Fighting terror in South Asia – By Kuldip Nayar

“THERE is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,” Julius Caesar tells him. Pakistan could have told India the same thing at the meeting of the joint anti-terror mechanism: recent bomb blasts at Malegaon and Modasa were not the doing of ‘Muslims from across the border’.

Nor did the Pakistani delegation point out that India had its own Hindu terrorists, led by a woman and trained by some ex-army men belonging to an old Sainik school. The meeting, fourth in the series, was ‘positive’, although quiet.

The earlier ones generally ended up with New Delhi demanding the custody of criminals who had taken shelter in Pakistan and Islamabad asking for more evidence. New Delhi has given ‘more evidence’ of the ‘involvement of the ISI’ in the attack on India’s embassy in Kabul. Yet, the purpose was not to put Pakistan on the mat because it was conceded at that very meeting that there could have been ‘some other elements’ involved in the incident. The matter was left at that pleasant note. It was a new beginning of sorts.

On the day the representatives of India and Pakistan met in Delhi the prime ministers of the two countries discussed terrorism in Beijing. Both reiterated that they were committed to work together to clamp down on terrorist forces. “Terror is a common enemy of both India and Pakistan,” said Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani concurred with him. The equation between the two holds promise for the future.

What creates doubts is that a similar exercise was done more than a year ago. But that wasn’t translated into a joint anti-terror mechanism. The Musharraf-led army dragged its feet. However, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has put terrorism at the top of his agenda. This may mean the end of infiltrators into India. But if the policy has changed the reasons are not difficult to comprehend.

One, the terrorists have become a menace to Pakistan itself. But the most important development is the change in the attitude of the rulers. President Asif Ali Zardari is at the helm of affairs. His approach to Pakistan’s problems with India is different from that of the earlier regimes. He wants to befriend India.

I saw this happening from close quarters when I heard the national security advisers of the two countries. At a small dinner given by the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi, they said certain things which were unbelievable. India’s National Security Adviser M.K. Nayaranan admitted that he was a hawk but had come around to believe what Manmohan Singh told him: “India and Pakistan were destined to be together.” I do not know what transpired between the two during official meetings but Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani told me that the talks were more successful than he ever expected.

It looks as if the clouds of hostility that loomed over India and Pakistan are thinning. Both Manmohan Singh and Zardari reached some understanding on how to fight terrorism in the two countries when they met at New York. Both Narayanan and Durrani were asked to prepare the ground which they did at Delhi. The joint mechanism will be built on it in the days to come. It is obvious that the different agencies operating in the two countries will have to fall in line, stopping what they are doing within and without. In the next few days, the Pakistani training camps which are a sore point with India may be dismantled.

All these measures are laudable. But they are only the means, not the end by themselves. The end is to normalise relations between the two countries. This is not possible until both curb radicals, Hindus and Muslims, in their own territory and stop efforts at mixing religion with politics.

India, a secular polity, is under pressure. Hindutva is gaining ground. Despite their anti-national activities, New Delhi is reluctant to take action against the Sangh Parivar which has spread all over, opening Hindu Jagran Manch offices in every state. The members recruited are getting training and weapons. With its eyes on the forthcoming assembly elections and later to the Lok Sabha, the Congress is found too timid, too faltering.

It is already a bit too late because the politics of hate is spreading as has been seen in Bihar and Maharashtra where the lumpen are fighting on the streets. Hindu terrorists want an ethnic purity in the areas where they live. A new avatar of the Shiv Sena, Raj Thackeray, has created his counterparts in Bihar. One of their leaders came to Mumbai this week and killed four persons while looking for Raj Thackeray to wreak vengeance.

This trend is reminiscent of MQM’s violence in Karachi and it is tearing apart the society in both countries and creating fear in the minds of ordinary people. How will the joint mechanism check those who have communalised terrorism in India and politicised it in Pakistan? Both are contaminating the liberal and democratic atmosphere as the Tamil extremists (the LTTE) are doing in Sri Lanka and the Harkatul Jihad-i-Islami (HJI) in Bangladesh.

The entire South Asia requires a common mechanism to fight against the growth of disruptive tendencies. India had kept them in check with some courage and determination. But lately it looks as if politics has taken over because of the impending elections. India cannot fail South Asia when liberal, democratic values are beginning to matter in the region.

For that reason, Islamabad cannot afford to talk to the Taliban in the NWFP and Fata. This would look like buying peace. It makes no sense to New Delhi if the Taliban are won over for the time being. They will resume pushing their archaic thinking after having consolidated themselves.

It is a pity that Nawaz Sharif, who is all for a strong viable Pakistan, favours a settlement with the Taliban. He should have drawn a lesson from what has happened to Asfandyar Wali Khan. Wali, along with his family, has taken refuge in London because the Taliban tried to kill him and threatened to eliminate the entire family. They are against any liberal thought. Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League should stand by the Pakistan People’s Party to eliminate the Taliban who have a dream to rule both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The region’s dream is different.

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi