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Rediff.com  » News » India walks into Pak anti-terror trap

India walks into Pak anti-terror trap

March 08, 2007 15:10 IST

I have written many articles on the so-called India-Pakistan Joint Counter-Terrorism Mechanism.

In an article written on October 23, 2006, I had stated as follows:

'Does the Havana Agreement indicate a change in the policies hitherto followed by Pakistan? From a study of the statements and comments of Pakistani officials on the significance of the Havana Statement, the following points are clear: There has been no change in Pakistan's policy of not cooperating with India in respect of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. It continues to insist that what has been going on in J&K is a freedom struggle and that participants in the freedom struggle cannot be projected as terrorists.

'There has been no change in Pakistan's policy of denying the involvement of Pakistani nationals in acts of terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K.

'There has been no change either in denying the presence in Pakistani territory of the Indian Muslims and non-Muslims involved in terrorist acts of the past for whom red corner notices have periodically been issued by the Interpol.

'However, Pakistan has an open mind in respect of the Mumbai blasts of July 11, 2006, and future acts of terrorism, and might help in the Indian investigation if the evidence produced by India is satisfactory.

'Even this would depend on India's reciprocity in instances in which Pakistan seeks Indian assistance. There have been hints that Pakistan would expect this reciprocity in respect of its investigation of the acts of violence by the Baloch nationalist elements.'

In my article written on November 16, 2006, I had stated:

'Rushing into important decisions affecting national security without a careful examination of their implications and subsequently tying itself in knots while seeking to provide ex post facto justification for the decisions, when they prove controversial, have been among the defining characteristics of the present government in New Delhi.

'One saw an example of it in respect of the India-United States nuclear deal of July 2005. We are presently seeing another example of it in respect of the setting-up of a joint count-terrorism mechanism with Pakistan to consider counter-terrorism measures, including through regular and timely sharing of information.

'At a time when, as a result of the public diplomacy systematically mounted by us, the international community has started agreeing with us that what is happening in J&K is also terrorism by Pakistani organisations, we have failed to specify in the statement that the joint mechanism would cover all acts of terrorism wherever they take place. Pakistan would now contend that the mechanism is meant to deal with only terrorism and not what it projects as the freedom struggle in J&K.'

The first meeting of this mechanism was held at Islamabad on March 6 and March 7.

Each delegation was headed by an officer of the rank of additional secretary from their respective foreign offices and included two intelligence officers of the rank of joint secretary representing the internal and external intelligence agencies of the two countries.

This is the third attempt by the two countries for a dialogue on counter-terrorism. The previous two attempts were made when Rajiv Gandhi and Chandra Shekhar were prime ministers between 1988 and 1991.

Rajiv Gandhi adopted a two-track approach. The first track consisted of secret meetings between the heads of the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.

Three meetings were held -- two under Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 and the third under Chandra Shekhar in 1991. The second track consisted of periodic open meetings between intelligence officers -- internal and external -- of the two countries, with the home secretaries leading the respective delegations.

In the second and last meeting held in 1989 under Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian delegation was led by Naresh Chandra, the then home secretary.

When Rajiv Gandhi initiated this exercise, the only complaint of India against Pakistan related to its sponsorship of Khalistani terrorism in Punjab.

Widespread terrorism had not yet broken out in Jammu and Kashmir. Dawood Ibrahim and his mafia gang were operating from Dubai and had no base in Pakistani territory.

Pakistan had given shelter in its territory to hijackers of the Dal Khalsa, who had hijacked Indian planes to Lahore between 1981 and 1984 -- Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation, Canada, who, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was involved in a plot to kill Rajiv Gandhi in the US in June 1985, and Talwinder Singh Parmar of the Babbar Khalsa, Canada, who was involved in the blowing-up of the Air India aircraft Kanishka in June 1985, in which nearly 300 innocent civilians perished.

It had set up training camps in its territory for Khalistani terrorists. It had diverted to the Khalistanis some of the arms and ammunition and explosives given by the Central Intelligence Agency for issue to the Afghan Mujahideen.

The meetings held under Rajiv Gandhi and Chandra Shekhar were, therefore, confined to asking Pakistan to extend mutual legal assistance as required under the Interpol by handing over the hijackers for trial and prosecution in India and to stop training and arming Khalistani terrorists in Pakistani territory.

Pakistan admitted the presence of the hijackers in its territory.

It could not have denied it because the whole world had watched the arrival of the hijacked aircraft in Lahore and the pictures of the hijackers on the television screen.

However, it refused to hand them over to India. Islamabad contended that under the International Civil Aviation Conventions relating to hijacking, it was its responsibility to prosecute and try the hijackers. It claimed it was doing so.

It did hold a sham trial in which they were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment, but instead of sending them to jail, it allowed them to live in the Nankana Sahib gurudwara in Lahore.

