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Terror, before Kashmir

A familiar pattern is emerging once again. In the face of allegations that Pakistani soil was used to conduct an attack on an Indian air force base, Islamabad has once again brought the Kashmir issue to the forefront. As both sides seek a mutually convenient date for foreign secretary-level talks—the first step in the recently-announced Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD) process—the Pakistan Prime Minister’s advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz said last week that Kashmir will top the agenda. A day before Aziz’s announcement, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated that until the Kashmir issue is resolved, there could no question of peace and development in the region. Shairf also said that the international community must come forward and aid the implementation of the United Nations resolution on Kashmir, evidently referring to the controversial question of a plebiscite. Islamabad is seemingly digging its heels on the point that there can be no positive movement in the dialogue process until discussions are held regarding Kashmir. Before the ill-fated Pathankot attack, both sides had agreed that their respective National Security Advisors would discuss terror-related issues. But India’s Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar, has already said that New Delhi will maintain its engagement with Islamabad to ensure that Pakistan keeps its commitment to act against terror targeted at India. In other words, India will raise its concerns on terror even during the foreign-secretary level talks. Suffice to say, terror has always been the Pakistan army’s instrument of choice when it comes to impinging upon India’s sovereign interests in Kashmir. On its part, New Delhi has reportedly provided Islamabad with a mountain of “actionable” evidence in not only the case of air base attack but also on the horrific 2008 Mumbai terror case. Therefore, for all intensive purposes, terror cannot be relegated to the background and New Delhi has made that amply clear. Moreover, as a show of good faith, Pakistan must speed up the legal process against the likes of LeT commander, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who had reportedly masterminded the Mumbai attacks. It must also bring to book those involved in the Pathankot air base attack. Only then, can both sides have an honest discussion on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan can’t have it both ways. It cannot use the instrument of terror to attack India’s sovereign interests while seeking talks on the Kashmir issue. Also, Islamabad and Rawalpindi must realise that the use of non-state actors to fulfil their strategic aims has horrific repercussions back in their own home.

One year after the horrific Peshawar school attack, armed terrorists stormed a university in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing 25 people, including students and, at least, one professor. A group of four terrorists had reportedly opened fire on students and teachers in classrooms and hostels at the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, which is approximately 30 miles from Peshawar. Suffice to say, the memories of the Peshawar school attack, where Pakistan Taliban gunmen killed 132 students, came flooding back. The attack on a university is yet another reminder for the Pakistan Army to give up its strategic use of terrorists against India and other neighbouring nations. 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.  While the Pakistan Army has waged a battle against the likes of Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistan Taliban), it has unfortunately continued to support terror organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. As this column has repeatedly stated, the Pakistan state establishment must ensure that initial actions against the JeM (allegedly responsible for the Pathankot attack) are translated into long-term and worthwhile steps. These steps must ensure the dismantling of terror groups. For far too long, the steps undertaken by the Pakistani state establishment to investigate home-grown terror have fallen apart. The most pertinent example is the botched Mumbai attack trial 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 will have nothing to gain.
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