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Time to review the peace process with Pakistan
Ashutosh Misra
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July 17, 2006
In the wake of the ghastly terrorist attacks in Mumbai and Srinagar, the latest in the series in the past two years, even the leading lights of the peace process in India have begun to cast doubts over its continuation.

Until recently, there has been a sizable and influential constituency outside the government supporting the peace process and vouching for General Musharraf as the best bet. This seem to be changing fast. A recent opinion poll on a television news channel showed that over 86 percent voted for calling off the peace process.

Can the new mood be labeled as a mere knee-jerk reaction following such attacks?

If one considers the series of attacks as a reflection of Pakistan's fundamental policy towards India, the peace process should have been history by now. Yet the process has continued testing India's patience to the fullest. This shows there seems to be a palpable disconnect between the public and government perceptions of our relations with Pakistan.

Continuation of the peace process does not necessarily take into account the popular mood in the country and should be subject to periodic review.

Have we done that even once in the last three years? The question therefore posed is how long do we wait? What is our threshold of tolerance? How many more have to die before the government calls a spade a spade?

Some major terrorist attacks in the past year could have potentially ended the peace process but for India's 'resilience' to continue the good work.

Consider these:

July 5, 2002: a foiled terrorist attack on the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

October 29, 2005: two days before Diwali, the ghastly serial blasts in Sarojini Nagar, Paharganj and a Delhi Transport corporation bus in Govindpuri.

December 25, 2005: terrorist attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

February 19, 2006: bomb blast at Ahmedabad railway station.

March 7, 2006: serial blasts at the Sankat Mochan temple and railway station in Varanasi.

July 11, 2006: the serial blasts on local trains in Mumbai and grenade attacks on a tourist bus near the Dal lake in Srinagar [Images] forcing thousands of tourists to flee.

All these strikes resulted in a large number of casualties and could have led to a large-scale social unrest and riots in the country, particularly following the Ayodhya and Sankat Mochan attacks.

The only positive aspect of these attacks has been that while the government continued with the peace process, the people on the streets showed restraint, joined the relief work and disallowed any passionate outburst. Similar was the case in Mumbai after the July 11 blasts.

Should this be construed as the maturity of the Indian people, or is it that the average man on the streets is so busy in earning his bread and butter that he cannot afford to stop and ponder over these incidents? At most we see demonstrations by some political groups, which is understandable.

The NGOs and the government too projects this as a testimony of national unity and large-heartedness of the people. It is essential to note that the calm shown by the public should not be seen as an endorsement of the government's Pakistan policy. A placid government response or mere condemnation emboldens the perpetrators and is perceived by our neighbours as a sign of weakness. This needs to be dispelled and corrected.

The term 'resilience' has become a myth. The government needs to take concrete and stern measures than just criticising Pakistan in veiled fashion.

Last year, on July 20, 2005, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] remark was not entirely lost when he said as the prime minister of the world's largest democracy, it would not be possible for him to go beyond public opinion for very long if such attacks continue to occur. He was acknowledging the growing public restlessness with the peace process and growing terrorist attacks all over India.

Yet, a year down the road, the peace process has continued, though now there are many who question its success. The critics argue that barring the Confidence Building Measures pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir [Images], the peace process has failed to yield any dividends.

Whether it is the Siachen, Tulbul or the Sir Creek issue or the trade negotiations, India and Pakistan have not progressed from their stated positions.

Over and above Pakistan did not hesitate in referring the Baghliar dam issue for international arbitration, even while negotiations were being held to resolve the pending issues.

The poor report card of the peace process shows that the mindset in Pakistan remains unchanged.

An example of Pakistan's India-centric mindset is the announcement of Maleeha Lodhi as Pakistan's candidate for the top UN position, just because Dr Shashi Tharoor, a person of Indian origin, was in the running. Plus, Pakistan's intensive lobbying to scuttle the India-US nuclear deal is another apt instance of its anti-India mindset.

Considering such blocked perceptions, would any degree of friendliness or poise have any influence on a country where the senior generals including General Pervez Musharraf [Images] and Aziz Ahmed Khan believe that even if Kashmir is resolved Pakistan cannot have normal relations with India. Also, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri's justification of the Mumbai and other terrorist killings by linking it with the resolution of the Kashmir issue could be considered nothing but appalling.

Analysts have also given General Musharraf the benefit of doubt saying that terrorist groups are not in his total control, a view which should be reconsidered. While Musharraf can arrest Syed Salahuddin and other terrorist leaders at will and cooperate with Jaish-e-Mohammad's Maulana Masood Azhar and Lashkar-e-Tayiba's Hafiz Muhammad Saeed for political purposes, he is helpless clamping down on their activities is something which baffles us time and again.

The remarks denote that the real problem is not the Kashmir issue, but a larger divide between India and Pakistan, of which Kashmir is only a symptom. A psychological barrier, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection, a barrier of fear, of deception and hallucination. It is a barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement which does more damage to relations. And this barrier is more entrenched and deep among the ruling elite of Pakistan than the people. The text books in Pakistan in this context require a serious revision where the anti-India mindset germinates.

