February 19, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

More burned than a train

It won’t derail the peace process. It might further destabilise Gen Musharraf

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The post-attack reactions were predictable. It was an act of terrorism, they all agreed, and intended to derail the India-Pakistan peace process. Last night’s attack on the India-Pakistan Compromise Train’ that killed over 66 passengers—mostly Pakistani—comes just as the Indian government’s weather balloonists have floated their most ambitious one yet. In today’s column in the Indian Express, C Raja Mohan calls upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discard caution and incrementalism for a Grand Act of Statesmanship (GAS). The Pakistani foreign minister will arrive for talks this week, and the two foreign secretaries will have another round of comprehensive discussions soon. Gen Musharraf is up for a re-election’ this year, so he’ll want something to show to those whose approval he needs before he starts another innings. All signs point to a India-Pakistan summit later this year, with something historic” in the offing.

It is reasonable to speculate—for that is what it is at this stage—that the carnage on the Attari Express was intended to throw a spanner in the works. Since most of the passengers were Pakistanis, simplistic speculation would either see the hand of Hindu terrorists or more conspiracy theoretically, that of elements in the Indian establishment opposed to the peace process. Yet this line of thinking suffers from a major weakness: that both the Indian government and Indian public opinion would become more determined to ensure that the peace process does not falter. Just look at the UPA government’s actions despite the spate of terrorist attacks across the country. The unprecedented jihadi offensive against India met with an unprecedented response—the Havana appeasement. [See this at Retributions.] So yes, if the intention of the attackers was to shame the UPA government for its failure to prevent such attacks from happening, then they might arguably have succeeded. But if their intention was to dissuade it from settling with Pakistan, then this act will prove counterproductive. And unless they are fools, they would know this very well.

It follows then, that the attack could have been carried out to put New Delhi on the diplomatic backfoot and cause it to publicly reiterate its commitment to the peace process. Many quarters would desire this, not least Gen Musharraf himself.

It is also important to see this attack in the context of a surge in terrorist attacks in and around Pakistan—just recently there have been bomb blasts in several Pakistani cities and even in Zahedan, Iran. The Next Musharraf hypothesis (essentially, that there is a Musharraf in the waiting) suggests that quarters within the Pakistani military-jihadi establishment may be plotting to destabilise Musharraf with a view to unseat him. Their objective does not necessarily need India to back off from dealing with Musharraf—just to see that he will be (and will seen to be) unable to deliver on his promises. And once Musharraf is no longer on the scene, any deal that India signs with him will be, to put it mildly, up for renegotiation.

Much of all this, of course, is speculation. Pending the investigation (which, given the context, may never arrive at an undisputed conclusion) this is all we have to go on. Even so, this carnage, and especially the possible Next Musharraf angle, should remind the Indian government that for all the seduction that Grand Acts of Statemanship hold, caution is in order while dealing with Pakistan. India should hold off grand bargains at least until Gen Musharraf’s re-election later this year.

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