Originally Published 2005-07-17 04:43:48 Published on Jul 17, 2005
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not have been more categorical when he said, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, that Pakistan was only making half-hearted attempts to dismantle terrorist infrastructure.
Forceful intervention
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not have been more categorical when he said, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, that Pakistan was only making half-hearted attempts to dismantle terrorist infrastructure.

The statement, in the wake of a tough anti-hijacking law and a series of carefully worded notes to Pakistan on terrorism by the Prime Minister in the past two months, marks a clear departure from the soft approach to the peace process first adopted by the Vajpayee Government and subsequently by the Manmohan Singh Government. It sets a new tone and direction for the peace process.

It is important to dissect the references implied in the Prime Minister's statement to try and understand the direction the peace process might take in the near future, and what are the possible speed breakers, turning points or cul de sac. First, the Prime Minister has clearly accused Pakistan of not keeping its promise enunciated in the India-Pakistan Joint Press Statement issued at Islamabad on January 6, 2004. President Pervez Musharraf had "reassured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner".

Second, the Prime Minister was making it clear that terrorism was still an important issue for India. Third, the peace process was not irreversible as being suggested by Pakistan, if the issue of terrorism was not tackled. Fourth, India was ready to adopt hard options if terrorism continued unabated. Fifth, Pakistan must respond to India's concerns on terrorism at the earliest.

There is a reason for Prime Minister Singh's measured tone on terrorism. There is increased evidence that cross-border terrorism is on the rise. There is also intelligence information, corroborated by other independent sources, of newly trained terrorists waiting to cross over. The number of terrorist training camps is also not getting fewer as expected. The figures for monthwise infiltration this years are as follows: January - 19; February five; March - seven; April - 44; May - 32; June - 72; and, July - 171.

The reference point is July 2004 when the figure of infiltration was 117. There is a clear indication of a substantial increase in the infiltration across the Line of Control, especially at a time when the peace process between the two neighbours was at its peak. Such increase in the level of infiltration is not possible without the aid of the establishment - either the Pakistan Army or the ISI, or both. In all likelihood, the level of infiltration will go up considerably in the next two months before the high passes of Pir Panjal close down due to snow.

There will be substantial attempts to push in as many terrorists as possible before winter sets in the Valley. By a credible report, there are at least 400 to 500 infiltrators awaiting the right time to cross over. The number of terrorist training camps has only seen a rise. There are in all 54 training camps-27 in PoK, eight in Punjab, 15 in NWFP, one in Sindh and three in Northern Areas.

These facts have to be read with statements issued by different terrorist leaders in the past few months to understand the gravity of the situation. Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed has been consistently targeting India and the US in his Friday prayers at Lahore. Saeed runs one of the most lethal and organised terrorist infrastructures in Pakistan. His headquarters at Muridke witnesses annual congregations of terrorists and their sympathisers, including some senior Pakistan civil and military officials.

In an interview to Urdu newspaper, Khabrain, Saeed said on July 20 that Islam allowed fidayeen attacks. He said fidayeen attacks were different from suicide attacks. He also claimed that Lashkar had introduced the concept of fidayeen attacks when his teams attacked Army cantonments in Kashmir. He said Quran supported the concept of jihad and "they would support it and they would also extend support to the organisations, active in jihad anywhere in the world".

What will be the likely impact of this re-focus on terrorism on the peace process and what could be the possible scenarios in case there is a repeat of Ayodhya attack in the near future? First a caveat: It is always next to impossible to attempt a prediction on an extremely capricious issue like India-Pakistan relations. It is nevertheless important to do so as a measure of precaution or forewarning. The focus on terrorism will certainly change some of the rules of the game as far as the peace process is concerned.

For the past several months, cross-border terrorism had been consciously relegated to the backburner for various reasons, an important one was to keep the momentum of the process. It was a difficult choice for India, especially in view of Pakistan's insistence on including Kashmir as the centre-piece of the peace process. After calibrating a host of moves to engage Pakistan at several fronts, including Kashmir, it was felt that time was ripe to discuss the issue of terrorism.

The fact that Prime Minister Singh chose to make the opening gambit in Washington was no less significant. It was a clear policy statement. India was determined to pursue the terrorism issue. It directly impacted Kashmir. There was no way any discussion on Kashmir could be held without bringing in terrorism. If Pakistan had not launched a proxy war in Kashmir in 1989 and thereafter, Kashmir would not have become an international issue. By its persistent rhetoric and actions, Pakistan had generated such high expectations in its people on Kashmir that it had been the cause of at least four conflicts in the past half-a-century.

By articulating his concerns on terrorism forcefully, Mr Singh has only voiced India's stated policy on terrorism. He is in fact shaping a new nuanced policy on terrorism. The anti-hijacking law is a case in point. There is nothing ambiguous about its provisions or intent. The Prime Minister is making it clear that his government is not going to tolerate terrorism. He is not mincing words either. He is letting it known that he is prepared to take risks with the peace process. By making his views known publicly, from international platforms, the Prime Minister is testing waters, daring to challenge the pre-set thresholds, and thereby making the process stronger. He is putting the onus on Pakistan's leadership to abide by its promises and not hoodwink the process in the name of peace.

At another level, the Prime Minister's insistence on raising the issue of terrorism is a plea for peace, to exhort Pakistan to give up its alliance with terror groups, to invite the global community's attention towards a problem which is no longer confined to Kashmir. With Pakistan increasingly standing accused of promoting a global network of terrorism, Mr Singh's cautionary notes on Pakistan's half-hearted measures to deal with terrorist groups will find an empathetic echo in a concerned international community. It is now up to President Musharraf to respond to these concerns with steps (not another televised address) that can be verified by the international community.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, August 17, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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