Pakistan totally denied the presence of Lal Singh and Parmar in its territory or of training camps for the Khalistani terrorists. The only outcome of this exercise was that the ISI pushed back into India four Sikh deserters of the Indian Army, who had crossed over into Pakistan and sought asylum.

After peremptorily dismissing Indian complaints and requests, the Pakistani authorities presented to the Indian officials what they described as a detailed dossier on alleged Indian sponsorship of terrorism in Sindh.

The Pakistani authorities manipulated the discussions in such a manner that most of the time was taken away by their dossier. At that time, the movement for an independent Sindhu Desh led by the late G M Syed was in full swing all over Sindh. The Pakistan Army was having difficulty in controlling it.

The ISI gave a copy of this dossier to Hussain Haqqani, then a journalist close to the Pakistani intelligence and now an academic living in the US, and asked him to go to India and persuade India Today to publish it.

Haqqani came to India, contacted an India Today journalist and requested him to have it published. He also promised more details. The journalist contacted RAW and asked for its comments.

RAW pointed out to him that the dossier had been fabricated by the ISI in order to divert attention from India's complaints relating to Khalistani terrorism. It was not published by the magazine.

Hussain Haqqani also contacted a number of old Indian friends of Benazir Bhutto, who had studied with her in the UK and the US, and allegedly made enquiries about her personal life and her contacts in India.

Her Pakistan People's Party came to know of his alleged enquiries through its sources in the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. Its executive committee met in Islamabad and strongly condemned his activities.

The government of India realised that instead of cooperating with India in counter-terrorism, Pakistan was misusing the mechanism to discredit the freedom struggle of the Sindhis as terrorism sponsored by India and also to discredit Pakistani political leaders, who were critical of its army, by projecting them as Indian agents.

The entire exercise for a counter-terrorism dialogue was called off.

Almost 14 years later, we have repeated the mistake exactly in the same way as we did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In December 2005, the Baloch nationalists launched their third freedom struggle. Their first struggle was launched immediately after the Partition of India in 1947. The second after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Both those struggles were ruthlessly suppressed by the Pakistan Army and the ISI.

The third freedom struggle has been picking up momentum despite similar suppression and air strikes.

The Pakistan Army and Air Force brutally killed Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the Baloch nationalist leader, and some of his followers through an air strike in the Bugti area of Balochistan in August 2006.

This led to widespread anti-Punjabi and anti-army agitation all over Balochistan by the Balochs. Since then, the Pakistan Army and the ISI have mounted an exercise to discredit the freedom struggle and the Baloch nationalist leaders by projecting it as a terrorist movement sponsored by India and the nationalist leaders as Indian agents.

After Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh agreed with General Pervez Musharraf during their meeting at Havana in September last year to set up this joint counter-terrorism mechanism, I have been repeatedly cautioning in my writings and speeches that the Pakistani authorities would misuse this mechanism to discredit the Baloch freedom struggle by projecting it as an Indian-sponsored terrorist movement.

Just as they sought to have the Sindhi freedom struggle discredited during the dialogue of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That seems to be exactly what they did at the just concluded first meeting of the new mechanism.

They tried to keep the focus of their presentations, publicity and propaganda concentrated on their so-called dossier on Balochistan after having derisively dismissed Indian requests relating to the terrorist strikes in Mumbai's suburban trains in July last year in which 184 Indian nationals were killed and in the Samjhauta Express near Panipet last month in which 22 Pakistani nationals and 27 Indian nationals were killed.

They tried to divert attention from the terrorist attack on Mumbai, which was the third major mass casualty suffered by Indians since Pakistan started sponsoring Indian terrorist groups.

The first was the blowing up of the Kanishka aircraft, and the second the Mumbai explosions of March 1993.

What they did was to have a terrorist strike by jihadi terrorists carried out in the Samjhauta Express before the meeting of this mechanism and then exploit it as an example of Indian inaction against terrorism endangering Pakistani lives.

There was another worrisome aspect of the meeting of the mechanism and the events preceding it.

Those closely monitoring comments in Pakistan would have noticed a wave of orchestrated insinuations that the alleged Indian inaction was because so-called Hindu extremists were involved in the attack on the Samjhauta Express.

This mischievous campaign has two purposes -- to create a divide between the Muslims and the Hindus in India and to prepare the ground for a Pakistani stand that Musharraf's implementation of his commitment of January 2004, not to allow any terrorism against India from any territory controlled by Pakistan, would depend upon a similar Indian commitment not to allow its territory to be used by so-called Hindu extremists against Pakistan and its nationals.

One continues to feel disturbed by the kind of spins being disseminated by the government and Delhi-based analysts projecting the first meeting of the mechanism in a positive light while wilfully suppressing the worrisome aspects of it.

B Raman is retired additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com

B Raman