The Bilateral Comprehensive Dialogue process between India and Pakistan will not take off as scheduled on Friday. The decision to defer the talks between the respective Foreign Secretaries was made by “mutual consent” and both sides are reportedly holding consultations to reschedule them. Meanwhile, reports from Pakistan suggest that its state establishment has made moves to contain the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which India holds responsible for the recent attack in Pathankot. Operatives of the group have reportedly been arrested, while JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar has been taken into “protective custody”, according to a provincial minister. Even as it pushes for stringent action against Azhar, the Indian government seems mostly satisfied with Pakistan’s actions. Speaking to the media, Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, called the action against JeM operatives “an important and positive first step”. Moreover, India will allow a Pakistani Special Investigation Team to probe the Pathankot terror attack in India. It is a sign that the high-level diplomacy and the personal involvement of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, allied with the Pakistan military, may pay off. In its attack on the Pathankot air base, the JeM and its sympathisers in the Pakistani military establishment, sought to derail the peace process. But through their mature responses, India and Pakistan seem to have thwarted the JeM’s aims.
Although the Pakistan government seems to be acting tough on the JeM, one must ask why its offices are being sealed only now, thirteen years after the group was banned by the state. Such a cynical response can be extended to the lack of concrete action against Jamaat-Ud-Dawa head Hafiz Saeed as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi before him. Despite the ban, it is amply clear that many of these terror groups reappear stronger and more resilient. Until he was taken into “protective custody”, Massod Azhar roamed around in Pakistan a free man, preaching jihad across the country. As this column has repeatedly stated, the Pakistan state establishment must ensure that initial actions against the JeM are translated into long-term and worthwhile steps. Suffice to say, these steps must ensure the long-term dismantling of militant groups. For far too long the steps were undertaken by the Pakistani state establishment to investigate home-grown terror have fallen apart. The most pertinent example is the botched trial of 26/11 attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. And going by past attempts at taking action against terror groups and their leaders, it is not unreasonable be believe that nothing will come of it. However, by coming back to square one, Pakistan has nothing to gain.
With the resources available, these terror groups will hire a sophisticated legal team to tackle the evidence presented by India. The Pakistani state establishment must back India on this front. Without any action on home-grown terror, New Delhi will not engage with Islamabad on the Kashmir issue. And there is no other way of achieving a long-term solution on Kashmir without a conversation. If it wants any engagement on the Kashmir issue, the Pakistani establishment will do well to dismantle home-grown terror groups. It only has to look back at the damage home-grown terrorism has left behind. In December 2014, seven gunmen belonging to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked Army Public School in Peshawar, killing 141 persons including 132 pupils aged between eight and 18 years. Although it was an attack on the Pakistan military’s establishment, few lessons have been learnt. As former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had once remarked, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour. Unless and until such terror organisations are allowed to operate and organise within Pakistan, its government will have to take responsibility for the attacks they conduct outside their borders.
Addressing the dialogue process specifically, both Islamabad and New Delhi have to follow through on their promises. Meanwhile, they must also ensure that hawks on either side are not heard loudly. Ridiculous incidents like the Hindu extremists vandalising the office of Pakistan’s national airline in Delhi could have presented unforeseen repercussions. Finally, the dialogue process must address domestic constituencies, without jeopardising the delicate understanding that has been established by the two governments. If both governments can achieve this particular aim, we can be sure of actual progress in India-Pakistan relations. Until then, let’s keep our respective fingers crossed.