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Will PM’s goodwill gestures work?

Will PM’s goodwill gestures work?
Following the ruthless massacre of children by the Taliban in Peshawar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made several gestures towards Pakistan to express India’s solidarity in the fight against terrorism. However, the question remains, whether such remarks will have any impact on Pakistan’s hardcore policy to bleed India through “a thousand cuts” by using its “assets”, who are militants among the Taliban and other such terror groups.

Some Indians in the government and otherwise are hopeful about the Modi’s latest gesture due to Pakistan’s quick response in detaining one of the alleged masterminds of 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, for three more months. Islamabad’s move comes despite a court’s decision to grant him bail. But I for one, will agree with some Indian legal experts such as Ujjwal Nikam, who believe it was just an “eye wash”.

The special public prosecutor in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack case, Ujjwal Nikam, notes that although the Pakistani government could have moved the apex court or sought a stay from the same anti-terror court, it did not go that way. Instead Lakhvi was detained under Maintenance of Public Order, giving Lakhvi leeway to challenge the detention order and get it reversed. Nikam also notes that there was no public prosecutor in the court to oppose the bail, since he was among the lawyers who were boycotting the court on that day. Even then the government neither appointed a new prosecutor to replace him nor did it ask for an adjournment.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that from now on there would be “no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban” and that “the war against terrorism [will go on] until the last terrorist is eliminated.” Despite an open admission of previous errors, many observers of India-Pakistan relations remain unconvinced.

They note that Pakistan, because of its deep sense of insecurity regarding India and Afghanistan, has pursued a strategy that combines the conventional elements of deterrence with the use of militant groups that are unleashed to harass its rivals, while wearing a thin facade of deniability. One Pakistani official jokingly told me once in Washington that it is much cheaper that an unwinnable war.
Echoing India, angry US officials have also warned Pakistan of the potential consequences of its policies. During her visit to Pakistan in 2011, then secretary of state Hillary Clinton told reporters, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”

Both Indian and US experts believe that Pakistan’s policy of using militants as proxies is “too deeply entrenched”. They believe that Pakistan will go after the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), but as usual leave the rest untouched, and thereby defying India and its other neighbour. As the whole world condemned Pakistan’s policy of sheltering and using terrorists after the Peshawar massacre, maybe an opportunity arose for India to conduct swift surgical operation against militant training camps on the other side of the LOC in Kashmir. But considering the past record of previous BJP governments on terrorism, it seemed unlikely that India was going to act tough and give Pakistan a taste of its own medicine.

I still remember how the previous BJP government dealt with the highjacking of an Air India flight that was forcibly taken from Nepal to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1999. The erstwhile BJP government bent over backwards to free the hostages and released three hardcore Kashmiri militants, Maulana Masud Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, who were detained in Indian jails. They were taken to Kandahar in a special plane by ten foreign minister Jaswant Singh. What appalled me the most was the Indian government’s impotent reaction post the hostage situation. The Indian officials helplessly witnessed those Kashmiri militants and the three Taliban hijackers fleeing to Pakistan in a white Ford truck from the scene of the crime at Kandahar airport.

For me, New Delhi should have sternly demanded the same day that Pakistan return them to India, since they were released under duress, just to save the lives of the innocent passengers on the plane. Since the sympathy of the whole world was with India at that time, Pakistan could have been easily pushed to the wall to return them or face the possibility of closing all ties with India. But the previous BJP government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee did nothing of that sort. The Indian covert establishment did not even plant a satellite linkable transponder on the released hostages, so that it could recapture them later.

After his release Maulana Masud Azhar escaped into Pakistan along with his brother, who was the leader of the hijackers. He revived the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen faction of the Harkat-ul-Ansar and renamed it as Jaish-e-Mohammad. JeM started its militant activities again in Kashmir with its base in PoK. He is supposed to be the master-mind behind the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh developed links with JeM, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, the Taliban and further strengthened his ties with the Al-Qaeda. It is believed that he was one of the main financiers of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. And Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar now heads Al Umar Mujahideen, a group that said last year that the armed struggle was the only way Kashmir issue can be resolved and it would do everything to liberate Kashmir.

Even today, Maulana Masud Azhar continues to hold anti-India rallies across Pakistan, where lakhs of Pakistanis gather, cheer and treat him like a super-hero and Islamabad refuses to top him in any which way. Modi may get another chance to toughen his stance when one of these days Pakistani militants conduct another attack on the Indian soil. Experience tells me that the day may not be far.

The author is a former South Asia bureau chief of Voice Of America

Ravi M Khanna

Ravi M Khanna

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