India’s Pakistan policy — comprising uninterrupted dialogue and getting US to pressure Pakistan on terrorism — is falling apart.

For nearly a decade, the UPA Government has relied exclusively on two pillars to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. The first is the composite dialogue Process, which has been proclaimed as “irreversible” and “uninterruptible”.

The second is the belief that --- fearing further terrorist attacks after 9/11--- the Western world, led by the US, will pressurise Pakistan to end its support for groups promoting terrorism in India, Afghanistan and beyond. We are told that there is no alternative to the “composite dialogue”’ for peace and security. Is this really true?

Pakistan-sponsored terrorism — described as ‘low intensity conflict” in its military manuals — assumed serious dimensions in Punjab in the 1980s. This was followed by terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. Such terrorism spread across India after the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. By 1995, Chief Minister Beant Singh had effectively quelled militancy in Punjab. But even today, Punjab militants who were not eliminated, live comfortably in Lahore.

Encouraged by the antipathy of the Clinton Administration towards India, Benazir Bhutto ended all dialogue with India in 1994. Terrorism in J&K continued unabated, but Pakistan soon discovered during the tenure of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao that acts of terrorism elsewhere in India resulted in violence in populated centres like Karachi and Lahore. Terrorism in Indian urban centres virtually ended.

Agreeing to dialogue

Thereafter, I. K. Gujral came to preside over India’s foreign policy. Knowing his nostalgia for his land of birth and keenness for dialogue, the Pakistanis came forward with a proposal in 1997 for a “structured dialogue”. Rather than insist on giving priority to terrorism, Gujral agreed to a dialogue, while discussions on terrorism were to be combined with issues on drug smuggling.

The Pakistani aim was to ensure that discussions on Jammu and Kashmir inevitably failed so that it could then seek internationalisation of the issue. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee assumed charge and international pressures grew after the nuclear tests, the NDA Government was left with little choice but to go ahead with what Gujral had initiated. It agreed to a “composite dialogue process”’ with Pakistan — a process where terrorism was merely the fourth item on the agenda, clubbed with drug smuggling.

It is important to note that in the four years between Benazir Bhutto’s decision to end dialogue with India and its resumption when Gujral assumed office, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Punjab ended and was virtually non-existent across India, except in Jammu and Kashmir. This was largely because of measures by Narasimha Rao to ensure that Pakistan paid a high price on its territory for sponsoring terrorism in India.

The resumption of the Composite Dialogue in 1998 coincided with the emergence of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Kargil conflict commenced shortly after the first round of the composite dialogue. This was followed by an attack on the Red Fort in Delhi Fort in January 2001 by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the brazen attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 by the Jaish-e-Mohammed.

After a tense military standoff, clear signals of Pakistan backing off from terrorism came when Musharraf proposed a cease-fire across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir in November 2003. He thereafter agreed in January 2004 that he would not permit “territory under Pakistan’s control” to be used for terrorism against India.

The UPA Government is responsible for discarding the explicit linkage between terrorism and continuation of the dialogue process, agreed to in 2004. In its anxiety to continue the dialogue process at all costs, the Government insisted the dialogue process was “irreversible”. The diplomatic fiasco in Sharm el Sheikh — when the wounds of 26/11 were still raw — and the decision to welcome the Pakistan’s Prime Minister in Chandigarh for a cricket match, convinced Pakistan that India was ready to forget and forgive.

Confident of US support

Pakistan also appears to be confident that the other main thrust of India’s foreign policy -- of getting the Americans to pressurise it to act against terrorist groups -- is floundering. Heavily dependent on Pakistan for its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Obama Administration has bent backwards to grant immunity from prosecution to former ISI chief, General Shuja Pasha — who had been summoned by a Federal Court in New York for his alleged involvement in the 26/11 attack. The request for the reduction in imprisonment for David Headley was yet another manifestation of the same approach.

The new Secretary of State John Kerry has been effusive over what he claims is cooperation received from Pakistan in dealing with terrorism. This, despite diametrically opposite views expressed earlier by President Barack Obama and outgoing Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. The US Embassy in Islamabad announced that “both sides reaffirmed their commitment to a strong defence relationship”.

Pakistan’s confidence about continuing US support is evident from the manner in which it has reached an agreement with Iran on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and virtually handed over the strategic Gwadar port to China. General Kayani will demand a high price for facilitating American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The main pillars of India’s Pakistan policy, comprising “uninterrupted” dialogue and American backing on terrorism, are falling apart. The least that can be done is to discard the entire composite dialogue process and replace it with a process of engagement that focuses on terrorism. We should remember how Narasimha Rao showed little interest after 1994 in dialogue and made sponsorship of terrorism costly for Pakistan.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

(This article was published on February 13, 2013)
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