December 27, 2002


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G Parthasarathy

Putin sets the Pace

December 31, 1999, the last day of the twentieth century, will be remembered as the day on which the Government of India meekly caved in to terrorist demands. Seated along with three hardcore terrorists whose proclaimed aim was the disintegration of India, the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh traveled to Kandahar, the spiritual capital of the Taliban, to publicly shake hands with representatives of that regime and hand over the three terrorists in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight IC 814.

The twenty first century had barely commenced, when the nation witnessed yet another sad episode of capitulation to terrorist extortion. The Chief Minister of Karnataka S M Krishna obtained the release from prison of a proclaimed separatist with known sympathies for a foreign terrorist organisation in response to a demand from a hardened criminal, who also is known to have links with the same foreign terrorist outfit. It is not surprising that our friends and foes alike regard us as a "soft state".

While New Delhi was understandably elated over the results of President Vladimir Putin's recent visit to India, political leaders in India will do well to remember some aspects of the determination with which the young and charismatic Russian leader deals with terrorism.

When 50 Chechen terrorists held 700 hostages in a Moscow theatre, Putin did not weep on American shoulders, or release terrorists to negotiate a safe passage, or surrender to the terrorists. Russian Special Forces stormed the theatre and killed virtually every terrorist there. It is true that there was collateral damage and Russian lives were lost. But the whole nation and indeed the whole world lauded the Russian leader's courage. There is much that our political leadership can learn from such courage and determination to take hard options.

When Putin welcomed President Bush in St Petersburg on November 22, he minced no words in telling his guest that America had chosen wrong allies in its war against terrorism. He referred to the role of Saudi Arabia in financing terrorist groups and alluded to Pakistan's role in promoting terrorism by referring to the presence of Osama bin Laden in that country. He even drew attention to the dangers of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction passing into the wrong hands.

The Russians have a decade long experience of dealing with terrorism emanating from Taliban controlled Afghanistan -- terrorism that has received strong support from Pakistan. After seizing power in 1991, the Chechen leader Jokhar Dudaev gave a call for Jihad in 1993. "Volunteers" from Pakistan and Afghanistan answered this call. Even after President Boris Yeltsin signed a peace deal with Chechen leader Aslan Mashkadov in 1997, Shamil Basaev, a Chechen field commander led a rebel force into neighbouring Dagestan. This force is known to have included volunteers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and some Arab countries. There are reports that bin Laden contributed $ 30 million for this adventure. Driven by extremist Wahabi ideological inclinations and funding from "charities" in Saudi Arabia, the aim of Basaev and his cohorts was to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the Caucasian Region. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed shares similar delusions about establishing an Islamic Caliphate in "Hindustan".

Even before his foray into Dagestan in 1999, Shamil Basaev had visited Pakistan and Taliban ruled Afghanistan in 1994. Chechen terrorists are known to have received ideological indoctrination and military training in Akhora Khattak in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. In 1999 the Naib Amir of the Jamiat-e-Islami in Pakistan, Professor Ghafoor Ahmed gave a call for Jihad in Chechnya. Shortly thereafter the so-called "President" of Chechnya Zelmikhan Andarbaev visited Pakistan, met terrorist leaders and raised funds for Chechen terrorists in the name of Jihad. Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil the foreign minister of the Taliban regime proclaimed: "It is the Muslim World's shame that it does not support the Chechens." Mutawakil, a known protégé of the ISI represented the only regime in the world to accord diplomatic recognition to Chechen terrorists!

Unlike General Colin Powell and his State Department Mandarins who still nurture fond hopes about the military regime in Pakistan, Vladimir Putin is a supreme realist. He knows that with the Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal having acquired influence in the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, the Chechen component of bin Laden's International Islamic Front will receive support and sustenance on Pakistani soil. The Russians also have no illusions about the mutually reinforcing nexus that exists between the ISI, the Pakistani religious political parties and the Jihadi groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba on the one hand and bin Laden's Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their associates in Central Asia, Philippines, Indonesia and Chechnya, on the other.

It was evidently in this context that President Putin made it clear that Russia would not hesitate to strike against those set to promote terrorism on its soil, wherever they may be. But, at the same time the Russians are keeping their options of dealing with and persuading Pakistan to change course open.

The Memorandum of Understanding that Yashwant Sinha signed with his Russian counterpart establishes an inter-agency Joint Working Group on terrorism. This will supplement existing arrangements between the National Security Councils of the two countries. With the forces of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the virulently anti-Russian and anti-Indian Gulbuddin Hekmetayar regrouping in Pakistan and Afghanistan, quite obviously with ISI acquiescence and support, both sides have recognised the importance of working in close consultation and rendering all possible support to the government of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.

In an obvious reference to the "only carrots and no stick" approach now adopted by Washington towards General Musharraf, Moscow has joined New Delhi in proclaiming that: "the fight against terrorism must also target the financial and other sources of support to terrorism". Also, for the first time, India and Russia have agreed to cooperate in taking "preventive and deterrent measures" against terrorist threats. The visit has also set the stage for much greater cooperation in persuading the international community to reject and condemn terrorism based on any ground -- political, religious or ideological.

This is particularly important because of the ambivalence of some Islamic countries on taking an unambiguous and forthright stand on the issue of terrorism. The international community has to be persuaded to take punitive measures against states that support terrorism and violate of the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1373.

While New Delhi can draw satisfaction from the visit of President Putin, it would be naïve to expect others to fight our battles. We will have to ensure that Pakistan does not take advantage of problems in border-states like Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Gujarat that are often exacerbated by our domestic political rivalries. The recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir have won international acclaim. Partisan political considerations should not come in the way of the Union and state governments jointly building on the yearning for peace that one senses amongst the people at large, in the state.

The gunning down of Pakistani terrorists in Delhi, the recovery of a Pakistani surface to air missile in the jungles of Kupwara and the release of leaders of terrorist outfits like Hafiz Sayeed and Masood Azhar are all clear indications that General Musharraf intends to continue using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. One sincerely hopes that like Putin, New Delhi shows resolve and firmness in dealing with this challenge.

America's war on terror

G Parthasarathy

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