political parties to negotiate deals in South Wazisistan and Swat Valley to reduce its involvement. The USA has strong reservations because of fears of resurgence of Taliban and its impact on Afghanistan situation. Pak army is still licking its wounds because of past operations in FATA and is resistant to US suggestions of a more vigorous role. Its evident in the ground conceded to Baitullah Mehsud leader of Tehrie-i-Taliban(P) in South Waziristan and Mulla Fazlullah in Swat Valley. The latter includes introduction of Shariat rule in two divisions of Swat and Malakand. Nazam Sethi a prominent journalist and editor of the Friday Times has described the peace accord with Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah as “the most abject surrender of state sovereignty in Pakistan’s history. (Indian Express 24/5/08)”. Meanwhile a few suicide attacks and strong US reservations has compelled the Pak govt. to call off its accord in Swat Valley. However, the accord with Mehsud stands. These events have the potential of serious strain in US-Pak relations, as the US has invested billons of dollars to shore up the Pak army to fight the AlQaida and Taliban as the strategic need of the US to stabilise Afghanistan. On June 11, the US army resorted to an aerial attack on a Pak post, (in self-defence as claimed) in which 11 Pak solders were killed. The incident which is being defended by the USA runs Counter to what the Pak Army and the political class thinks. It wants to use dialogue and force to achieve the results but the USA and Alliance forces in Afghanistan feel it will only enable the Taliban to further strengthen itself and create problems in Afghanistan. Over the issue the US and Pak relations are under considerable strain even allegations of Pak Intelligence and para-military forces assisting Taliban in attacks (Rand Corporation report) in Afghanistan have been made in the USA.
Meanwhile in India the change in Pak stance has had a sobering impact on insurgency scene in Jammu & Kashmir in the last three years. Incidents of violence have declined drastically. From the high of 3401 in 2003 it has come down to 887 in 2007 and the trend continues. With the capability of LET/JEM/HM combine weakening and the public mood in favour of peace, negotiations and settlement have become the main topic of public discourse. In J&K the separatist/secessionist elements are facing the problem of adjusting to changed mood in Pakistan. The Pak message to separatists to seek reconciliation has both angered and sobered the separatist-groups. While the hard-liners like SAS Gillani blame Pakistan for changing its stance on Kashmir; others even while praising Pak for its role in finding a peaceful solution, are at a loss to find a role for themselves, in an election year in the state. They are at the moment indulging in a blame game against each other, for letting down the movement and fashioning a response to the elections. Its galling for them to participate in elections but at the same time a boycott call will neither go down well with the people nor help them anyway. While the APHC (Gillani) is firm in its opposition to elections and any settlement with India, the APHC(M) a favourite of Pakistan and linked to a Pak role in a solution is praising Pak and insisting that Pak has not changed its policy in J&K. It is visiting Pakistan and may call for a dialogue and ignore the election issue as the best option. Some of the separatists expect the govt. of India to throw a life line, but the mainline political parties will oppose any such concession at this stage. Even the main local militant group HM has been ambivalent on the issue of violent resistance to the elections as in the past. It seems some kind of boycott call or indifference will be there, and process of negotiations with the separatists and (APHC(M) may start after elections. Pakistan at the moment preoccupied with its internal problems and is unlikely to get involved in J&K except doing enough to protect its role in any settlement
Meanwhile, it is expected that despite all the calls for boycott etc, the violence will remain within the manageable limits. Pakistan and ISI are too preoccupied internally to invole themselves activily in Kashmir. Only some elements within the ISI will try to do enough to keep the pot-boiling but only that much. In brief, Kashmir will continue to be in the news as elections approach – as there are still enough arms and potential for mischief – yet it will be a lower reading on the Richter Scale.
However, besides, Naxalism, the most important threat which country faces today is the continuing incidents of TERRORISM IN THE HINTERLAND. These incidents have unmistakable imprimatur of Islamic extremism and inspired and helped by Islamic radical elements in Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is an old ploy of Pak Army, ISI and establishment to dismember India by promoting fundamentalism and communal polarisation. Despite the thaw in Indo-Pak relations, it is believed that the ISI and radical Islamic groups like the LET, JEM, and HUJI, etc. continue to promote terrorist incidents. While several hundred Pak inspired modules have been neutralised in the past, these terrorist groups, starting from the Mumbai blasts of 1993, have succeeded in staging scores of explosions and attacks, resulting in loss of thousands of lives, injuries to more and destruction of property. In major incidents since Oct 29, 2005, blasts in Delhi on the eve of Diwali, to the latest serial blasts in Jaipur on May 13, 2008, 472 people have died and 1078 have been injured. This is not a minor irritant, as it causes popular discontent, undermines trust in governance and has the potential to influence or derail the Indo-Pak détente. Although, these dastardly incidents have failed in their objective is another matter. But these underline a mindset among some elements within the Pak establishment and the support they extend to Jehadi elements belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) Jaish-e-mohammad (JEM) and Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami-BD (HUJI) to destabilise India. Linkages of Hafiz Syed of Jamat-ul-Dawa –LET and Jaish leaders with Pak/ISI elements are well known. The public speeches of Hafiz Syed and the website of JD openly vow to destroy India and oppose any change in the policy of Pakistan towards Kashmir and India. While the hardliners in India cite this as in example of untrustworthiness of Pakistan, it must be acknowledged that there are still elements in Pak including in the establishment who do not favour any compromise with India. Only the Pakistan govt. can reduce their mischief potential and trust deficit on issues like Dawood Ibrahim etc. Or else allegations of a double-faced Pak strategy vis-ą-vis India and Afghanistan will persist.
