India has agreed to resume its ‘composite dialogue' with Pakistan. Meanwhile, utterances by our politicians on ‘Hindu terrorism' have helped Pakistan deflect attention from 26/11. In this situation, India should not consider concessions on Siachen.

New Delhi appears to have lost a sense of direction in dealing with Pakistan. Dr Manmohan Singh came close to fashioning an agreement with President Musharraf on Jammu and Kashmir, which recognised that “while borders cannot be redrawn, we can work towards making them irrelevant — towards making them just lines on a map”. But, his belief that terrorism would not be allowed to undermine the “Composite Dialogue rocess” (CDP) with Pakistan, has cost us dearly both before and after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai.

Mr Vajpayee agreed to resume the CDP in January 2004, following an assurance from President Musharraf that “territory under Pakistan's control would not be used for terrorism against India”. India and Pakistan announced resumption of CDP, in all but name, on February 10, 2011. Worse still, the Mumbai carnage was reduced to a virtual footnote — just another terrorist incident — in the announcement.

‘HINDU TERRORISM'

India received unprecedented international support to deal with the perpetrators of 26/11. The Israelis have filed a highly publicised law suit in a New York Court against Lashkar Chief, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, and ISI boss, Lt. General Shuja Pasha, for their role in the Mumbai attack. We have, however, shot ourselves in the foot, thanks to some divisive and irresponsible statements by some of our politicians, voicing concern about “Hindu terrorism” in India.

The damage caused by these irresponsible statements became evident when I recently met a group of distinguished Pakistanis, who averred that India had no right to insist on action against the perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, as it had taken no action against the “Hindu terrorists” responsible for the deaths of Pakistani nationals in the Samjhauta Express bomb blasts.

Pakistan's official spokesman accused India of lacking the resolve to act against ““Hindu terrorists”. Pakistan has also launched a campaign claiming that the Indian army is full of “Hindu terrorists” like Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit, now under arrest, for involvement in the Malegaon blasts. The issue of “Hindu terrorism” was raised when Foreign Secretary, Ms Nirupama Rao, met her Pakistani counterpart, Mr Salman Bashir, in Thimphu.

ON PAKISTAN'S TERMS

Irresponsible statements have resulted in India paying a high price internationally. Moreover, India's response to Pakistan's assertions has been weak and incoherent.

Instead of asserting that terrorist acts allegedly executed by Indians (from SIMI and Abhinav Bharat) were exclusively in their own country, which cannot be equated with the 26/11 attack, our Government has been defensive and confused in handling the issue. This, in turn, has led to India being unable to force Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack to book. The Government has further weakened the Indian position by agreeing, to what, in effect, is resumption of the CDP with Pakistan.

Pakistan will now divert attention from the terrorism it sponsors, to its “grievances” on issues like river waters, to Siachen, Sir Creek and Jammu and Kashmir. While engaging with a neighbour is imperative even in times of conflict, as during General Musharraf's Kargil misadventure, what we now find is that even the terms of the dialogue are being set by Pakistan.

POSITION ON SIACHEN

Given the growing violence and religious extremism within Pakistan, it should be obvious that the weak civilian Government headed by President Zardari lacks the authority to take any bold measures on issues like terrorism, given the “India-centric” obsession of its Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. It is, therefore, astonishing that our Government is prepared to resume dialogue with Pakistan on Siachen.

Only a few years ago, the Prime Minister appeared agreeable to pulling out forces from Siachen. His readiness to consider withdrawal from Siachen was not only opposed by the Army, but also reportedly by even his own colleagues in the Government and Congress Party.

Given General Kayani's track record, it would be a perilous mistake to withdraw from Siachen in the belief that the Pakistan Army will keep its word and not move into areas vacated by us, as it did earlier in Kargil. Our Army has made it clear that if the Pakistanis walked into vacated positions in Siachen, we would not be able to retake these positions. Do the sacrifices of our men in uniform count for nothing?

New Delhi has already frittered away its trump cards in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, because of political leaders giving divisive, religious colours to terrorism, and due to its diplomatic naiveté. Under directions from General Kayani, the Pakistan Government has returned to the old rhetoric about Jammu and Kashmir and disowned the framework for a solution devised earlier with General Musharraf, which was based on territorial status quo. Does our Government seriously believe that talks between Foreign Secretaries will lead to General Kayani having a change of heart? Any pull out from Siachen has to be linked to a final settlement of the Kashmir issue. What's more, the perpetrators and masterminds of the 26/11 attack cannot be easily forgiven.

(This article was published on February 17, 2011)
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