Ufa, India, Pakistan and Terror

The Indo-Pak bilateral relation is back to its familiar rut. It took only a few weeks for Ufa spirit to evaporate. The Ufa initiative floundered primarily due to Pak insistence on raising other issues particularly that of Kashmir issue at the NSA level meeting although that had a specific agenda of discussing terrorism. Why did Pakistan choose to act intransigent when PM Nawaz Sharif had given his consent for NSA level talks for terrorism? This is particularly strange as the Ufa declaration also mentioned the Prime Ministers were prepared to discuss all outstanding issues but no time frame or modalities for these were indicated. Obviously, these were to evolve in due course. Apart from the NSA level meeting, several other issues like an early BSF-Rangers meeting followed by DGMO level talks etc. too were agreed. It was thus evident that a process, not merely a single event, was being initiated.

Thousands of such uneducated, marginalized and impoverished youths are regularly recruited by Pakistan based terrorist factories. Conventional wisdom points a finger to the religious indoctrination at a very young age, encouraged by the much despised Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Deeper research however indicates that this is not the whole story. Geographical factors in Pakistan have greatly contributed to the degradation of agricultural land, water shortages, uneven distribution of resources, and increasing migration in search of jobs. An analysis on this security dimension was first made in 1997 by Canadian defence scientist Peter Gizewski who said that Pakistan was experiencing political instability due to geographical and climatic factors. The first intelligence agency to do a comprehensive analysis on the security implications of climate change and migration was the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) who released a paper in 2004. The CSIS analysis reproduced Gizewski’s conclusions and said that Pakistan’s vulnerability had increased with political and environmental factors.

From all available accounts ,the meeting between the two premiers, on the side lines of Ufa, was spontaneous. Indian response was predictably positive though the signals otherwise emanating from Pakistan side were not very encouraging (this year the ceasefire violations are at an all-time high in recent years.).

Ever since cancellation of NSA level talks, Pakistan has been justifying its action to drag Kashmir and meeting with Kashmiri separatists which literally killed the initiative. Pak envoy to India Abdul Basit said ,in a recent interview, that Pakistan was hoping the proposed meeting would conclude "on a positive note and become an ice-breaker". He went on further to add " In Pakistan, right from Qaide-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the present disposition, there is a national consensus on Jammu and Kashmir dispute as it is now on terrorism." Both the points made by the Pak envoy give rise to more questions. There was hardly any element in positions adopted by Pakistan in the run up to the scheduled NSA level meeting that could contribute to an effective and constructive exchange of views on terrorism. Instead, a determined effort was discernible to drag in other issues. On the second point of so-called national consensus in Pakistan on Kashmir, there are many even in Pakistan who would find hard to concur with his claim.

Consider for instance the recent piece ' Does Kashmir really matter to most Pakistanis?' written by Rustom Shah Mohmand, a former secretary of interior in Pakistan and an ambassador to Afghanistan in the Express Tribune, September 3,2015. Rustom questions the validity of making Kashmir the lynch pin of Pakistan’s policy towards India. Rustom is no friend of India. He is merely trying to point out what is good for Pakistan. He finds little wisdom in holding Pakistan’s India policy hostage to Kashmir dispute. He adds there is no reliable survey or studies to show whether the people of Pakistan has ‘deep attachment’ to the issue. He asserts “ What is not realised or is overlooked is that amidst the teeming millions of Pakistan, in Sindh, rural Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunwa and Balochistan, there is no urgent wish to see Kashmir become integrated with Pakistan. Never in Pakistan have the peasants, artisans , traders, students, nationalists and liberals taken to the streets demanding that Pakistan continue to press for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute even if that suspending all cultural and trading contacts with India”. He rues why should ‘it (Pakistan) should put its own state at stake for helping Kashmiris win more powers or independence?’