It is these radical Islamic elements who had been behind the incidents in the past have set up sleeper cells in urban centres in India. While most of the major incidents of terrorist violence in the past were resolved quickly for the last at least two years the security agencies are finding it difficult to detect or pin-point the culprits. The investigations in the Bombay train blasts (11/7/06) Malegaon (8/9/06), Samjhauta Express (18/2/07) in Hyderabad (25/8/07), in Courts in UP (19/1/07) in Ajmer Dargah; and now Jaipur (May 13, 2008) have remained inconclusive except in the Bombay train blasts. Apparently the Jehadi groups have changed tactics and are, unlike in the past, using local elements to fabricate the explosives and stage incidents. These have brought in broad relief success of these Jehadi elements and HUJI, (Bangladesh) and some activists and cadres of SIMI to radicalise and create local cells, to stage violent incidents.
Security agencies have prevented a number of such incidents and
recent arrests of SIMI leaders in Madhya Pradesh and exposure of terrorists cells in Karnataka are good examples. This tactical change does not mean a change in strategy. Attacks on temples, mosques on Fridays, even in revered dargah of Khwaja Chisti in Ajmer are a piece, which cast a dark shadow on otherwise positive signs in Indo-Pak relations. It the Pak ISI and under its influence. HUJI -BD are still involved in these incidents, with a tactical change to ensure plausible deniability.
This change in tactics and public pressure for quick detection have put enormous pressure on security agencies. It has also started a debate in security circles on the need for a better coordination among various state police forces and the cental security agencies like the Intelligence Bureau. Apparently the counter-terrorism mechanisms created in the wake of the recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GOM) in 2003 need to work more effectively. Some reports of turf wars and inadequate financial and personnel support to these mechanisms are worrisome and these need to be sorted out with higher intervention. The working of the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) at Delhi and its counterparts in the states are the minimal requirements to meet the un-diminished terror threat to country’s integrity and tactical changes adopted by the radical groups from time to time.
The situation gets complicated by the involvement of intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh in assisting these groups. There is no need to panic as our anti-terror security apparatus had acquitted itself adequately in the past, and hopefully would again rise to the challenge. The Jaipur incident has also led to a demand for an unified central security agency to deal with the terrorist incidents which have trans-state implications. The states in the past have opposed such a move as a transgression on their responsibility for law and order in the state. Apparently, more efforts are required to convince the state govts and an appropriate legislation in the matter.
Another important aspect of the terrorist challenge is its social and political fall out which is being increasingly projected in the media and from other platforms. It also has a potential to put the investigation agencies on the defensive. It pertains to the allegations of singling out and persecution of the Muslim community after every incident. This complaint of stereotyping and harassing the community was articulated after the Mumbai train blasts and the Jaipur blasts. Such complaints were rare in the past as due to involvements of the outsiders these cases were quickly resolved and concluded. The current phase of the allegations are rooted in the following:
(1) public and media pressure on the police to resolve the cases quickly,
(2) greater involvement of local sleeper cells and new actors making detection difficult;
(3) keenness of the police to show some actions and results, and
(4) the ingrained prejudices against muslims.
These terrorists incidents being staged by the Islamic Jehadi elements, its natural that police will look for the culprits and the clues within that community and thus chances of harassments, and undue detentions and arrests increase. It is also true that some overzealous officials play to the gallery to show results. Therefore, there is need for caution both from the community and the police. No citizen can be harassed simply because of his community without evidence or proof. For example unnecessary actions against the Bangladeshi migrants in Jaipur simply because of suspected involvement of HUJI-BD in the incident was uncalled for and mindless. No Bangladeshi migrant’s involvement had been discovered in any of the past incidents. Hence suspecting and stigmatising the whole community is unnecessary without any proof. Proof will be always against individuals and not the community. The ingrained prejudices and a widespread US led propaganda against the Islamic terrorism should not be allowed to trump the rule of law and legal requirements. At the sametime the community should also not be oversensitive over questioning and detentions for investigation or else it will make the task of investigative agencies very difficult. For example SIMI is a subversives organisation and its members will be suspects. Their questioning will this be natural. In most cases they are let out after inquiries only. However, the muslim community has to be more pro-active in dispelling misconceptions about it and its stand vis-ą-vis terrorism.
Here a very healthy trend, appears to be unfolding . While it has been well known that the overwhelming majority among the muslims, particularly in India, neither supports nor subscribes to terrorism or violence. Yet it was not articulated in the past, particularly by the clerics, which was exploited by some elements to stigmatise the whole community. On Feby 25, in an unprecedented gathering of clerics at Durul Uloom in Deoband, condemned terrorism in all its manifestations and urged all muslims to rise above sects and denominations to fight terrorism as it is against Islam. It also urged authorities not to harass innocent muslims by framing innocent muslims and maligning their institutions like Madrasas etc. This initiative was followed up by a wider congregation on May 31, 2008 at the Ramlila grounds, in New Delhi under the banner of “Anti-terrorism Global Peace Conference” and issued a ‘Fatwa’ condemning violence and blood-shed and adopted a seven – point declaration inter-alia, condemning the propaganda, that “regards terrorism as synonymous with Jehad”. It at the sometime demands fair-play and social justice. A series of such public gatherings are going to be organised.
The abovementioned steps will go a longway in clearing the air and stereotyping of Islam and its connection with terrorism. There should be an effort to broadbase the initiative and turn it into a movement. Infact, only muslims can remove, the various uncalled for prejudices against them by being more active across the board in the political arena of the country. They should break out of the mindset, that because of history of partition they need patronage and protection of so-called secular parties. This has reduced them to vote-bank entities. As citizens of India they have equal rights and unless they assert themselves in an open manner they will continue to be hostages of the so-called secular and liberal groups.
|Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)|