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Why Pak needs to keep the peace process going

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Last updated on: February 24, 2007 00:05 IST

Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri's visit to Delhi concluded successfully and in a businesslike manner in spite of the blasts on the Samjhauta Express overshadowing the visit.

Kasuri emphasised the need for the two countries to face terrorism jointly. An agreement on reducing the risks from accidents relating to nuclear weapons, already finalised between the two foreign secretaries, was signed by the two foreign ministers and came into force. 

A meeting of Directors-General of Military Operations was agreed on to progress the Siachen issue further. The issues of Sir Creek, Indian and Pakistani prisoners in the jails of each other, arrangements for committees of judges to visit jails in the two countries in this respect, cooperation among the officials of the two railway systems in the light of the Samjhauta terrorism, and introduction of new category of tourist visas were among the issues discussed between the two foreign ministers. The tenor and atmosphere of the discussions revealed that the peace process between the two countries is being sustained in a satisfactory manner.

It escaped the attention of the media except in the case of one national daily, that India's foreign secretary, the last high commissioner to Pakistan, was away in Washington during Kasuri's visit. One report mentioned that Shiv Shankar Menon was to discuss with US authorities the regional situation in the subcontinent arising from Pakistan's growing instability and its precipitous slide into extremism. There is also a perceptible change in the tone of Pakistani references to terrorism these days. Pakistan has had a series of suicide bombings in the last two months.

Kasuri blamed the US and its allies and their strategy of assembling Mujahideen during the anti-Soviet war and indoctrinating them for the development of suicidal jihadi terrorism all over the world and particularly in this region.

Earlier, Kasuri had been optimistic about a solution to the Siachen issue and even on making progress on Kashmir.

In the last two months there have been frequent mentions in the Western media about the possibility of violent clashes between the coalition forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban forces foraying into Afghanistan from Pakistani tribal territory. The Western coalition claims to have inflicted heavy casualties on Taliban forces and even killed a commander. There is speculation about the anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban, and NATO coalition forces are being prepared to repulse it.

It is obvious that the truce Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf concluded with tribal elders, stipulating that tribal territory would not be used to launch attacks, has not been working and the coalition authorities have complained that attacks across the Pak-Afghan frontier have increased threefold. Though the US administration spokespersons and the top leadership continue to praise General Musharraf for his cooperation in the war on terror, at official levels in Washington and field levels in Afghanistan, officials and senior military commanders have been scathing in their criticism of the inadequacy of Pakistani efforts to counter the activities of jihadis.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been unsparing in his complaints about Pakistani complicity in the anti-Afghan activities of the Taliban based in Pakistan. John Negroponte, the coordinator of all intelligence in the US, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Al Qaeda was 'cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe'. Though Pakistani officials tried to dismiss this testimony, Musharraf could not have been in any doubt what weight Negroponte's testimony carried. Following this, in January 2007 a bill was passed by US Congress expressing its displeasure over the inadequacy of Pakistani cooperation. The new US defence secretary, Robert Gates, paid a visit to Pakistan and met Musharraf. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exhorted NATO ministers to step up their participation in the military effort in Afghanistan.

Musharraf faces a dilemma. He appears to be unable to control the activities of the Taliban against Afghanistan and NATO forces deployed there. In case of future attacks, NATO forces are likely to retaliate with their superior ground weaponry as well as their air force and helicopters, both manned and unmanned. Such retaliation may subject Pakistani territory and personnel to US/NATO fire. There have been allegations in the Pakistani media that US helicopters operated in Pakistani territory and opened fire on a couple of occasions. The Pakistani government shielded the US by owning up responsibility.

Musharraf also appears to be under attack from the jihadi elements who object to his cooperation with the US. The series of suicide bombings of the last two months indicate the extent of his alienation from the jihadis. In these circumstances, in 2007 Musharraf faces a situation more critical than the one he faced after the 2002 confrontation with India. At that time the US Administration was not as unfriendly to him as it is today. The jihadis were not as defiant as they are today.

In addition he has to worry about the political situation in Pakistan, which goes to the polls towards the end of the year. He is trying to reach a modus vivendi with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. That would alienate the Islamist parties who supported him in the last elections.

Given these circumstances he does not want to exacerbate the situation vis-à-vis India too. He has come out against extremist separatist elements in the Hurriyat. Kasuri talks of the possibility of solutions to the Kashmir issue. The growth of the Indian economy at around nine percent, the Indian economic performance on the global scene, improving relations between China and India, the continuing enhancement of Indo-US relations and the ratings of the Manmohan Singh government should make Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence re-evaluate its strategy of bleeding India through a thousand cuts. On the other hand, Baluchistan is in turmoil and if the Taliban makes successful inroads into Afghanistan it will antagonise not only the US and European Union but Iran and Russia as well. Musharraf has publicly warned about the sectarian divide in the Islamic world and its catastrophic consequences.

Brilliant tactician that he is, Musharraf should be assessing carefully the overall security situation in which Pakistan finds itself. In these circumstances it is easier to deal with India and ensure a relatively non-provocative posture vis-à-vis Delhi.  He is not in a position to control the jihadis he has already let loose against India who are operating in Kashmir and the rest of India as sleeper modules. He cannot also show himself as being too eager to make peace with India since that would trigger greater jihadi activity against himself.  So the safest course is to keep the peace process moving -- no doubt at a snail's pace but forward alright.

In India have we thought through and assessed the developments in Pakistan in the next 10 to 12 months?

K Subrahmanyam