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'Modi as PM is both good and bad news for Indo-Pak relations'

May 06, 2014 12:39 IST

'Modi as PM is both good and bad news for Indo-Pak relations'

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Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

'Modi would not restrain himself if India suffered a major terror attack traced back to Pakistani terrorists. He has suggested this; his aides have suggested this; and the BJP's election manifesto has suggested this.'

'Modi would simply not be as restrained as his predecessor,' Michael Kugelman, an Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Centre think-tank in Washington, DC, tells Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

There is an expected regime change in India. How do you see Indo-Pak ties if Narendra Modi becomes PM?

The Modi question is arguably one of the biggest wild cards for subcontinental stability.

In effect, Modi as prime minister could bring both very good and very bad things to the bilateral relationship.

On the positive side, Modi's strong interest in commercial relationships and investment could inject some momentum into efforts to normalise trade relations between Delhi and Islamabad.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was certainly a supporter of such a rapport as well, though Modi's arrival -- as a new leader with a charismatic personality -- would be a real boost that could enable the two sides to finally reach a Most Favored Nation-style relationship.

A formal commercial relationship could serve as a robust confidence-building measure that could in turn bring the two sides closer together.

On the negative side, Modi would not restrain himself if India suffered a major terror attack traced back to Pakistani terrorists. He has suggested this; his aides have suggested this; and the BJP's election manifesto has suggested this.

Any gains won through MFN and normalised economic ties would be squandered, because Modi would simply not be as restrained as his predecessor.

In effect, we should expect good things for India-Pakistan relations if Modi is the new PM -- but if Pakistan-exported terrorism comes to India, all bets are off.

And, ominously, given that anti-India militants will likely be increasingly shifting their attention to India in the coming months and certainly next year, such type of terrorism in India is quite likely.

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Image: Indian soldiers patrol the Line of Control.
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff/com

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'Saeed is playing the role of boisterous cheerleader'

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Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

Do you sense a build up of tensions on the Line of Control?

I fear the international troop departure from Afghanistan will most certainly contribute to greater tensions on the LoC.

With these troops leaving Afghanistan, many of the anti-India Pakistani militant groups active in Afghanistan will be deprived of a favorite target.

They will compensate by redirecting their focus to the LoC, where they will look to renew their campaign in Kashmir. This could also entail a fresh campaign of violence in Indian cities.

What is Lashkar-e-Tayiba chief Mohammad Saeed's role in all this?

It's hard to know. At the very least, he is playing the role of the boisterous cheerleader -- rallying his legions of militant followers to wreak havoc in India.

This is the effect of his various public speeches in Pakistan in recent years, particularly those aired on Pakistani TV channels, where they reach millions of people.

Whether he is playing the role of operational planner or actually planning for terrorist activities, is much more unclear -- and in my view, more unlikely. At least for now.

We thought Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Maulana Masood Masood Azhar was out of contention. What has changed that he is back in business?

I think he -- and, perhaps, handlers within the Pakistani security establishment -- has been galvanised by the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He knows that it is an opportune time for a strategic shift -- one that takes a fight long ensconced in Afghanistan back to the LoC and into India proper.

There is no other reason why he would be resurfacing now. If there was no international troop drawdown in Afghanistan this year, I doubt we would have seen his re-emergence.

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Image: Lashkar-e-Tayiba chief Mohammad Saeed, left, and Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Maulana Masood Masood Azhar.


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'LeT is one of the most fearsome terror organisations in the world'

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Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

Who does India face a bigger threat from? Saeed or Azhar?

They are both terrifying threats, but Saeed is a bigger one -- simply because his organisation is much more powerful and vicious than Azhar's JeM.

The JeM is a formidable force in its own right, but the LeT is one of the most fearsome terror organisations in the world.

For years, its leader has essentially lived free in Pakistan, with the opportunity to regularly make speeches and liaise with the likes of the slain Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

This gets to the difference between Saeed and Azhar. The former has been a constant, relentless, public presence in Pakistan, whereas Azhar was incognito for several years.

In effect, Azhar has been quiet in recent years, and has only recently gotten loud. Saeed, by contrast, has always been loud, and yet he's getting louder.

Saeed's links to the Pakistani security establishment also make him a dangerous figure -- particularly because he openly flouts such connections. In recent days, he had made public speeches that profusely praise the Pakistani army. Azhar is not doing anything like this -- at least not now.

Finally, even though the LeT has been active in Afghanistan in the recent years, Saeed has a razor-sharp focus on India. Azhar, by contrast, has focused on non-Indian targets in recent years, including those in Pakistan.

Let's not forget that Azhar was implicated in an assassination attempt on none other than former Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf a number of years back.

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Image: Mohammad Saeed (in a white cap), founder of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, leaves a Lahore court.
Photographs: Mohsin Raza/Reuters

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'Bin Laden's death has had no impact on terrorism in Pakistan'

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Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com

Does Azhar have the full backing of the Inter-Services Agency?

It's unlikely. While the ISI almost certainly provided sponsorship to the JeM in earlier years, this doesn't appear to have been the case in more recent years. The ISI doesn't maintain the close and explicit links to anti-India militants that it used to.

We are no longer living in times when the Pakistani military openly sends jihadist fighters into Kashmir. Also, it's hard to imagine that the ISI would embrace someone who likely tried to kill a sitting Pakistani president and army chief.

That said, there's good reason to assume that links continue to exist between Azhar and the ISI -- especially if one subscribes to the theory that Azhar re-emerged this year as part of a Pakistani security establishment effort to showcase Azhar and to remind India that he remains a threat.

How much do you think has changed in Pakistan following bin Laden's death?

His death hasn't had much of an impact on the terrorism environment in Pakistan. The country was the global ground zero for terrorism before the Abbottabad raid, and it remains so even after.

If anything, recruitment to terrorist causes may have received a bump after bin Laden's death -- the way he died could have had a radicalising and galvanising effect on some Pakistanis. Yet aside from this, I don't see much of a change for the broader terrorism picture.

Michael Kugelman is an expert on issues relating to South Asia and South East Asia and in particular India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is a senior programme associate at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, DC.


Image: 'If anything, recruitment to terrorist causes may have received a bump after bin Laden's death,' says Michael Kugelman.


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