Indo-Pak ties: Terror angle

Anand K Sahay

Some recent disclosures about terrorist associations of prominent Pakistani politicians, and the sharp attack launched by the main opposition party on the Manomohan government’s Pakistan policy, might ordinarily have got the regime here rattled and prompted a re-think of the strategy to normalise relations with Islamabad.

But there are few signs of this happening. That denotes a degree of surefootedness here, and possibly also in Pakistan, which can be traced, in some measure, to the increasing public perception in the two countries that persevering with moves for stabilising ties in search of “irreversible” peace is a better bet than any in dealing with outstanding issues and past bitterness.

That is also a way to increase economic harmony in both countries. Further, the international political atmosphere after September 11 places a premium on avoiding sabre-rattling by discontented neighbours if this takes away the focus from the US “war on terror”, though American unilateralism and self-seeking associated with the venture is now widely acknowledged.

During a recent officially sanctioned visit of a Hurriyat team to Pakistan, a Kashmiri separatist leader branded the Pakistan information minister, Sheikh Rashid, as having been an organiser of a terrorist camp. This created considerable excitement here, but interestingly no public outcry.

Rashid is of Kashmir origin and has applied for permission to take the trans-LOC (line of control) bus to Srinagar.

It should be a surprise if New Delhi accords the necessary permission in the light of the public disclosure. If it does, it will probably be seen as weak-kneed by Islamabad and wimpish by domestic public opinion.

Though this might not be of immediate relevance, the former prime minister Nawaz Sharief, who has been exiled to Saudi Arabia by General Musharraf, too has recently

been outed by a retired senior ISI (Pakistan military intelligence) official as having met Osama bin Laden several times.

They also provide India some more diplomatic elbow room in pressing the point with Islamabad that the latter has to tighten up further in curbing the terrorist menace.

After all, as far as India is concerned, the fundamental basis for pushing the normalisation agenda is that Islamabad adhere to its January 6, 2004 commitment that it will not let its territory be used for terrorist purposes.

The BJP’s criticism lately that the UPA government has permitted the dialogue with Pakistan to become Kashmir-centric, and that it has allowed the initiative to pass to Pakistan’s hands, is being seen in India as an overstatement by the leading opposition party.

It is also being seen as an effort at over-compensation after the furore created by BJP president LK Advani when he described Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah as “secular” while on a visit to Pakistana earlier this month.

India-Pakistan discussions on troop withdrawls from the Siachen glacier are expected in the near future. It is to be seen how the talks play out in the context of recent developments.

Sahay, a journalist, writes for THT from New Delhi