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January 7, 2016

Ball in Pakistan’s court?


January 7, 2016

The ball is now in our court. After quiet exchanges on certain ‘leads’ provided by India, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has assured his counterpart help in investigating the deadly assault on the airbase in Pathankot. Is the Subcontinent ready for a change for the good of its people?

What has happened over the last few days is quite exceptional – the way an otherwise most hawkish Modi government responded in a most resilient manner. Unlike the past knee-jerk reactions on such volatile terrorist acts, the Indian government kept its cool despite a most provocative campaign by a hawkish section of the Indian media. As the Indian security forces remained engaged with half a dozen militants for over three days, the Modi administration, instead of going furiously public, took a quieter course by sharing the initial ‘leads’ with Pakistan.

The ‘leads’ were reportedly a dozen or so telephone calls the militants made to their alleged handlers on this side of the border, including Bahawalpur. The high-profile attack carried signatures that were too obvious to security experts, and the Indian side claimed the alleged involvement of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed behind the attack. They even named the handlers.

Pakistan’s counterterrorism security apparatuses have a rich experience of dealing with such attacks on our sensitive security installations by mostly the so-called renegade Punjabi Taliban and could help unearth those who are behind the Pathankot attack, if substantial clues have been shared with them.

Breaking with its tradition of rejecting out of hand any Indian complaint, the Pakistan Foreign Office was very candid and assured Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting the scourge of terrorism at the regional level. In a subsequent statement, the FO confirmed that it was “working on the leads” provided by the Indian government “in line with Pakistan’s commitment to effectively counter and eradicate terrorism”.

Given the past terrorist provocations that successfully derailed the peace processes between India and Pakistan, this time the two national security advisors who are supposed to deal with the issues pertaining to terrorism seem to have agreed on how to deal with such provocations by the terrorists. According to credible inside sources, there was a prompt exchange of notes to act in a coordinated and cooperative manner.

Perhaps the media and incorrigible hawks on both sides failed to understand the kind of understanding reached between the two sides and indulged in the usual pattern of blame-game: if sections of the Indian media sold an aggressive line of retribution, their Pakistani counterparts took refuge behind the narrative of “stage-managed drama of the Indian government”.

The ridiculous plight of both the Pakistani and Indian hawks could be seen on Arnab Goswami’s shows on Times Now where retired civil and army officers from both sides engaged in the worst kind of abusive discourse. But, thanks to an unflinching Indian prime minister and unity of civil-military leadership in Pakistan, the design of derailing yet another dialogue process by spoilers seems to have been foiled.

Ever since an all-powerful security establishment decided to take on the terrorist menace as a ‘principal existential threat’ to Pakistan, it gradually became firm in dealing with various segments of a diverse terrorist community. Soon the distinction between good and bad Taliban started to give way to calculated sequencing of elimination of terrorist outfits. Soon after the change of guards, General Raheel Sharif continued to expand his counterterrorism drive across the country and was able to win the confidence of the international community in his commitment not to distinguish between good and bad Taliban, and clear the country of every kind of terrorist.

This shift in policy can be easily discerned from the innumerable official statements on how no terrorism, of any kind, will be tolerated, and that Pakistan’s territory will not be allowed to be used for terrorism against any other country. The US State Department’s statement in this regard is also a reminder to Pakistan about implementing its stated policy and the promises made at the highest level.

The militant groups active on the Kashmir front were asked to hold their guns when General Musharraf seriously engaged with India to find a solution to the Kashmir dispute. Later, the Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned and its pedagogue, Jama’at-ud-Dawa, was persuaded to transform into a philanthropic outfit while allowing Hafiz Saeed to keep his cadres engaged in non-violent pursuits. Although the Jaish-e-Mohammed was also banned, it somehow kept a low profile except a public meeting in Muzaffarabad few months back that raised eyebrows in the right quarters.

Sections of various groups of the Punjabi Taliban and the Kashmiri jihadi outfits, including a section of the LeT and Jaish-ieMohammed, joined Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other freelance terrorist or sectarian outfits. The sudden claim of taking responsibility for the Pathankot attack by the Muttahida Jihad Council, a combination of a dozen militant outfits, seems to be a diversion or an effort to come into prominence after remaining dormant for a long time. Nobody took it seriously, and rightly so, even though it was a serious provocation.

The objective of the terrorists was too obvious. They again tried to hijack the peace process and bring India and Pakistan into conflict and intentionally exposed their whereabouts by virtue of allegedly making telephone calls that were intercepted by the Indians and shared with Pakistan. The investigations, according to sources, are in full swing.

If there is sincerity of purpose then it should not be difficult to catch the perpetrators and put an end to terrorists’ capacity to make the Indo-Pak dialogue process a hostage to their ulterior designs. Close cooperation between the security agencies of the two neighbours will open a new chapter of partnership and build the confidence that is necessary for a resulted-oriented and uninterruptible dialogue. That will, indeed, open a new era of cooperation on security matters for the first time.

India and Pakistan need to grow out of the animosity of the past and this subcontinental cold war. Fighting terrorism together and cooperating to bring peace in Afghanistan can pave the way for Central and South Asian economic interdependence and connectivity. The comprehensive dialogue must create a mechanism for jointly fighting terrorism, besides picking up the thread on various issues from where it was left last time.

The atmosphere created by the goodwill visit of Prime Minister Modi to Lahore should not have been allowed to be subverted by the terrorists. And this is what the two interlocutors have commendably done. Indeed, if the authorities on both sides are to be believed, the Subcontinent is trying to change its course for the good of its people.

The writer is a political analyst.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

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