July 16, 2009cross-border terrorismForeign Affairsmilitary-jihadi complexPakistanSecurity

What’s a little terrorism between dialogue partners?

The sharam at Sharm-el-Sheikh

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Dr Manmohan Singh met Yusuf Raza Gilani at the sidelines of the NAM summit in Egypt and among others, agreed that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.” They’ll continue playing dossiers-and-lawsuits.

If this was what India intended to do, it is baffling that the prime minister had to travel all the way to Egypt, meet Mr Gilani there, and declare that dialogue is the only way forward.” At least, the Indian people could have been spared the shameful spectacle of the prime minister radiating forgiveness and sympathy in the full glare of the international media.

Let’s see how Dr Singh’s policy might be justified. It can be reasonably argued that the Zardari-Gilani disposition is really powerless and engaging them seriously will achieve several things simultaneously. The civilians putatively in power in Islamabad will be strengthened’, India will be able to engage Pakistan where it makes sense and international (read US) pressure can be defused by pointing to a dialogue process.

It might even lead to diplomatic and perceptional benefits arising from Pakistan admitting that it is the source of international jihadi terrorism. So even if this approach doesn’t yield any advantages on containing anti-India terrorism, it will help lower political risk perceptions of international investors, and therefore, there’s no harm in taking this course. Perhaps it will even dissuade jihadis from attacking India, once they learn that their actions won’t amplify into an India-Pakistan standoff.

Maybe. But the problem with Dr Singh’s approach is that it is too reasonable. Every political actor in Pakistan will rest assured that it can inflict damage on India in order to gain an advantage in the domestic power play. The military-jihadi complex, for instance, will be vindicated in its belief that it is strategically inexpensive to stage an attack against India to fend-off US pressure to act against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Zardari-Gilani duo will be less inclined to face down the military-jihadi complex because India has let them off the hook. Sure, the Obama administration will applaud India’s restraint because it’ll clear the decks for the United States to go through with the Af-Pak strategy—but there is no guarantee that it will be sensitive to India’s interests in the region.

This is not to say that resuming the dialogue is a mistake. But Dr Singh gave away too much without getting anything substantial in return. There is a hint that there is some kind of a backroom deal with the Pakistani military establishment but let’s face it, such deals are easily repudiated, unenforceable and won’t last the next major terrorist attack. Arresting, trying and jailing leaders of jihadi groups will not stop Pakistan-sponsored jihadi terrorism against India. But India yielded before Pakistan delivered that minimum of minimums. The Indian prime minister has pulled Pakistan out of the international doghouse yet again without anything to show for it. Dr Singh, of all people, should know that this approach doesn’t work—the joint anti-terrorism framework’ announced at the NAM summit at Havana came to a nought. (See After the Havana appeasement)

What a shame!



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