Rustom has raised very logical questions for the policy makers in Pakistan. Assertion of Pak envoy of a consensus on Kashmir does not seem convincing in the light of opinion expressed by the former Pak Interior Secretary. The so-called consensus over Kashmir appear more to be a figment of imagination rather than a logical compulsion. Pak envoy also seems to have missed another point that in any discussion about terrorism in India Kashmir will inevitably figure but it will be in the context of terror and not its politics.

Pakistan appears reluctant to hold talks exclusively on terror related issues. This is understandable because it is well aware of what it is doing. Its ambivalent approach towards terror has cost Pakistan and its people dearly but it refuses to learn its lessons. When it comes to India, Pak belligerently views terror, aimed at its rival , differently through only a geo-political prism. That distorts the vision making Pakistan oblivious to how that policy uses and consumes its own people as fodder. This policy has not changed even after repeated exposure of Pak links of terrorists caught alive in India.

It is interesting to see how the Pak establishment talks on the issue of taking action against terrorists on their soil to three of its neighbours. Till recently Pak and Afghan dignitaries were blaming each other over alleged Pak tolerance if not support for Haqqani network that was indulging in terror attacks in Afghanistan. Both sides are now understood to have agreed not to do so publicly though it hardly implies that Afghan misgivings have been addressed satisfactorily.

No clear picture has emerged so far about Taliban in Afghanistan representatives of which were reportedly facilitated by Pakistan to hold meetings with the Chinese. No definitive outcome of these parleys are known yet. In this context, a reading of the relevant portion about Afghanistan from the recent BRICS declaration issued at Ufa points towards interesting possibilities. The declaration, while recommending participation in reconciliation in Afghanistan, specially called on ‘the armed opposition to disarm, accept the Constitution of Afghanistan and cut ties with Al-Qaeda ,ISIS and other terrorist organisations.’ Taliban has not been mentioned by name but the term ‘armed opposition’ fits the organisation aptly. Has Taliban agreed? Not Known. Will they spurn the call? Again not known yet. Ebb and tide in fortunes of the Taliban seems to have implications for India -particularly in Kashmir if one goes by the past experience. Indian security establishment and analysts would do well to keep their antenna up.

Pakistan has been dealing its China card also to contain India besides leveraging the Sino-Pak relationship vis-à-vis US. Thus, Pak approach to provide satisfaction to its, all weather friend, is remarkably different than its approach towards terror problems of Afghanistan and India. During his recent visit Pak President Syed Mamnoon Hussain is reported to have assured the Chinese President Xi Jingping that ‘Operation Zarb- i-Azb’ by Pak Military has successfully eliminated terrorism from Pakistan and also claimed that East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETTM) terrorists based in Pakistan have also been eliminated.

Notwithstanding repeated assertions of Pakistan of actions taken against the terror groups, the suspicion lingers on. Ambassador Susan Elizabeth Rice, the US National Security Advisor, during her one day stop over on August 31 in Islamabad, on her way back from China, conveyed to Pakistan that terrorist’s attacks on Afghanistan from within Pak borders were not acceptable. She urged Pakistan to do more as Pak efforts were not adequate in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network. Few weeks earlier, Dan Feldman, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had urged to take ‘forceful action ‘against Haqqani network and also against ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’ which had the potential to destabilise the region. Sartaj Aziz assured (August 31) the visiting German Foreign Minister in Islamabad that Pak operations in North Waziristan was against all terrorist organisations and that Haqqani network under pressure had shifted to Afghanistan.

Assertions of Pakistan about its sincerity in containing terror groups from is soil against its neighbours lacks credibility. India has bitter experience of it. It is ,therefore, not surprising that the talks on terror floundered before it started. It is ,however, not correct to infer, as some analysts in India have, that India has lost an opportunity to confront Pakistan with the evidence gathered on terror groups operating from there. Even on being confronted with unimpeachably accurate evidence by India ,Pakistan would not have admitted its failure to contain let alone admitting any complicity with terror groups. In fact , it is Pakistan which has lost a golden opportunity to demonstrate genuineness of its commitment to contain and deter terror on its soil and against its neighbours from Pak soil.