On Sunday Dec. 6, India’s security agencies disclosed that they had stopped a terrorist group based in Pakistan from assassinating India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and launching a 26/11 Mumbai type of attacks in New Delhi. Forty-eight hours later, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj departed for Pakistan in what amounted to a contradiction of India’s stance toward terrorism in the wake of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The trip also represented a denial of ground realities and continued a bizarre terrorism opera that masquerades as just another episode in India’s diplomatic maneuvers with Pakistan.
Seven years after their unprecedented attack on India’s financial capital, the same terrorist group from Pakistan apparently came close to repeating a similar outrage in the national capital of New Delhi. It’s another disturbing incident in a situation where successive Indian governments are failing to deal with the denial and serial deceptions of Pakistan, a country accused of sheltering and supporting terrorists.
I am among perhaps millions of baffled Indian citizens unable to understand our government’s ongoing dealings with Pakistan. What is being done flies in the face of frequent international accusations that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism.
Conventional understanding is that sincere talks between governments are the best way to solve bilateral problems. So it absolutely is. But India’s political establishment continues to forget that dealing with Pakistan is not the same as dealing with governments of other countries, as for example, in the case of India’s border dispute with China. As admitted by Pakistan’s political leaders like former President Asif Ali Zardari and current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the civilian government there has little influence in foreign policy matters when compared with the military and its intelligence arms.
In dealing with the opaque, dark forces that actually rule Pakistan, the paradox is this: Peace talks have not stopped the quasi-criminal powers in that country from providing logistics support and shelter to terrorist groups like the one behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. This paradox has been proved by repetitive terrorist strikes in India since the serial 1993 bomb blasts in what was then called Bombay – whose perpetrator, Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian government says, resides in Pakistan.
Failure to accept this paradoxical reality is the reason for decades of India’s failed bilateral diplomacy at all levels – from prime ministerial summits to “back channel” efforts like the secretive talks reported this week in Thailand between the national security advisers of both countries.
Incredibly enough, one of the important items on foreign minister Swaraj’s agenda was an effort to permit a lucrative cricket series between the two countries. It’s the old vicious cycle that never leads anywhere. If diplomatic talks and cricket matches are likely to usher peace between India and the hidden forces ruling Pakistan, why then break off talks and cricketing ties immediately after every terrorist attack in the first place?
In the gap between cutting off and resuming diplomatic ties, Pakistan has not budged an inch from refusing to meet India’s demands following every terrorist attack: Bring the terrorists to book/hand over the terrorists being sheltered in Pakistan. There has been no change in the terrorist-sponsoring machinery across the border. Yet, in each instance, India dangerously shifts its diplomatic position back to where it was before the last terrorist strike took place.
Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Likewise, successive Indian governments conduct “peace talks” with a powerless civilian government; and then the false hope and mirages of media-hailed “breakthroughs” vanish abruptly with the next terrorist attack. We can expect similar results from similar “diplomacy” from Prime Minister Modi in the event of another major terrorist attack. It’s more than ironic that just such an attack was reported as being foiled on Dec. 6.
India’s Foreign Minister Swaraj’s latest official visit to Pakistan a mere two days after the exposure of the latest terror plot seems a treasonable surrender in India’s stance against terrorism. It outlandishly contradicts her own comments to the United Nations in October. Here is a portion of her UN speech in New York only two months ago:
“While on the subject of terrorism, I take the opportunity to share the challenges that we face in our ties with Pakistan. None of us can accept that terrorism is a legitimate instrument of statecraft. The world shared our outrage at the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which citizens of many nations were helplessly butchered. That the mastermind behind the attack is walking free is an affront to the entire international community. Not only have past assurances in this regard not been honoured but new cross-border terrorist attacks have taken place recently, in which two terrorists from across the border have also been captured alive. We all know that these attacks are meant to destabilize India and legitimize Pakistan’s illegal occupation of parts of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir and its claim on the rest of it.
“Let me use this occasion to spell out our approach clearly. India remains open to dialogue. But talks and terror cannot go together. Yesterday the Prime Minister of Pakistan proposed what he termed as a four-point new peace initiative. I would like to respond. We do not need four points, we need just one – give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk. This was precisely what was discussed and decided by the two Prime Ministers at Ufa this July. Let us hold talks at the level of NSAs on all issues connected to terrorism and an early meeting of our Directors General of Military Operations to address the situation on the border. If the response is serious and credible, India is prepared to address all outstanding issues through a bilateral dialogue.”
“Give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk….”she said. And barely 48 hours after India’s security agencies say they uncovered a plot by the same terrorist group in Pakistan behind the Mumbai attacks to launch a similar 26/11 type of assault in New Delhi, off she is to Pakistan thinking it a fine time to resume doing business as usual !
The only change since 26/11/2008 is that the same killers from Pakistan have announced they are back in business big time with bigger targets. And this is the precise time the Modi government has decided would be fitting to revert to routine– including playing bat and ball games, and announcing that Modi will be soon visiting Pakistan.
President Barack Obama, please note this follows the US playbook in dealing with the likes of Syria, Iran, Sudan and Islamic State, the murderous terrorist organization running large swathes territory in the region: Have summit meetings with countries that host and support terrorist masterminds, organize bilateral basketball and baseball series with sponsors of terrorism. Follow the same advice the US government often gives India in dealing with a state sponsor of terrorism: Have talks. No economic sanctions, no pressure points applied and don’t even think of arguing with missiles, bombs and armed boots on the ground.
If the weight of the Indian government’s accusations against Pakistan are even 50% true, then the use of non-violent alternatives like economic sanctions, and isolating Pakistan internationally until it stops hosting terrorist groups is long overdue. But what happened to the likes of Iran has never happened to nuclear-armed Pakistan, even though it’s supposed to be the mother ship to Asia’s deadliest terrorist groups.
The only way to deal with state-sponsored terrorism is a firm, unshakable, single point agenda: “First, shut down your terrorist training work as proof of your sincerity in peace talks.” The first non-negotiable starting step in dealing with violent criminals is to stop that criminal from more criminal violence.
It’s unrealistic to expect truly successful peace talks with Pakistan until its civilian government gains control over its army and rogue intelligence service. That’s a problem for the people of Pakistan to sort out. Braver professionals in the Pakistani media have been muzzled, and those with independent work ethics and views are threatened, like my courageous Asia Times colleague Syed Saleem Shahzad who was found brutally murdered in May, 2011.
The Modi government’s horrendous U-turn in dealing with the country he and his colleagues have accused of being a state sponsor of terrorism has only served to effectively explain: 1) why the people of Pakistan and neutrals do not take those accusations seriously; and 2) why the same terrorist groups have continued to assault India for over thirty years.
More lives are being put to risk. Nobody is a winner in this peculiar soap opera that appears to be India’s neighborhood diplomacy. This, against the backdrop of India’s demand for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
Raja Murthy is an independent journalist based in Mumbai who has been writing for the Statesman since 1990 and Asia Times since 2003 – besides having been a long term contributor for the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle etc. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.