Pakistan, more so its military, has always maintained an anti-India and anti-Hindu rhetoric amplifying the 'Indian threat' for creating an identity for itself and justifying its hold on power. Such a policy denied Pakistan the richness of 2,000 years of history for identity creation and discouraged innovative and creative thinking. The misuse of Islam in the process has today come to hurt Pakistan more than it has helped against India.

What should then be India's policy response against the above background? The time has come for New Delhi to review the peace process and analyse Musharraf's policy postures. His maneuvering space is fast shrinking and we must not give him any respite.

First, New Delhi should reconsider 'Musharraf as the best bet' policy.

After usurping power in 1999, Musharraf has only made hollow promises both on the domestic and the international fronts. He has repeatedly betrayed his people as much he has betrayed his friends like the United States and neighbours like India. He has refused to shed his uniform despite his promise. He continues to trample on democracy and democratic leaders through extraconstitutional and draconian laws such as the Legal Framework Order and National Security Council.

He continues to ignore the fundamentalists in Pakistan and the Islamisation drive due to the military's genetic dislike for the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. He has continued to use force against ethnic voices in Balochistan and provide support to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Musharraf has won international acclaim for Pakistan's role in the global war on terror, but his reluctance to capture top Taliban leaders and give a slip to others during hot pursuit have drawn flak too.

It is therefore no surprise that on her recent visit to Pakistan US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images], while praising Musharraf, asked for the deployment of 10,000 more troops on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This proves that all is not well obviously on that front.

In June 2006, according to the appropriations bill passed by the US House of Representatives by a 373-34 vote, the foreign military financing funds for Pakistan for 2007 were also dropped to 200 million dollars, with a decrease of 100 million dollars from the current fiscal. The report cited Pakistan's poor human rights record and democracy as the reasons for this, but analysts believe Pakistan's double game in the war against terrorism is the main factor for such a move.

On Kashmir, while General Musharraf signed various CBMs with India, he simultaneously has given terrorist groups a free hand to continue their operations.

Despite India providing detailed information to Pakistan on the training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Musharraf not only denied their presence but also assured India that he would not allow Pakistani soil to be used for terrorism. Ironically, in the wake of the October 2005 earthquakes in PoK several terrorist groups were reported to be involved in the rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The report 'Militant Philanthropy' in the November 2005 issue of Herald magazine wrote that the groups involved in relief work were Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Tehreek-ul Mujahideen, Al-Badr, Hizbul Tehrir and Tehrik-Nifaz-E-Shariat Muhammadi. All these banned groups are operating freely under changed names.

Islamabad, which has been denying their presence in these areas for many years, not only acknowledged their presence but praised them for their 'noble' activities. This should force New Delhi to consider what would it take to push Islamabad to take action.

While the cries for calling off the peace process are gaining vigour, it is important for New Delhi to think of a post-peace process option. There are several policy options in this regard to pursue.

First, while India's international stature, credibility and reputation is growing fast, our missions across the world -- especially in European countries like France [Images], UK, Spain, Russia [Images] -- should build public opinion against countries sponsoring terrorist activities. When the world through the United Nations and other regional forum has expressed its resolve to condemn and defeat terrorism, the dastardly acts should not be justified on any grounds.

Second, while Indo-US relations are witnessing new heights India should utilise this opportunity and urge the US to exert pressure on Pakistan through slashing of defence and financial assistance, questioning of nuclear proliferators and stern reminders for restoration of genuine and representative democracy.

Third, India should begin to engage with the international institutions to link economic assistance with progress on democracy and human rights, track record with regards to nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

Fourth, New Delhi should start engaging with former Pakistan prime ministers Benazir Bhutto [Images] and Nawaz Sharif and discuss ways through which pressures could be increased on the current military regime. In this context Nawaz Sharif is a rather more prudent bet since the composite dialogue process was mooted when he was prime minister, the Lahore [Images] Declaration was signed and troop withdrawal from Kargil effected. He has also maintained consistency in criticising Musharraf since his ouster in October 1999 and exposed his nuclear brinkmanship during the Kargil war.

Fifth, India should further step up its engagement in Afghanistan through financial assistance, military and legislative training and reconstruction in the educational, health, and social spheres. It should increase exchange of high-level visits such as the one by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in recent months. It is important to neutralise the strategic depth which Pakistan has always looked for in Afghanistan.

And last, but not the least, New Delhi should continue to engage with Kashmiri parties and groups and continue dialogue for development and progress. It should continue to provide the financial assistance to revamp the economic machinery of the state. The people's will through free and fair elections at the local, legislative and national levels should be the guiding force for New Delhi's engagements with J&K. There should be no reduction in troops or and reduction in counter-terrorism measures until visible changes are seen on the ground.

It is time to shelve the niceties and respond in a manner where every life lost in terrorist attacks are valued and incorporated in the larger security calculus of India.

Complete coverage: The Mumbai blasts | The India-Pakistan peace process

Ashutosh Misra is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

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