Countering India’s diplomatic assault —Talat Masood

Despite the current tensions, it is encouraging that Islamabad and New Delhi are keeping diplomatic channels open and envoys have not been recalled. Talks should continue to manage the crisis and put the peace process back on track

India has been intensifying diplomatic and military pressure on Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. Having assembled diplomats from over 120 capitals, it is now launching a massive diplomatic offensive against Pakistan. By mobilising world opinion in its favour, it expects that most of these countries would apply pressure on Islamabad as well to be more responsive to Indian demands.

In the short term, India’s objective is for Pakistan to take action against individuals like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and dismantle organisations like the Lashkar-e Tayba and Jama’at-ud Dawa. According to India, what Pakistan has done so far is not enough.

Islamabad justifiably wants evidence so that it can proceed against these organisations and individuals in a manner that can lead to convictions in courts of law. India has not shared any information with Interpol either, although limited information has been shared with the CIA and the FBI. The Indian government has admitted that it is still in the process of collecting and finalising evidence. New Delhi should have at least partially shared information as it did with its western allies, but regrettably, the level of trust is so low between India and Pakistan that New Delhi thinks its intelligence sources will be compromised by any sharing of intelligence.

From the Indian perspective, Pakistan remains in a state of denial, is not sincere in proceeding against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, and is merely finding excuses to stall the issue. New Delhi also claims that it has given information about Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks. Islamabad flatly denies that any such individual exists in Pakistan, and media attempts to confirm his origin have been obstructed by authorities.

With general elections looming in India, the BJP is playing politics and putting pressure on the Congress to act tough with Pakistan
. The argument advanced by many Indians is that in 2004, President Pervez Musharraf had given categorical assurance to India and the international community that militant organisations will be dismantled, but this was never honoured. There may be an element of truth in this allegation, but the ground reality is that even with the best of intentions, it is not possible to dismantle Lashkar-e Tayba or Jama’at-ud Dawa overnight.

The Pakistani government, in concert with the military, is trying to proceed against these organisations, but would not like to be seen to be pushed around by India. Pakistan has to decide on its own that the existence of such organisations is detrimental to its national interest. Dismantling militant organisations requires that they be disarmed, demobilised and demotivated, and the personnel rehabilitated. Further, Jama’at-ud Dawa has been engaged in social work in remote areas, which has been appreciated by the Pakistani public.

Therefore, getting rid of these organisations would require careful handling, rigorous planning and effective execution, which have been lacking in the past. Doubts are being raised by New Delhi and by the international community that the current civilian leadership in Pakistan is incapable of undertaking this task, and that the military along with the ISI is pursuing the old path of using militants as a countervailing force to tie down Indian forces in Kashmir.

Hence one finds a stream of high-level military and civilian visitors from the US, Europe and the rest of the world to Pakistan, urging it to come good on its commitments. On the diplomatic front, India has already succeeded in getting both the Laskhar-e Tayba and the Jama’at-ud Dawa banned by the UN Security Council.

To counter India’s moves, Pakistan should mount its own diplomatic offensive, explaining that it is doing all that it can, and is prepared to extend full cooperation to India in investigating the Mumbai attacks. And that if there is involvement of Pakistani elements, then it is prepared to take appropriate action against them. It is, however, not possible for Pakistan to hand over its citizens to another country without sufficient evidence being provided by the aggrieved country.

New Delhi continues to cite that after 9/11, Pakistan handed over several of its citizens to the United States, and that Pakistan should take similar action with the Mumbai suspects. However, India is not the United States, and Pakistan is no longer under military rule, when it was possible to circumvent all legal procedures. Also, if the government even contemplated such a move, there would be severe political backlash.

Keeping in mind the nature of the threats emanating from New Delhi, it is vital that Pakistan takes appropriate defensive measures. In all probability, tensions will not be allowed boil over as both governments realise the horrendous consequences of escalation in a nuclear environment. Besides, India is set on an upward economic curve, and its economy would receive a serious setback.

India is also aware that Pakistan is no soft target, and that its armed forces are fully capable of giving a befitting response. Nonetheless, to back diplomatic efforts, it probably feels that it has to demonstrate military resolve. There is no alternative for Pakistan but to keep its armed forces under high alert to convey to India and the international community that it is fully prepared to respond in case India opts for the military option.

The role of US and the international community is also a major restraining factor in the current crisis. The primary interest of US is that the Pakistani armed forces remain focused on the western border, considers any diversion of resources toward the eastern front to be detrimental to the war on terror. The other significant factor from the western perspective is that the lines between Al Qaeda and militant outfits such as Lashkar-e Tayba are getting blurred and the two are reinforcing each other. The West considers these jihadi organisations to be a serious threat. For this reason, there is concerted pressure on Pakistan.

In order to tackle these serious external and internal threats, the government will have to take several measures to inspire confidence. It should reach out to all political circles to gain support and present a united front to the world.

At the same time, Pakistan should continue to engage with India as well as with its allies to lower tensions. Fortunately, despite the current tensions, it is encouraging that Islamabad and New Delhi are keeping diplomatic channels open and envoys have not been recalled. Talks should continue to manage the crisis and put the peace process back on track.

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at (Daily Times)