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Pros and cons of the joint war on terror

By K Subrahmanyam
September 21, 2006 16:09 IST
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K Subrahmanyam, the doyen of India's strategic affairs experts, assesses if the India-Pakistan joint working group on terrorism is a step in the right direction.

The agreement between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and General Pervez Musharraf on setting up a joint working group on terrorism has come in for widespread criticism.

More than that, the prime minister's reference to Pakistan being a victim of terrorism has angered many. There are also allegations that the prime minister's change of attitude and certification of Pakistan as a victim of terrorism was due to US pressure.

On the other side, there are several arguments in favour of the working group.

  • For one, General Musharraf has now accepted that terrorism is generated out of Pakistan. While he maintains that it is not State-sponsored he accepts that there are 'freelance' terrorists.
  • Second, terrorism is being accepted as a core subject to be discussed in a dedicated mechanism between the two countries.
  • Third, acceptance of freelance terrorists and groups within Pakistan would call for discussion of various groups in Pakistan, their activities and action taken against them.
  • Fourth, Indian public opinion will not allow any flexibility on the J&K issue unless it is satisfied that there is progress in dealing with terrorism in Pakistan.
  • Fifth, by terming Pakistan a victim of terrorism and separating the linkage between the Pakistani State and terrorist groups Pakistan is made more accountable in regard to controlling terrorist activity in its territory.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in eating and the effectiveness of this mechanism will depend upon Pakistani bonafides.

Pakistan has a record of a quarter of a century of outsmarting the US and the CIA on both nuclear proliferation and terrorism. In fact, they continue to support the terrorist Al Qaeda and Taliban even as they manage to get certificates of cooperation in the war on terror from the US president.

The resurgent Taliban today is putting up stiff fight against US and NATO forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan. They could not have got their money from the drug trade, could not have got their arms and could not have trained their men without Pakistani help.

Yet Pakistan maintains its innocence and is to receive F-16 aircraft as a reward for its cooperation in the war on terror.

US President George W Bush vowed that any country which gave asylum to Osama Bin Laden and his associates would be treated as an enemy. Even as the US air force was pounding Torah Borah mountains in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden and his senior associates slipped into Pakistani territory and are safely esconced there ever since.

To add insult to injury, General Musharraf asserts that Bin Laden is in southern Afghanistan, an area under the jurisdiction of US and NATO forces. He implies that the US has not been competent enough to capture bin Laden in territory in which it operates.

Having allowed the Taliban to regroup and surge in southern and eastern Afghanistan, he has concluded a ceasefire agreement in Waziristan which will make it a safe haven for the Taliban. He claims to have the word of honour of tribal elders that the area would be free of Taliban activity. The history of Afghanistan and switching and reswitching of loyalties of tribal chieftains in that country would bear witness to the fact that such promises are of very little value.

Similarly, Pakistan has got away with shielding Dr A Q Khan and his nonproliferation activities. A recently published book by BBC journalist Gordon Correra, Shopping for the Bomb reveals that the CIA and Western intelligence agencies were aware of Dr Khan's activities from 1987 onwards, and allowed him to carry on with his proliferation in the expectation that he would lead to the proliferating nations.

Despite this, General Musharraf gets away with his claim that A Q Khan operated on his own and the Pakistani government and the army were totally unaware of his proliferation activities. And US President George Bush accepts such a claim.

Today the US and NATO forces are put under risk because of Pakistani support to Taliban. Osama Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri are able to issue audio and video messages against US from their safe havens in Pakistan. Dr A Q Khan is safe from the interrogation of US and IAEA officials.

At the same time Pakistan is acclaimed to be in the forefront of the fight against terrorism. President Clinton now reveals that the plan to train Pakistani commandos to capture bin Laden was vetoed by General Musharraf as the army chief.

The 9/11 Commission has brought out that the attack on twin towers and the Pentagon was planned by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan. Money transfer to the lead attacker Mohammed Atta was made by Omar Sheikh, the Pakistani terrorist exchanged in Kandahar hijack.

The shoe bomber Richard Reid started his journey from Pakistan. Many of the terrorists who plotted the London transport system bombing were trained in Pakistan. The main players in the latest plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic had all visited Pakistan and were trained in terrorist training camps there.

In spite of all this the US is full of appreciation of Pakistan's role.

If Pakistan has rendered services to the US in the war on terrorism that would not be kept a secret. But the US media, US think tanks, US servicemen and European diplomats make no secret of Pakistan's support to the Taliban in the war in Afghanistan. Yet Pakistan has been able to get away with its massive terrorist activity against the US.

The only logical conclusion possible in these circumstances is that the US is under Pakistani nuclear blackmail. Pakistan has been able to convince the US that any pressure on it would lead to weakening of General Musharraf and his possible replacement by a jhadi general, and consequent risks of nuclear weapons and material falling into the hands of jihadis. Presumably, this blackmail has been effective and the US is prepared to put up with all Pakistani transgressions.

At the same time Pakistan feels that if terrorism is brought to an end, the US will lose all interest in Pakistan. Therefore terrorism has to be used an instrumentality to milk the US.

Given this record of Pakistan vis-a-vis the US, its successful dodging of responsibility for terrorism and its earning endorsement from the US leadership, Pakistan is not likely to be very cooperative in the joint working group in respect of terrorism generated from Pakistan vis-a-vis India.

India does not have even a fraction of the clout which the US has with Pakistan. In any case India has not made effective use of the material it has on Pakistani complicity in terrorism. Pakistanis killed and captured in Jammu & Kashmir or elsewhere are treated as statistics, and no attempt is made to project their links to Pakistani organisations and publish their photographs.

Though Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh were in Indian custody for years, their interrogation reports have not been made use of in the information campaign against terrorism.

There is no harm in having a joint working group and attempting to make terrorism a core issue in the India-Pakistan composite peace process. But there should be no illusion that it is going to be productive with the Pakistanis, the past masters in the art of practising terrorism and disowning responsibility.

Above all, there should be an Indian strategy about handling this issue. But do we have one?

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K Subrahmanyam