India wants talks to focus on terror
By Zahid U Kramet
Talks about the first high-level talks between India and Pakistan since the
November 2008 terror attack on Mumbai began on a hesitant, yet proactive note.
India was considering Pakistan's proposal for a "composite dialogue" to bring
long-term stability to the region, Pakistan's High Commissioner to India Shahid
Malik told an inter-ministerial meeting on February 10.
And when Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said a day later that the
government believed it should not decline the Indian offer and resume
engagement as soon as possible, the gate was
opened for foreign-secretary level bilateral talks now scheduled to take place
on February 25.
"Politicians make bridges, not walls," Gilani said.
That maxim has been tested by the bomb attack at a popular bakery that killed
11 people in the western Indian city of Pune on February 13. The blast
fortified India's position that the talks should focus on terrorism first.
While India's External affairs Minister S M Khrishna held back on the
blame-game, he said that the talks would center on terror.
"Let's be very, very clear, that the composite talks you [the interviewer]
referred to are suspended. Composite dialogue is not being renewed," Krishna
told CNN-IBN on February 17. "The brief to the foreign secretary is that terror
would be the focal point of the talks," he told the channel.
Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said in a statement: "We have
noted with concern remarks attributed by the media to India's External Affairs
minister on the forthcoming meeting of the foreign secretaries in New Delhi
that these will be unifocal and that there will be no resumption of composite
dialogue. This is contrary to our understanding," he said.
India's ruling United Progressive Alliance stood firm, saying it would not
allow terrorists to derail the talks. However, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) gained political mileage from a senior BJP stalwart noting,
"What has happened in Pune is a grim reminder about the fragility of our
security system and the adventurous track [dialogue with Pakistan] we are
Progress toward the resumption of bilateral talks had been seen as a feather in
the cap for US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Washington's special
ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who had been working to bring Pakistan and India
to the table since at least 173 people were killed in the November, 2008,
attacks in Mumbai perpetrated by members of Laskar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan militant
Investigators into the attack in Pune dismissed claims made by two obscure
groups - Lashkar-e-Taiba al-Alami (International) and the Indian Mujahideen
Kashmir - claiming responsibility for the blast at the German bakery, the Times
of India reported.
Before the blast, the main bone of contention between the two neighbors
appeared to be a water dispute, and there was evident relief in Islamabad when
a visiting Indian delegation conceded that the issue must be addressed without
delay. "It was agreed that instead of getting bogged down in nomenclature [read
composite dialogue] we should agree to an unconditional engagement in which all
issues come under discussion," a government official said buoyantly.
Relief was also evident when India's Indus Water Commissioner G Ranganathan
ruled out the possibility of any India-Pakistan water war and confirmed both
countries would settle water disputes in keeping with the Indus Water Treaty.
"This [war] impression is incorrect and based on negative propaganda," he said.
If either country wasn't clear about their obligations under the Indus Water
Treaty, each had the right to approach the International Court of Arbitration,
he added on his departure from Pakistan.
This notwithstanding, Pakistan held some reservations about the resuming
dialogue in New Delhi. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir appeared
non-committal on taking the talks to the next level in his press briefing. "It
is important that there are no pre-conditions from either side. Pakistan
strongly believes that with pre-conditions there can be no dialogue."
It was left to Pakistan's prime minister, though, to sum up Pakistan's reading:
"Though India has agreed to resume the dialogue process, it's not willing to
include the Kashmir dispute in the agenda. However, we should wait for its
[India's] reply to include the Kashmir issue in the composite dialogue."
India on the other hand was looking for an agreement on a "step-by-step
incremental approach" to evaluate Islamabad's "sincerity" to address concerns
on what New Delhi referred to as "the continued presence of an India-specific
terror infrastructure on Pakistan's soil", with trade, commerce and
humanitarian understandings peripheral to any emerging equation.
But if there was consternation in the Indian camp over terrorist groups
operating out of Pakistan to disrupt the talks, Pakistan's concern is about
India's Research and Analysis Wing's (RAW's) Counter Intelligence Team (Cit-X).
In a front-page report in Pakistan's The Nation on February 12 headlined
"Secret document reveals Indian subversion in Pakistan", author Ashraf Javed
honed in on an "extensive espionage network dovetailed into the diplomatic
missions in Central Asia particularly Afghanistan ... which Indian undercover
intelligence operatives utilize to make trouble not only in FATA [Federally
Administered Tribal Areas] but in Pakistan's hinterland."
There could be more in the works, however, than India's RAW and Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) battling it out. Asia Times Online's Syed
Saleem Shahzad highlighted this in his February 13 report
Al-Qaeda chief delivers a warning which opened with, "Asia Times Online
has received a message from top guerrilla commander Ilyas Kashmiri, whose 313
Brigade is an operational arm of al-Qaeda. The message arrived on Monday
morning, shortly after the deadly weekend bombing of the German Bakery in the
western Indian city of Pune. The message does not specifically claim
responsibility for the bombing, but implies the Brigade's involvement."
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had earlier acknowledged this reality in a
Fox News broadcast when he said, "Al-Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the
Taliban in Pakistan are all working together. And al-Qaeda is helping the
Pakistani Taliban try to destabilize the Pakistani government."
The arrest in Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi of the Taliban's
high-ranking leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in a joint US-ISI operation
presents evidence to both the US and Indian authorities that Pakistan is
sincere in its efforts to counter terrorism. That may spur Pakistan and India
to keep the channel open for composite dialogue, for the Kashmir dispute surely
opens the door for al-Qaeda to spread further chaos in South Asia.
Zahid U Kramet, a Lahore-based political analyst specializing in
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, is the founder of the research and analysis
website theAsia Despatch.