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Tone down the rhetoric

Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday addressed the Rajya Sabha and said that he stressed on working against terror during his brief visit to Islamabad. Singh was in Pakistan for a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation ministerial meeting. In Parliament, he said he had asked all member nations to ratify global conventions against terror, and asked them not to “glorify” terror. 

But the real headline came on Pakistani soil. The Union Home Minister went beyond diplomatic niceties and delivered a stern message to Pakistan from its soil at the SAARC summit in Islamabad. “There should be strongest action not only against terrorists but also against nations who support terrorism,” he said. Singh also hit out at Pakistan for declaring slain Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani a martyr and added that there should be no glorification or eulogising of terrorists as martyrs. As this column recently argued, ties between India and Pakistan are at a new low. 

Tensions between both countries have escalated in the past month ever since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by Indian security forces in Kashmir. His death was followed by a wave of unrest in the Kashmir Valley. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thought it wise to open old wounds again and expressed shock at Wani’s death. He raised “concerns” about the human rights violations by Indian security personnel and further sought to instigate the Indian government, by claiming that he was “waiting for the day when Kashmir becomes Pakistan”. 

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj responded to this provocation by saying that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir belonged to India and that the neighbouring country can never “make this heaven on earth a haven for terrorists”. Pakistan had declared Burhan Wani a martyr and observed a black day against his killing. A further indication of this deterioration in ties was given by the Pakistani government’s decision to instigate a complete media blackout of Singh’s speech. 

Suffice it to say, both Islamabad and New Delhi have allowed tensions to escalate alarmingly fast. The posturing on display by both sides cannot and will not yield any solutions to the current impasse. This newspaper believes that the noise coming out of both sides needs to be turned down. Singh’s recent comments, albeit true, will not bring the decibel levels down. For any sustained peace in the region, both sides must maintain their faith in the dialogue process. Pakistan has clearly not helped matters. 

As the Indian Home Minister arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday, anti-India protests in various cities featured terrorists like Hizbul Mujahideen’s Syed Salahuddin and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar e Taiba, who roams free in Pakistan. At a rally in Lahore, Saeed lashed out at the Pakistan government’s decision to “welcome” Singh. Successive governments in Islamabad, in collusion with the armed forces and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), have tolerated these extreme elements in the past and used them to pursue strategic aims in Kashmir, despite the blowback of such a policy. The Indian government’s position has always been that Kashmir is an “internal matter”. But it is a fact that better ties with Pakistan are conducive to peace and normalcy in the region.   

Despite Singh’s assertions against Pakistan’s pro-terror policy, there isn’t much India can hope to achieve without concrete legal action against the like of Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and JeM chief Masood Azhar and support from the international community. In the past decade, American officials have sought to pressure Pakistan into denying safe havens for insurgent groups involved in destabilising Afghanistan, especially the Taliban and its brutal offshoot, the Haqqani network. But that has not created the requisite incentive for Pakistan to give up its terror apparatus, especially with China around the corner. 

Ever since Beijing decided to block UN sanctions against Pathankot attack mastermind Masood Azhar, there has been a growing feeling in New Delhi that China’s policies are driven by a malicious desire to undermine India’s security. Although it may be true, one must understand the finer nuances of China’s policy. In a recent column, Praveen Swami, a leading Indian analyst on international and security issues, writes: “Although the world sees China as a fire-breathing dragon, its leaders know their power rests on pillars of the most fragile porcelain. The armies massing (ISIS) in West Asia, Beijing fears, could bring the roof down on their half-century-long effort to build a great power. 

Facing a serious transnational terrorism threat, China’s security establishment finds itself under-resourced and ill-prepared. Its intelligence services don’t have the global reach of the US. Beijing, moreover, is sceptical of America’s expensive way of war. Instead, Beijing seeks to use regional clients like Pakistan to contain the threat.” It is a strategy fraught with risks.   
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