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More trouble with Pakistan
Publication Date : 19-03-2013
For some time now, trouble has been brewing in Kashmir, and beneath the surface calm there have been apprehensions that terrorist groups have been preparing fresh attacks.
Reports of infiltration across the Line of Control (LOC) have been frequent and ominous, setting the stage for the recent armed attacks by terrorists against civilians in Srinagar. These broke the calm that had been established for quite some time--no doubt the idea was to give a bloody reminder that the terrorists remained active and sought to advertise their presence.
The use of terror as a weapon to be used against India remains the stumbling block in the restoration of normal relations, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphatically stated in Parliament, and the incident in Srinagar, which revived New Delhi’s most dire misgivings, set the clock back and raised many questions about where the relationship was leading.
To make matters worse, Pakistan’s National Assembly chose to pass a resolution on the execution of Afzal Guru who had been convicted for his role in the horrendous attack on India’s Parliament. Within India, there is more than one opinion on the execution, which some opposed as they expected it to have a destabilising effect within J&K State, others because they disfavoured capital punishment in any circumstances. But once the Assembly in Islamabad stepped in, there was a closing of ranks and all shades of opinion came out against such an intrusion into India’s internal affairs. Amidst real public indignation and widespread resentment, both Houses of Parliament unanimously passing strong resolutions against the Pakistani action.
Beyond the strong words of the resolution, a demand for retaliatory action was raised, and immediate steps were taken to cancel the proposed Indian tour of a hockey team from Pakistan and also to suspend the operation of a freshly negotiated visa agreement.
These may not be the last of the punitive measures, for the demand for further retaliation remains strong: some more strident voices have demanded virtual suspension of relations while others have suggested measures to reduce trade exchanges. Indo-Pak trade remains small but is believed to bring greater relative benefit to Pakistan, so dismantling the labouriously negotiated arrangements and agreements of the last few years may be expected to affect Pakistan more. Other similar suggestions to reduce even further the contact between the two countries have been made and may attract public support if the situation remains tense and uncertain.
The resolution that has caused the trouble and brought relations to a low point seems to have been driven in Pakistan’s Assembly by the panel on Kashmir, where radical elements have always been dominant. Nor has there been any attempt, it would appear, by more moderate elements to tone down what was bound to have a very adverse effect on bilateral relations. Perhaps the impending elections in Pakistan, where, unusually, the Assembly has succeeded in completing its full term and a new one must now be elected, has made politicians reluctant to take any position that could conceivably imply weakening of resolve on Kashmir.
Whatever may be the calculations, the resolution in the Pak Assembly has done little to affect the situation within Kashmir itself, where although the execution of Afzal Guru remains an issue and its troubled aftermath is still difficult to handle, there is no wish that Pakistan should have a role--the time is long past for that, and in fact many in Kashmir consider that Pakistan’s concern about their affairs is calculated to serve Pakistan’s own interest rather than that of Kashmir.
Even within Pakistan some commentators have been critical of their authorities for what they regard as a counter-productive and opportunistic initiative, pointing out that Pakistan had not agreed to the return of Kasab’s body after his execution, in contrast to their demand that Afzal Guru’s remains should be returned to Kashmir for burial.
Whatever be the motivation and intention, there is no denying that the result of the Pakistani resolution has been to bring bilateral relations to a new low. Already, much of the work so labouriously undertaken over the last few years has been undone. The all-too-familiar freeze on travel has been substantially re-imposed, and apart from the hockey team, others ,too, have found it impossible to come to India, so that long-planned visits and meetings have had to be put off.
Only a few days ago Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf was in Ajmer on a pilgrimage, with a large entourage including several members of his family. It was a private visit without any formal political or diplomatic purpose but even so his coming to India drew on goodwill that does not accord with the deliberately confrontational resolution adopted by the Assembly soon after his return. It has thus become unclear as to where events are headed.
Also, questions are being asked about Pakistan’s commitment to the peace process, which may have yielded few striking gains but which nevertheless both sides have persisted with, and which can be regarded as a factor for stability. In the present confused circumstances, at a time when divergent indications are being received by India about the intentions of the other side, it may prove difficult to hold the next round according to expectation.
The biggest confusion relates, of course, to the security situation. Infiltration across the LOC and fomenting strife on Indian territory does not accord with Islamabad’s professions of peace and desire for normal relations. Nor do these hostile actions bear out what Pak Army Chief Gen. Kayani is reported to have said in describing the dangers before his country, where the mounting threat of terrorism is at the top of the list.
In other circumstances, such an observation could be regarded as a significant strategic shift for Pakistan, where hitherto India has always been regarded as the most formidable threat to be confronted. But the dangers of spreading extremism and terrorism have become all too apparent in Pakistan where sectarian and terrorist violence have been almost impossible to control, to the point that even the head of the Army has been compelled to identify these as the major peril before his country. What needs closer examination and discussion is how far Pakistan’s leadership is prepared to go in developing a coherent strategy to combat the menace.
To achieve that, a strategic shift and a revised vision for the future would be required, something that does not continue to stress above all else the need to confront the supposed hostility of India. There have been occasional indications that some opinion-makers in Pakistan may be moving in that direction, but unfortunately events like the Assembly resolution on Kashmir show that there is still a long way to go.